‘A chewing gum’: Is short-form video causing a major tide shift in media consumption?

‘A chewing gum’: Is short-form video causing a major tide shift in media consumption?
The Media Leader Podcast

The rise in popularity of short-form video content, heralded by the likes of TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts, is, according to editor-in-chief Omar Oakes, a threat to all other types of media through the “competition for attention.”

Writing in August, Oakes said, “TikTok is not simply a substitute for makers of TV and movies. It’s a potential destroyer. It’s a social experiment in real-time in which we’re giving everyone a highly addictive short-form video machine, which they can access any time they want by reaching into their pocket and taking out their phone, and seeing if they still have a taste for watching a two-hour movie or a 10-episode TV series.”

If audiences are moving from “meal eaters” of long-form to “snackers” of short-form, Oakes argued, then there is “no more need for restaurants or fancy hotels that serve buffets. Just a load of vending machines and microwave meals.”

But is it really the case that short-form media is causing a tide shift in media consumption? Advertising effectiveness expert Peter Field is sceptical that short-form is even a “snack” — in a conversation with Oakes on the latest episode of The Media Leader Podcast, he instead compared the medium to “chewing gum”.

Listen to the clip, or read a transcript of the conversation (edited for clarity) below.

Omar Oakes: I put out a piece a few months ago where I was suggesting that broadcast TV doesn’t have a problem with social media short-form platforms as a competitor so much; I reckon it’s got a longer-term problem with short-form platforms as something more dynamic, something more fundamental happening, where in the longer run younger generations of media consumers just become so used to really short-form content pushed at them by algorithms that that almost becomes the norm in media consumption.

To your point about TV effectiveness, doesn’t it hinge on that understanding that we’ve had for many decades now of understanding TV content, different genres of TV content, the whole mechanics of the ad breaks work, understanding that value exchange? You get some free telly in exchange for some ads (Netflix and others might be struggling with that right now).

I’m not necessarily going to ask you for a view on whether TV has a long-term problem with TikTok and short-form platforms in particular, but if you were to test that — if I had loads of money and commissioned you and Les [Binet] to test that — how would you go about it?

Would you have any presumptions about how the results might go?

Peter Field: What we do know — and I think TikTok’s interesting, [although] people seem reluctant to fully publish their results — but I think what TikTok is showing us is that really engaging content on those short formats can be very very seductive to people.

We also know that young people don’t exclusively watch that. They also watch films, they also binge on [TV] series, and so on. So I don’t buy the fact that just because TikTok seems to be reinventing online video in many ways and coming up very fast on the outside, that that means that is all and only what young people will in the future want to watch.

TikTok wants us to enter a brave new world. Should we?

I think it’s just an important part of their lives, and that’s the way it will go. I don’t see that fundamentally changing. People like engaging immersive kind of media. Sorry, I used the word immersive — which I hate — but that is what we’re talking about.

The fact is, is that you can’t deeply get someone engaged in any kind of piece of entertainment in 15 or 30 seconds.

In a sense, it’s a chewing gum. It’s something we like from time to time, it’s something that we use in parts of our day and enjoy, but there are other things that we also get stimulus from.

There’s an enormous amount of time spent by an awful lot of people, particularly young people, on gaming these days. Now that is not a short-form; these are big, serious time commitments. There is plenty of evidence that the market isn’t going short attention spans. I don’t buy that at all, actually. I just think it is something that gives us some quick uplifts and quick and easy little smiles, and we like a bit of that in our day.

OO: You mentioned something very interesting just now about perhaps a bit of inherent bias in marketing on people living in wealthier households where they just aren’t exposed to advertising as much.

You could uncharitably describe advertising as a tax on poorer people.

Does that bear through in your effectiveness research as well?

TikTok measurement head: industry needs weaning off ‘last-click attribution’

PF: I wouldn’t describe it as a tax on poorer people, but if you’re basing your judgements on families where every room has a screen and every member of that family has multiple devices for accessing content, and they can all do it independently, then that is not, I would argue, typical of everyone in this nation.

We have an awful lot of people who are extremely hard up and getting more so. So I think it’s very dangerous to make judgements about how young people spend their time based on some very affluent households in London and the Southeast.

When you get out and talk to people — and certainly whenever I speak to marketing and media people in Manchester, [they] rail against the London bubble. But Manchester is a pretty damn wealthy city with a lot of affluent people, and if they see London as being in its own little fantasy vortex, then you can bet your bottom dollar that that’s even more the case elsewhere.

So I just caution against that.

To come back to this issue of being a tax on poor people — it’s just a great way of funding content. It’s the way social media’s gone.

You have to remember when Zuckerberg first launched Facebook, he announced the death of advertising. He said this is going to be the new way that brands get known and can be shared by people amongst people. Well he pretty soon switched to the advertiser-funded model, as many other businesses have. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

As you pointed out, Omar, I think there is a value exchange that people understand — we get a lot of great entertainment in return for which we see some ads.

Disney ads chief: TikTok is now our ‘programming extension’

So long as those ads — and this of course is a big and important point — so long as those ads are not too taxing on us, not too dull, and not too rapacious of our data, then I think we’ll roll with that. That’s always been the case.

There is a serious issue about what 15-20 years now of data-led performance marketing thinking has done to the quality of advertising. That is the bigger risk here.

If we fill not just TV breaks, but any video advertising medium, with really dull and unentertaining advertising then of course people are going to question the value exchange. We need to get back to producing the kind of advertising that people not just don’t mind seeing, but actually enjoy watching.

That, I think, is a terribly, terribly important thing.

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