YouTube creators say short videos are going 'incredibly viral' as the platform preps its TikTok rival for US release
- YouTube is testing a new TikTok-like feature that allows creators to upload short vertical videos, called Shorts.
- Ahead of its full release, some creators say they are seeing huge audience growth by posting short videos.
- But for now, videos that appear in YouTube's Shorts section don't earn creators any money.
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TikTok is top of mind for all the major social-media platforms.
Following TikTok competitors from Instagram (Reels) and Snapchat (Spotlight), YouTube is slowly rolling out its own rival in the US called "Shorts." And in preparation for the launch, creators say YouTube is quietly promoting short videos, spiking engagement and reach for some channels.
While the full Shorts feature hasn't launched in the US yet, creators are still able to upload short vertical videos that mimic TikToks.
Similar to TikTok videos, Shorts are vertical videos that can be up to 60 seconds long. YouTube announced the feature in September, and has been testing it officially in India, where it has added a short-form video creation tool and camera to the YouTube app. Beyond India, some elements have been implemented as a beta test to the YouTube app, like a carousel ("shelf") of short videos that appears in a section on the homepage and under videos.
YouTube is currently experimenting with different ways to help users find and watch short videos, and the company is testing adding a Shorts entry point on the Explore tab, the company said.
As YouTube prepares for a full Shorts launch, creators said a key to getting short-form videos into the special section is to add "#Shorts" in the title or description, though sometimes videos are added even if they don't have the tag. YouTube confirmed that creators don't need to use the hashtag but that adding it would increase the chance that a video would be shown on the Shorts shelf.
Some creators whose videos have been picked up by the Shorts shelf have seen runaway success in viewership, they told Insider.
Daniel LaBelle, a comedy creator with 1.6 million YouTube subscribers, launched his channel in April to repost the TikToks he was making after his wedding photography business dipped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I posted for probably five or six months, built up 30,000 subscribers and then out of nowhere in November things exploded," LaBelle said, adding that his channel went from 30,000 subscribers to over half a million within a month. "I think it was because of the Shorts, but I still don't know for sure."
Some of the short vertical YouTube videos LaBelle posted on a whim in the beginning of 2020 were being picked up by YouTube in November and added to the new Shorts feature, he said. LaBelle then noticed the view counts on those older videos begin to soar (his most viewed short has 23 million views).
"You can get a lot of attention on your channel by doing these short-form videos," said Alex Sibila, a part-time YouTube creator with 4,800 subscribers. "Some of my Shorts are now my most viewed videos."
Sibila is an electrical engineer and makes videos about electric vehicles and owning a Tesla. He uses the vertical video feature to share 30-second teasers that direct back to some of his full-length videos. His Shorts range from 20,000 to 50,000 views, which is more than the 1,000 to 5,000 average views his longer uploads attract.
"They are still shown on your channel as regular videos," Sibila said of his short videos. "Then if you are on mobile they have the Short shelf, and that is where you get a lot of views. If videos are pushed out to the Short shelf then they are getting shown to a lot of people and that's what is going to make them viral."
As the battle for short-form video heats up, YouTube will compete against TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat to be seen as a platform where creators can make money, reach new audiences, and build a sustainable business. Snapchat's Spotlight and TikTok have each set up programs dedicated to paying creators on an ongoing basis.
Read more: Snapchat is minting overnight millionaires with its TikTok competitor but creators worry the gold rush will end soon
Creators want to know if they'll make money
The biggest question YouTube creators have about the Shorts feature is whether it will earn them significant amounts of money.
Creators generally earn money on YouTube from the ads placed in their videos through YouTube's Partner Program. How much money a creator earns from AdSense depends on the video's watch time, length, video type, and viewer demographics, among other factors. YouTube also keeps 45% of the ad revenue, with the creator keeping the rest.
LaBelle's short-form videos earn money when they are viewed in the subscriptions section of YouTube, where ads will play before the video. But if the videos are viewed in the Shorts section of the YouTube app, they don't earn money because videos on the Shorts shelf don't get ads or generate subscription revenue right now, the company confirmed.
Still, LaBelle said he is making more money off his short videos on YouTube than he is on TikTok, where he has 14 million followers.
"I am at a point where I am trying to prioritize YouTube as much as I can," he said. "It's been a fantastic income source as well, just being on YouTube and working with the AdSense program."
Read more: A zero-waste YouTuber with about 125,000 subscribers explains how much money he earned each month in 2020
But creators don't know how Shorts will change when YouTube officially rolls out the feature in the US.
"YouTube just kind of threw this onto us without any warning or introduction," said Rob Wilson, a content strategist at the YouTube analytics and growth platform vidIQ. "It still feels to me like a beta test that could change radically."
But for now, creators are figuring out their own strategies and trying to get the most out of the feature, and the extra boost provided by the platform.
Sibila plans to post two under-60-second videos a week to share on Instagram Reels, TikTok, and YouTube.
"Trying to get people to click on those longer videos and check out my channel is tough sometimes, especially as a smaller creator," Sibila said. "Now that I've started posting more Shorts, I've found that they can be incredibly viral and they are very shareable."
"It's super exciting," said Kevin Parry, a stop-motion animator and visual effects artist. "The struggle for me has always been to make one piece of content and have it work on every platform. With most platforms now pushing shorter formats, I can make one piece of animation, or one behind-the-scenes clip and post it everywhere now."
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