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TikTok is known for its fast, snappy videos that have popularized the app, keeping us hooked on our For You Pages. Other companies have launched their own TikTok-esque features, trying to recreate the algorithms that keep us scrolling for hours on end, Most notably, Instagram Reels and Snapchat Spotlights both boast the same short-form scroll-able content. YouTube Shorts and Pinterest “idea pins” quickly followed suit.
Since 2021, however, TikTok has begun to expand the length of its videos in an experiment with a few foreseeable goals. If TikTok is known for its easily scroll-able short-form content, why begin to shift towards providing long-form content options on the platform?
Why the Shift to Longer-Form Content?
In July 2021, TikTok extended the maximum video length from one to three minutes. Then, in a surprising move for many, TikTok extended video length up to ten minutes in February 2022.
Why? The short answer: Longer videos are able to sell more ads, growing revenue for both TikTok and their partner advertisers. Creators can have more freedom when making their TikTok videos, and viewers can have a more in-depth and potentially longer viewing experience.
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TikTok Takes on YouTube
TikTok seems to use its longer form content to take on its main competitor – YouTube. YouTube boasts a large share of the market, as the second largest search engine. By lengthening their videos, TikTok can take on YouTube and capture a part of YouTube’s viewership and growing their share in the market.
Despite the notoriety of short TikTok videos, it’s clear that internet users still flock to long-form YouTube videos. Seemingly unexpected long-form videos are garnering millions of views. Most notably, YouTube video essays have been on the rise since the early 2010s. YouTube users are drawn to the way that creators present and analyze trends – everything from fashion evolutions to internet analysis.
One of the most-loved video essayists is Khadija Mbowe, a Canadian YouTuber sporting over 500k subscribers. Mbowe makes video essays examining pop culture phenomena and other subjects through an intersectional feminist lens. Her most popular video, gaining over 1 million views, 125k likes, and 13k comments, unpacks the good, the bad, and the ugly of the hit Netflix series, Bridgerton:
For more information, check out The Rise of YouTube Video Essays here!
Newer long-form trends include the “deep dive” trend popularized by Jenny Nicholson.
In a two and a half hour video, Nicholson unpacks the plot of all eight seasons of the early 2000s drama, The Vampire Diaries. Tapping into early 2000s nostalgia, Nicholson uses classic push pin-and-string corkboard visuals paired with her own cutting humor to break down the characters, plot points, and dramatics of the show.
The video garnered over 10 million views, being the most popular video on her channel. Though her other videos, ranging in length from 20 minutes to almost 4 hours have gained millions of views as well.
Similarly, Mike Messineo of the YouTube Channel Mike’s Mic has risen in popularity with his Nicholson-inspired long-form videos. He unpacks popular television shows, including Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, and Glee, gaining millions of views.
His most popular video has 6 million views, though his other videos are not lacking in the least. He garners thousands to millions of views covering topics such as early 2010s movies, old internet challenges, and more.
Though TikTok may not be looking to find themselves in the market of hosting videos that are hours in length, there is clearly a sizable audience on the Internet that gravitates towards long-form videos. This audience – as well as the creators who are ready to make these types of videos – may very well currently exist on TikTok.
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Meg Jing Zeng, a TikTok researcher at the University of Zurich told Wired: “For mature TikTokers, who are more used to watching longer content on YouTube and less interested in participating in dance challenges or recreating memes, long videos could be suitable products to keep them entertained.”
What about Attention Span?
It’s no secret that TikTok caters to a shorter attention span. According to an internal survey gathered by TikTok and seen by Wired, a third of users watched TikTok videos at double speed. Furthermore, 50% of videos longer than a minute were found to be “stressful” by users. This causes valid worry that long-form TikTok videos will simply flop on the app meant for short-form content.
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However, long-form videos also lend themselves to multitasking. It’s easy to imagine the millions of Nicholson’s and Missineo’s viewers watching their long videos as background noise, much like a podcast. This is known as “second screening”. Perhaps TikTok could find itself – and the short attention spans of its users – in the same market.
You’re doing great! Scrolling first thing has genuinely been a functional and helpful choice for me at certain points in my life and it’s ok if you made that choice today. #internetbigsister
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Creators Taking on Long-Form Videos
Of course, there is also the matter of whether or not TikTokers want to, or can succeed in making engaging 10+ minute long-form content. As earlier pointed out by Zeng, many “mature TikTokers” may take interest in long-form content. However, the skill set needed for a 10-second video is much different than a 10-minute video.
Hank Green, resident TikToker and the founder of VidCon told Wired, “I think [TikTokers] are going to have a hard time getting good, long videos.” Zeng added, “Inexperienced TikTokers fail to create a hook, and the audience loses interest quickly,” she says. “When they are done properly, long videos can be as entertaining.”
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The Ultimate Driving Factor: Revenue
Of course, the ultimate driving factor for longer TikTok videos is revenue. Longer videos mean more opportunities for sponsorships and advertisements. Zeng shared, “The increase in traffic itself brings more profit, but longer videos themselves can be more lucrative. For instance, it allows TikTok to work with institutional partners, including commercial institutional partners, to produce content with product placement.”
Take a look at How Tik Tok Is Changing the Music Industry.
Much like in-video sponsorships and product placement on YouTube, advertisements on TikTok can bring in significant revenue. In 2021, TikTok made up to $4 billion in ad revenue. With the advent of longer-form TikTok videos, traditional advertisers may see an opportunity that simply isn’t there in short-form content.
What’s Next for TikTok?
TikTok is the fastest growing social media platform we know today. The average user spends 1.5 hours a day on TikTok, opening the app to watch videos around 17 times a day. Right now, we can only predict the successes and pitfalls of long-form content on TikTok. Given time, we will see how long-form TikTok videos integrate themselves into the sphere of social media, and whether or not they will click with users long enough to potentially take on YouTube and grow advertising revenue.