YouTube Employees Say the Platform is Chasing TikTok into Oblivion

(Christian Wiediger/Unsplash)
(Christian Wiediger/Unsplash)

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Roughly two years ago, Google-owned YouTube launched Shorts, a short-form video platform, to eat TikTok’s lunch.

Instead, senior YouTube staffers are worried that Shorts is cannibalizing the company’s core business, according to a report from the Financial Times. The good news? No one can accuse Google of being afflicted by the innovator’s dilemma in this case (we’re feeling strangely polite and won’t bring up AI).

Kids These Days

A staggering 1 billion hours of YouTube videos are watched every day, according to most estimates. But even a billion starts to feel small when competition creeps in. TikTok first overtook YouTube in daily viewership hours for kids between the ages of 4 and 18 in June 2020, and the gulf between the two has only widened since.

Last year, the kiddos inhaled 107 minutes of TikTok a day, according to SensorTower data, compared to just 67 minutes of YouTube (we’re sure they’re somehow squeezing in homework and all the other things healthy kids need). But YouTube’s Shorts push has paid off: In its most recent quarterly report, Google said 2 billion users watch the short clips every month, versus just roughly 1 billion on TikTok. Still, some insiders say it’s come at a cost:

  • The first three months of this year marked the third consecutive quarter of declines in ad revenue at YouTube. Part of that is likely due to Shorts; because Shorts are, ahem, short, there are fewer opportunities to serve ads, sources told the FT, and its ads to ecommerce sites typically have lower click-through rates.
  • Worse, YouTube insiders are concerned that Shorts is steering audiences away from long-form content, YouTube’s bread-and-butter, and YouTube creators are in turn making fewer longform videos.

The Boy Who Cried TikTok: Then again, Google also said YouTube ad sales increased over 4% year-over-year in its most recent quarter for a total of $7.7 billion, or around 13% of Google’s entire ad revenue. Does Chicken Little have a YouTube channel we could subscribe to?

Short Attention Sham: Nevertheless, panic persists. According to the FT, one concerned staffer even compared the decline in long-form video engagement to fewer people having the attention span to read books these days. Gee, we wonder who’s to blame there. Still, it’s all just a part of the attention-economy circle of life: TV killed books. YouTube killed TV. TikTok is killing YouTube. Now we just have to wait and see what micro-second video platform will come along and undercut TikTok.