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Are YouTube Shorts cannibalising the platform’s long form content?

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YouTube has been at the pinnacle of streaming traditional long-form horizontal content. However, with Shorts becoming more and more of a priority for the streaming platform, there are fears that the viral vertical video format that has taken the world by storm will fundamentally change YouTube.

Long-form videos produce more revenue for YouTube, but as reported by Financial Times, senior staff at recent strategy meetings have raised concerns about Shorts potentially cannibalising YouTube’s traditional long-form content, which makes more revenue.

Internal data suggests that creators are making fewer long-form videos owing to dwindling consumer demand, eventually suggesting that long-form horizontal content might die out as a format.

Why did YouTube jump into short-form content?

In one word — competition.

In 2019, in response to TikTok’s wild popularity, YouTube started experimenting with vertical videos up to 30 seconds. A year later, this new format had taken the name YouTube Shorts, initially launching in India — one of YouTube’s biggest markets, and then expanding to 26 other countries, including the US. And it comes with several advantages for both creators and viewers.

Creators found it much easier to put out sub-one-minute videos than traditional long-form content. This also meant the number of videos they could churn out went up, as producing and editing a smaller video takes significantly less effort.

On the viewer side of things, engagement has skyrocketed. They no longer have to browse or search for a video. You head over to the Youtube app, which sometimes opens up in the Shorts tab by default, and then doom scroll until you realise you’re late for class or work.

The format is largely based on TikTok’s idea, and in typical Silicon Valley fashion, the platform has slowly been rolling out advertisement and monetisation options to turn the billions of daily views that Shorts get into revenue.

YouTube has gone to great lengths to get creators to start making shorts. The platform also announced a $100 million YouTube Shorts fund that paid creators in 10 countries, including the US and India. The program reached out to creators with the highest engagement numbers and paid them an unspecified amount every month. It has since expanded to over 40 countries.

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How have Shorts done compared to long-form content?

To put things in perspective, YouTube Shorts averaged 6.5 billion daily views in March 2021 before its global rollout. This number jumped to over 15 billion daily views when the format launched globally and has risen exponentially since then. As part of its Q1 2022 earnings call, Google said that YouTube Shorts had crossed 30 billion daily views, now over 50 billion as of December 2022.

Also, while long-form content generally includes your regular run-of-the-mill videos, Shorts are being marketed as more of an engagement-boosting tool than a standalone format. For artists on YouTube, this means that

In January 2023, fan-created Shorts increased the average artist’s audience of unique viewers by more than 80%.

That’s great news for artists because now a 60-second excerpt from a music video they’ve already invested in can nearly double their reach. According to YouTube, in January 2023, artists active on Shorts saw “more than 50% of their new channel subscribers coming directly from their Shorts posts on average.”

YouTube Shorts is a great engagement tool for creators. | Source: YouTube Official Blog

And this boom in audience growth isn’t limited to musicians either. Plenty of unlikely categories, from gaming to dental hygiene (yes, you read that right), have boomed on Shorts, bringing massive engagement and a much wider audience to their respective channels and creators. 

That said, the numbers here are a little fudged and, in some cases, totally missing. It’s hard to directly distinguish how many viewers are tuning into long-form videos over Shorts.

We do know that YouTube claimed it had 1.5 billion logged-in users watching Shorts every month as of June 2022. TikTok also announced hitting 1 billion monthly users in September 2021, so we do know that Shorts has more or less achieved its primary purpose — ensuring YouTube doesn’t get left behind. 

Is traditional long-form content on YouTube in danger?

Long-form content has more advantages, primarily a higher click-through rate on advertisements and the flexibility of adding more ads to a video. When trying to keep a viewer’s eyes glued to the screen, there’s not much you can do in 60 seconds. 

 Shorts was designed to “complement, not compete with” the other formats that creators use. 

However, with more and more viewers getting hooked to short-form videos, advertisers are also starting to favour the format. This has caused a drop in ad revenue for YouTube for three consecutive quarters. That said, the platform raked in a total of 7.67 billion dollars in Q2 2023, compared to $7.34 billion in Q2 2022 — a change that came partly because of the company’s crackdown on ad blockers and a price hike in YouTube Premium subscriptions in the US.

Despite YouTube’s constant efforts to push Shorts to more and more eyeballs, even launching the service on TV, its traditional long-form videos aren’t going anywhere. So yeah, while you might see a drop in views on the traditional horizontal screen, YouTube intends for you to make up for that loss with Shorts while also increasing your reach and audience. 

They are meant as an entry point for viewers to discover more content from a creator, which could be anything from traditional videos to live streams. They’re an engagement tool and a way for creators to maximise their video output.

“Shorts are the appetiser to the entrée”

Lyor Cohen – Global head of music, YouTube

If YouTube plays its cards right, it will also be a huge cash grab for the platform, considering Shorts creators will start earning revenue starting February 2023. The platform had already announced in September 2022 that it’ll move from a fixed fee to 45% revenue sharing with Shorts creators, adding more incentives for creators on the platform to jump to the newer format.

To put it simply — no, long-form content isn’t going anywhere, and YouTube isn’t likely going to turn into TikTok, only serving vertical videos based on an algorithm to its viewers. Currently, it seems like the platform intends to bring all possible video formats — long-form horizontal, short-form vertical, live streaming and anything else they can come up with to make YouTube the one-stop shop for all things video. 

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Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah is a Computer Science graduate who writes/edits/shoots/codes all things cybersecurity, gaming, and tech hardware. When he's not, he streams himself racing virtual cars. He's been writing and reporting on tech and cybersecurity with websites like Candid.Technology and MakeUseOf since 2018. You can contact him here: yadullahabidi@pm.me.

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