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Inside YouTube’s long bet on TikTok-style short-form content

YouTube Shorts averages more than 30 billion daily views—and the platform is working with its creators to keep that momentum going.

Inside YouTube’s long bet on TikTok-style short-form content
Cassey Ho and Caleb Marshall [Photos: Blogilates, The Fitness Marshall]

Last year, YouTube rolled out Shorts, the platform’s answer to the rising tide of short-form content.

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It seemed inevitable that YouTube—the first popular digital video destination—would join the ranks of Instagram’s Reels and Snap’s Spotlight to try to keep pace with TikTok’s growing dominance. But launching products that mimic existing platforms hasn’t always panned out (RIP IGTV).

Shorts, though, is a bet that seems to be paying off.

YouTube recently announced that Shorts is now averaging more than 30 billion daily views, which is four times more than a year ago.

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“We have the opportunity, as we continue to build this product, to really be a leader in this space,” says Kevin Ferguson, creator partnerships director for Shorts. “And the reason I believe that is because we are prioritizing creator needs and creator feedback.”

A big part of creators’s needs, of course, is getting paid.

Kevin Ferguson [Photo: April Rocha, April Rocha Photography]
Shorts launched alongside a $100 million creator fund. In the pool of eligible creators, 40% had never gotten paid by YouTube before. “For us, that’s really exciting because we’re paying this next generation of creators,” Ferguson says. He notes that the Shorts Fund is a bridge to more longterm, sustainable revenue streams, most notably building an ad business within Shorts, something YouTube is currently testing.

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There is no plan as of yet to incorporate Shorts into the YouTube Partner Program, the gateway that creators have to cross to monetize their channels. To be eligible for the program, creators need at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time. But right now, watch time from Shorts content isn’t counted.

YouTube is pushing Shorts to creators as another tool to build a loyal audience, alongside VOD and live. Conceivably, there could be a rising class of YouTube creators exclusively focusing on Shorts, given the popularity of short-form content. So creating partner-program requirements specifically for Shorts could be a good idea, especially as TikTok is rolling its own solutions for supporting creators beyond its own fund.

Ferguson says that there’s nothing to announce yet along those lines with Shorts, but “we’re thinking through what is the best way to bring sustainable creator monetization to life for this platform, holistically.”

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In addition to ideating around revenue streams to support Shorts, Ferguson is also working with creators to build out features for the platform.

Ferguson spearheads the YouTube Shorts Community, which provides select creators with such perks as events, workshops, and early access to new launches, as well as a direct line to in-house managers who give and receive feedback. “Sometimes we’ll hear, ‘Hey, X platform has this feature. I want you to bring that to Shorts.’ But what’s cool for us is, because YouTube is inherently a multi-format platform, we also get requests and ideas for things that can only be brought to life on YouTube,” Ferguson says.

For example, Remix, a feature that allows creators to cut one-to-five second clips of YouTube videos into their Shorts. Remix is similar to TikTok’s stitching feature, but leans on the frictionless nature of editing within the app and having access to YouTube’s massive trove of videos.

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“The amount of content that can be unlocked for that type of storytelling is really unparalleled,” Ferguson says. “We’re seeing creators get really excited taking that video that they loved five years ago and bringing it to life again in their short-form video.”

TikTok is the undisputed champ of short-form content at the moment. But Ferguson welcomes competition and remains bullish on Shorts’s prospects.

“A robust ecosystem with multiple players in the short-form space is ultimately a good thing for creators, and it keeps us fresh,” he says. “I think a lot of times people equate short-form-video content with TikTok content. We’re still at the beginning of this thing. There’s an opportunity for us to continue to evolve what this format looks like in partnership with our creators and our users.”

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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