YouTube Shorts: A New TikTok Competitor?

The latest entrant into the short-form video craze on social media is YouTube. The Google-owned company debuted YouTube Shorts, its TikTok alternative, in the U.S. last month after launching in India in September 2020. It joins a growing list of TikTok competitors – Instagram’s Reels, Snapchat’s Spotlight and Triller – that have accelerated growth over the last year and satiated consumer appetites for authentic, creative video content in short bits. 

YouTube Shorts is, in essence, very similar to TikTok: it features vertical video and users can swipe to the next piece of content. Users can also like, comment on, and/or share a Short, as well as dislike, a feature native to YouTube but not available on TikTok. Shorts appear on the mobile apps section of the YouTube home screen and as regular YouTube Videos. Once users click into Shorts, they are met with a vertical swipe mobile interface (a la TikTok).

YouTube Shorts

YouTube Shorts benefits from its integration with a long-established platform and its built-in audience and content creators. But the success of Shorts will depend on how YouTube prioritizes the platform (i.e. where will it live on its website?). YouTube is driven by sophisticated creators, whereas TikTok is driven by everyday users. As a platform, YouTube established itself as a venue where most users look to engage specifically with seasoned vets and those with an established community of viewers, as opposed to sharing their own videos. For Shorts to take off, it will need the platform’s established, big creators to spearhead the movement. 

This raises the question: will “normal” people start creating YouTube Shorts? My guess is probably not. Unlike TikTok, YouTube is a relatively intimidating platform with a perceived high barrier to entry as a content creator. Will Shorts chip away at that? Maybe. Instagram achieved this with the introduction of Stories, which required lower production value compared to users’ feeds.

It’s unclear how well YouTube Shorts will perform. For one, it’s launching into an extremely crowded social media marketplace. More than half a dozen apps compete in this space, each looking to chip away at TikTok’s dominance. YouTube is an extremely popular video platform, but its notoriety is built on longer-form, horizontal videos, with certain length requirements in place to meet monetization thresholds. Additionally, recording videos directly on a mobile device is not how people have typically created for YouTube.

YouTube does benefit, though, from its established monetization structure, one that they are expanding to YouTube Shorts. Some creators are frustrated by TikTok’s limited creator payouts (not including brand deals), and many TikTokers try to push viewers to YouTube. YouTube offers more ways to monetize and more ability to embed affiliate links. This presents a unique opportunity for brands to explore sponsoring creators or working with them to seamlessly align with the existing YouTube culture. On this front, YouTube Shorts, given YouTube’s longstanding and highly-effective monetization programs, has a big head start on TikTok.

Only time will tell the true success of YouTube Shorts in the social media landscape, but it does offer an opportunity for new engagement within an established platform. As TikTok works to establish its own monetization structure, YouTube Shorts, along with other competitors, will need to differentiate themselves on more than just that feature. In all other aspects, including consumer preference, TikTok still reigns supreme. 

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Evan Horowitz founded creative agency Movers+Shakers in order to spread joy. With over 90 billion views on their TikTok campaigns, Movers+Shakers has become “the go-to agency for brands making moves on TikTok” (Refinery29). Evan is an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs. He earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BS Engineering from Stanford. For Evan’s industry insights, follow him on LinkedIn.

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