The TikTokifcation of YouTube and Vice Versa—How Streaming Is Converging

the tiktokification of youtube
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the tiktokification of youtube
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Photo Credit: YouTube

In 2023, TikTok became the fourth largest social network in the world—behind Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. It has its sights set on replacing YouTube as the premiere video destination—which it is already achieving among the youngest age cohorts (13-25). What does that mean for the music industry—which depends heavily on TikTok for music discovery?

The top brass at YouTube understand that TikTok is gunning for their #2 spot on the popular social media list and they’re embracing TikTok’s monetization practices to keep YouTube on top. With more ways to monetize a YouTube channel than ever before, YouTube has embraced short-form video despite presenting fewer opportunities to advertise compared to long-form videos. The result is a format change for both services, as TikTok seeks to dethrone YouTube it becomes more like it—while the opposite is true for YouTube. Let’s take a peek at how that has impacted both services for creatives.

TikTok Is Where Music Discovery Happens—Not YouTube

TikTok has become an essential promotional tool for music artists, record labels, and anyone looking to get their music heard by the masses. We’ve seen time and time again how old songs like “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac and “Runnin’ Up That Hill” by Kate Bush have exploded in popularity again thanks to TikTok. The TikTok ‘Hot 50’ and ‘Viral’ song charts track what music is doing numbers on the platform for any given day or week.

The short-form video format is so successful at driving music discovery that YouTube copied the feature wholesale for its YouTube Music app, introducing what it calls “a seamless feed of short-form video segments to get you to your new favorite music.”

The feature showcases music videos in a personalized format, giving users the option to play the full song, add the track to a playlist, or create a YouTube Short using the music as a backing soundtrack (sound familiar?). In fact, according to a 2021 study by MRC Data, TikTok users are 67% more likely to seek out songs on music streaming services after hearing them on TikTok.

TikTok is the dominant player in music discovery despite its recent row with Universal Music Group, which means the ‘Top Hits’ playlist on Spotify often mirrors the ‘TikTok Songs’ playlist. It highlights the important role that TikTok plays in music discovery and why UMG may be wary about the platform’s growing role in the music industry. TikTok has established direct deals with some artists and has courted SoundOn staffers to “identify, sign, and develop new artists.” Sounds suspiciously like a label’s job, right?

How TikTok Replaced YouTube In Minutes Watched

In 2022, TikTok became the most downloaded app in the world, surpassing previous social media behemoths like Instagram and Twitter. It’s estimated by the end of 2024, TikTok will surpass YouTube in total watch minutes.

That’s because nearly half of Americans (46%) say they are watching more user-generated content than movies, television, or streaming services. As a result, UGC platforms like TikTok and YouTube are exploding—while legacy platforms like Facebook are declining in minutes watched.

time spent on social media platforms over the last five years
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time spent on social media platforms over the last five years
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Photo Credit: Exploding Topics

In 2017, Chinese company ByteDance completed its purchase of the lip-syncing Musical.ly app for $800 million, merging it with TikTok and keeping the TikTok name. Musical.ly had around 60 million users worldwide when the merger happened—mostly located in the United States. In 2018, TikTok quickly surpassed Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube in downloads as the world embraced the new social media app.

When 2020 arrived and the pandemic hit, TikTok experienced explosive growth, reporting a 45% increase in monthly active users between July 2020 and July 2022. Today, TikTok has more than one billion monthly active users and is expected to surpass 1.8 billion by the end of 2024. A Pew Research Center report shows that 67% of its users between ages 13-18 use the app daily—making it the most popular app with young people Behind YouTube.

Users only spent 22 minutes per day with TikTok, but over the last five years that average has slowly increased to 25 minutes in 2019, 33 minutes in 2020, 32 minutes in 2021, and 31 minutes in 2022. Keep in mind these are averages across the platform’s billions of users.

average session duration for social media
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average session duration for social media
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Photo Credit: Exploding Topics

What’s interesting is when we drill down into the data that looks at session duration for each visit, YouTube is still on top. On average, people spend 7 minutes and 29 seconds per visit on YouTube. Users spend about 6 minutes and 5 seconds on their TikTok visits—which highlights why TikTok has begun its pivot into supporting long-form videos. Those videos keep people on the platform longer per visit.

average time per month users spend on social media
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average time per month users spend on social media
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Photo Credit: Exploding Topics

A look at the average time per month that global users spend on social media apps reveals that TikTok users are nearing 34 hours per month spent on the platform. The next closest platform is YouTube, with an average of 28 hours per month. TikTok is already attracting more than ten hours per month more than YouTube when it comes to average time per month spent on the platform. And that data appears to be driven mostly by women who are using the platform.

