Since launching its Shorts format in 2020, YouTube has challenged TikTok‘s supremacy in the vertical video world. The decision to embrace short-form content has done wonders for YouTube’s viewership, but that choice may have come with some consequences. According to a report from The Financial Times, multiple YouTube execs are concerned that Shorts viewership may be cannibalizing the platform’s long-form traffic.
The report cites “senior staff at YouTube,” who have held meetings to discuss troubling viewership trends across long-form videos. The execs are worried that YouTube’s signature format — which defined it during its first 15 years of existence — could be “dying out.”
In ranking of the 100 most-watched YouTube channels of August 2023, nearly three-quarters of the listed channels operate primarily on Shorts, with little traffic coming to their long-form content. Internal YouTube data cited by The Financial Times shows that creators are uploading fewer long-form videos overall, preferring to follow the online video trends that lead to Shorts.
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One of those trends is the shrinking attention spans of target viewers. As web traffic shifts to mobile devices, cohorts like Gen Z are stating strong preferences for shorter videos. As vlogger Fumi Desalu-Vold told The Financial Times, some creators lack “that big, wonderful personality energy that lasts for 30 minutes.”
Advertiser money is also favoring Shorts. “I’m doing a lot of ads for other brands that are focused on short-form content, so I can take them and post them on all these social media platforms,” hairstylist Chloë Swift told The Financial Times. “It takes so much more time to do long-form content.”
YouTube isn’t the only company struggling to cope with the TikTok-ification of online video. When Instagram received criticism for a design change that promoted vertical videos, top exec Adam Mosseri reminded his critics that digital consumption is shifting towards those uploads, like it or not.
In a recent interview on Tubefilter‘s Creator Upload podcast, YouTube VP of Americas Tara Walpert Levy said that the rise of Shorts can be “additive and mutually reinforcing” across all of the site’s formats. At the same time, she noted that Shorts had lowered the barrier of entry for creators, and some of those newbies are not sure how to fit in long-form videos as well.
“We’re seeing a huge inflow of people who are starting on Shorts, and interestingly, most of them really struggled in the beginning to migrate to long-form,” Walpert Levy said. “Now we’re seeing an increasing number of them become successful in doing that.”
YouTube’s earnings have been up and down since the introduction of Shorts. The steady rise of ad revenue on Shorts will help the vertical format become commercially viable, but the long-term forecast for long-form videos remains cloudy. Those clips helped make YouTube the cultural phenomenon it is, but their role in our modern-day, mobile-first media is up for debate.