It wasn’t too long ago that short videos seemed all the rage, but the tide may be turning.
Some of the industry is welcoming back longer videos, with popular apps doubling down on lengthier and larger videos as usage grows and competition heats up.
TikTok last week said it would bump up video length to three minutes, while Instagram countered by bringing full-screen features and video recommendations to its platform. Meanwhile, YouTube has this year been experimenting with its own version of bite-size videos, Shorts, and Snapchat released its TikTok copycat Spotlight in 2020. That same year, Twitter also launched Fleets, a Snapchat-like video that gets tweeted.
With TikTok videos now going beyond 60 seconds, will the rest follow?
“Video is a massive area of focus for all of the social platforms right now,” said Debra Aho Williamson, analyst at eMarketer. “By extending the maximum length of videos to three minutes, TikTok gives video creators more time to get their message across, and also lets them explore more immersive content types such as video series, Q&A sessions or extended commentaries, to name a few.”
TikTok, owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance, will expand its prolific one-minute clips to three-minute videos this month in a gradual rollout. In a post, Product Manager Drew Kirchhoff mentioned that creators have been urging longer videos in order to promote more “how to” content — a space that YouTube has seen thriving especially during the pandemic.
“Some of you might have come across a longer video on TikTok already. We’ve been letting creators around the world experiment with the expanded format …We often hear from creators that they’d love just a little more time to bring their cooking demos, elaborate beauty tutorials, educational lesson plans, and comedic sketches to life with TikTok’s creative tools,” Kirchhoff wrote.
TikTok and Douyin (Chinese version app) are on track to reach 3 billion installs in the near term, based on estimates from market intelligence company Sensor Tower.
“TikTok’s rollout of longer videos reflects the expansion of its creative ecosystem, which increasingly encompasses various types of content,” said Stephanie Chan, mobile insights strategist at Sensor Tower. “As the platform grows its retail offerings, longer videos also enable brands more flexibility in sponsored content and product showcases.”
Reps for TikTok did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
If it sounds like social platforms are starting to resemble each other more and more, that’s because they are. And as competition for audience and dollars gets fierce, social media giants are testing and changing their engagement strategies in a bid to keep users on their platforms.
In a video last week, Instagram head Adam Mosseri declared, “We’re no longer a photo-sharing app or a square photo-sharing app.” Instagram will introduce video recommendations to user feeds, he added, as well as full-screen viewing, immersive videos and a mobile-focused strategy. “This past week, in our internal all hands, we shared, or I shared, a lot about what we’re trying to do to lean into that trend – into entertainment and into video,” he continued. “Because let’s be honest. There’s some really serious competition right now. TikTok is huge, YouTube is even bigger, and there’s lots of other upstarts as well.”
This year, TikTok boasted 689 million monthly active users, as reported in January by data company DataReportal. By pushing longer videos, the company may be able to increase time spent on the platform and be in a better position to compete with challengers YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, plus other newcomers such as Triller and Dubsmash. Not to mention this move also creates additional channels for influencer marketing and social commerce.
“Not only does video help increase the amount of time users spend on social platforms, it’s also the predominant way that young people want to engage with social media content right now,” Williamson said.
In March, Williamson released a report discussing the rise of short videos, noting that TikTok and Triller were the only platforms in the study to offer paid advertising. “One large advantage that Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube will have, once they start offering short-video ads, is that many marketers are already used to their tools and systems and may find it easy to extend their buys,” the report noted.
In 2020, TikTok users spent some 38 minutes per day on the app. But when compared with video-focused platforms, it still trailed behind YouTube’s average engagement of 43 minutes per day and Netflix usage of 59 minutes per day, according to eMarketer. By the end of 2024, eMarketer expects TikTok to reach 88.7 million monthly users, accounting for about 30% of overall internet users.
Earlier this year, TikTok looked at a potential sale of its American assets to Oracle and Walmart, but the deal has been shelved as the Biden administration investigates the app’s security risks and involvement with the Chinese government. Yet those concerns have not stopped the tech players from copying TikTok’s viral video playbook.
Google-owned YouTube has been rolling out its beta of Shorts, its TikTok clone for 60-second videos, which so far amassed about 6.5 billion views globally, according to the company. In May, the video company also said it would start paying creators a total of $100 million to use Shorts in the attempt to pull users away from TikTok.
YouTube, in particular, has made moves to invest in the big-screen and streaming space. The company recently reported that watching YouTube on a TV is the fastest-growing viewing channel. Last year, YouTube tracked a 25% increase in watch time globally, boosted by the influx of livestreams, news and instructional videos during the pandemic.
Instagram, on the other hand, has been pushing its version of short videos, Reels. Mosseri also said the app will focus on creators, shopping and messaging going forward. As a bonus: Because Instagram is owned by Facebook, Reels content is being integrated directly into the Facebook feed.