YouTube Shorts at One Year: What the Video Giant Has Learned About the 60-Second Format — and What’s Next

·7 min read

It’s been just over a year since YouTube launched YouTube Shorts — and the video giant says it’s still in the early days of capitalizing on the massively popular feature.

As of this summer, YouTube Shorts was generating over 15 billion global daily views, more than doubling from 6.5 billion in March 2021, Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced in July. “YouTube Shorts continues to gain momentum,” he said. YouTube Shorts launched globally in mid-July.

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It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Shorts, which caps videos at 60 seconds, has boomed: The feature is largely patterned on ByteDance’s TikTok, which claims it now has more than 1 billion monthly active users to make it one of the fastest-growing online services in history. Facebook and Instagram also have their own TikTok copycat, dubbed Reels.

In classic Silicon Valley fashion, YouTube is slow-rolling the launch of advertising and other monetization programs for YouTube Shorts. For now, it’s far more focused on developing new tools and content-discovery mechanisms to keep driving up usage among YouTube Shorts creators and viewers. In other words: get the eyeballs first, then make money from them.

To attract short-form creators — and give them an incentive to produce unique content — YouTube established a $100 million fund for Shorts earlier this year. It started cutting checks in August, first for creators in 10 countries (including the U.S. and India) and the payment program is now available in more than 40. Creators with the highest-performing YouTube Shorts can make anywhere from $100 to $10,000 per month, according to the Google video platform.

“For creator monetization, the fund is the first-stop solution. We are working on a long-term business model,” said Kevin Ferguson, director of global operations and partnerships for YouTube Shorts.

For YouTube Shorts, “We are lightly testing ad formats right now,” he added. Ferguson joined the YouTube Shorts team this May; he previously was at chat-fiction app company Hooked and before that worked at Musical.ly (which ByteDance bought and converted into TikTok).

YouTube has found that it’s important to keep a clean separation between the core long-form platform and YouTube Shorts, because creators are looking for different kinds of editing tools, metrics and ways to engage viewers, said Todd Sherman, product lead for YouTube Shorts.

At the same time, YouTube believes the short-form side of the house gives it a distinct advantage over rival platforms: “Shorts is its own video ecosystem, but it’s connected to YouTube and YouTube Music,” Sherman said.

YouTube Shorts logo
YouTube Shorts logo

Since YouTube Shorts first launched as a beta in India in September 2020, the short-form video feature has been adopted by multiple communities of interest with some unexpected trends, according to Ferguson. That’s ranged from magic tricks to gaming (“Minecraft” in particular) and from food to — believe it or not — dental care.

“It’s still early days, but we’re starting to see exciting creators and communities take hold,” Ferguson said. “We are dealing with the next generation of mobile creators. We are figuring out how we partner-manage these folks.”

Of course, music has been a staple of YouTube Shorts, with creators able to access millions of tracks for their videos. This summer, YouTube teamed with K-pop superstars BTS for this summer’s “Permission to Dance Challenge,” inviting fans to record and share their own 15-second versions of the song.

Oddly enough, one popular content category on YouTube Shorts that has emerged is… dental hygiene. It turns out, there’s a pretty big audience for short toothbrush demos and informational videos explaining dentistry.

Dental Digest, a YouTube channel with 5.5 million subscribers, is run by Anthony Baroud, a dental student at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry. Baroud said he began creating YouTube Shorts because it was much easier to create a sub-minute video than a longer-form one, particularly as he’s still a full-time student. (He said an 8-12 minute YouTube video can require six hours or more of footage.)

“It’s like cranking out reps,” Baroud said about creating YouTube Shorts.

Most viewers who come to Dental Digest want to know the best toothbrush or toothpaste to use. But Baroud also is branching out into videos more strictly for entertainment — like seeing how many packets of floss he would need to hold his weight.

Jake Fellman, a 3D video artist who got his start on TikTok, also has jumped on YouTube Shorts. He has more than 10 million followers on TikTok, compared with 7.8 million subscribers on YouTube. The 23-year-old says it takes him up to eight hours to create a CGI clip 10-30 seconds long using Autodesk Maya software.

Fellman’s animations started with short video riffs on the video game “Among Us” last year, followed by “Minecraft” earlier this year. More recently, he’s created creepy content based on Netflix’s “Squid Game” and next plans to delve into horror content like Slender Man and “Five Nights at Freddy’s.”

Compared with TikTok, YouTube has a “longer tail,” Fellman said. If a video on TikTok doesn’t go viral the same day, it most likely won’t ever gain traction, he said: “Sometimes a video totally fails on TikTok, and it takes off to the moon on YouTube.”

Fellman said he posted his first YouTube Short on Sept. 24, 2020, when his channel was at 15,000 followers. He attributes his YouTube subscriber growth entirely to Shorts. “What started out as an online portfolio has truly evolved into a full-time career,” he said.

Lisa Nguyen, a food content creator in Kansas City, Mo., launched her Telehue Food channel with restaurant travel videos in 2018. She started posting YouTube Shorts with short home-cooking videos — her first one was about making instant ramen — to her eponymous channel, which is now approaching 1.5 billion views, largely thanks to the short-form content.

“When YouTube Shorts came out, I knew this was for me,” she said. “YouTube Shorts has worked, so I doubled down on it.” Nguyen added that the reach with YouTube Shorts “has been pretty great… I’m a Kansas girl being able to reach people in the U.K., Australia and India.”

In terms of ongoing YouTube Shorts product development, Sherman said that at a high level, the team is focused on two main areas: building creator tools that empower anyone to create and find an audience, and refining the viewer experience to make sure people find the most relevant Shorts and discover new creators.

YouTube has continued to tweak Shorts based on creator feedback and usage trends. For example, the earliest version of Shorts had “like,” “comment” and “share” buttons at the bottom of the screen. YouTube found a very strong preference among users to have to move to a vertical layout.

YouTube Shorts also introduced a new “create” button on watch pages, to let people create a Short clip using the sound in the video they were watching (including on core YouTube, if the creator of the original video has given permission). Shorts also has enhanced the audio picker, such as adding the ability to select genres or bookmark a sound.

As far as improving content discoverability, YouTube is looking at several ways to make the service smarter about the Shorts videos it serves to individual viewers.

“We may not know you are into woodworking but we may figure out that you are if we put a few videos in front of you,” Sherman said. “It’s about figuring out how to get videos in front of people.”

Pictured above (l. to r.): YouTube Shorts videos by Jake Fellman, Dental Digest, Lisa Nguyen

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