16-24 year-old females spend the most time on social media, averaging 3 hours and 4 minutes per day. As the age demographic goes up, less time is spent on social media with 55-64 year-olds spending around 1 hour and 32 minutes per day. What’s noticeable is across all age cohorts, women use social media more than men.

YouTube Shorts—A TikTok Knock-Off That’s Catching On Out of Necessity

YouTube Shorts launched in 2021 as a direct response to the popularity of TikTok’s platform. Since then, Shorts now have more than two billion users despite being objectively worse for the platform from an advertising standpoint. Long form videos have more opportunities to present ads and usually receive higher click-through rates than short-form videos. Creators tend to make more short-form video content than long form video content, which has execs at YouTube worried despite the focus on Shorts.

An internal YouTube report found that long-form video content is ‘dying out’ as a format as creators are making fewer long-form videos—and consumers are choosing to watch them less. That’s an important consideration as GenZ reports that they commonly discover new long-form content to watch on sites like YouTube—being discussed as short-form content videos. (Example: The David Bowie documentary ‘Moonage Daydream’ was released in 2022, but TikTok and YouTube Shorts creators are discussing the documentary with Bowie fans on those platforms—driving more views to HBO/Max where it is streaming now.)

The 100 most-watched YouTube channels of August 2023 saw 75% of those channels operate primarily on YouTube Shorts content. Very little of their traffic comes from long-form content, highlighting the demise in streaming of longer videos on any platform. But that doesn’t mean long-form content is dead.

TikTok Introduces Long-Form Content, Goes for YouTube’s Jugular

TikTok is always primarily focused on its short-form video content as that is the content that younger generations (13-34) prefer. But as YouTube VP of Americas Tara Walpert noted in an episode of TubeFilter’s Creator Upload podcast—long-form content isn’t dying. It’s become gated content that users discover through short-form video.

“We’re seeing a huge inflow of people who are starting on [YouTube] Shorts, and interestingly, most of them really struggled in the beginning to migrate to long-form,” Walpert Levy says. “Now we’re seeing an increased number of them becoming successful in [migrating to long-form].”

That last quote is why TikTok has introduced long-form video content for its users. TikTok introduced its Series feature, which allows creators to post collections of ‘premium content’ behind a paywall which viewers purchase to access.

One Series can include up to 80 videos, each up to 20 minutes long. The idea is to keep long-form content on TikTok—where it can be monetized by creators without having to send their viewers off-platform to YouTube or another competitor. It’s also why TikTok is ready to introduce TikTok Music to the world under its familiar branding after testing its in-house DSP under the name Resso.

While short-form content is great for music discovery and that dopamine-burst of ‘just one more video’, long-form video remains king at building connections with audiences.

TikTok creatives now create longer videos to inspire discourse, discussion, and ‘get ready with me’ videos where popular users showcase their lives—building a connection with the audience in the process. The long-form video strategy is paying off for TikTok as it is slowly catching up to YouTube among the GenZ (18-25) and Millennial (26-42) age cohorts.

breakdown of social media use by generation — march 2023
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breakdown of social media use by generation — march 2023
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Photo Credit: eMarketer

While YouTube remains king among GenZ (82%) and Millennials (78%), TikTok is catching up as 67% of GenZ and 41% of Millennials say they use the platform to watch videos of any type. Long-form video content is key to keeping eyeballs on the platform, which is why TikTok has embraced it so whole-heartedly.

TikTok Is YouTube, YouTube Is TikTok—Does It Matter?

With YouTube Shorts becoming the most popular content on YouTube and TikTok’s embracing of long-form content to keep its users from exploring other video platforms—it’s unclear who will come out on top in the social media juggle. YouTube has been quick to point out it still has all of its major licensing deals in place with UMG/Sony/Warner, so most popular music is available for the creation of YouTube Shorts. But brand loyalty is a hell of a drug—even for free video platforms.

A brand loyalty survey among internet users shared with Marketing Dive found that of the 100 companies who made the list of ‘most brand loyal,’ TikTok rose from #21 on the spot to #5 in 2022. Meanwhile, Facebook fell 17 spots while Instagram fell six. YouTube fell five spots to clock in at #22—right below where TikTok started. The result is that people who use TikTok tend to love it and stay with it—which could present YouTube with problems as the younger cohort gravitates toward TikTok and stays there.

TikTok For Sale?

Recently the U.S. House passed legislation that requires the sale of TikTok within 180 days or the app faces a ban in the United States. While possible bidders are lined up to acquire the social media site should ByteDance be willing to divest—The Wall Street Journal estimates a ban is more likely because a potential sale could take longer than 180 days. It’s also unclear how much TikTok could fetch, with some estimates reaching $150 billion.