While it may seem like TikTok may be the app to beat, the quick rise of similar copycat competitors from Google and Meta shows that the company still has a long way to go.
Although advertising agencies increasingly say budgets are shifting over to TikTok and numbers are growing, other platforms have the revenue mechanisms in place that TikTok is still developing. In particular, Google's YouTube Shorts not only has the audience size to draw from but an established way to pay out top creators.
"It's game on between YouTube Shorts and TikTok," said Jasmine Enberg, Insider Intelligence principal analyst. "YouTube's move to share ad revenue with creators could be a boon to its business."
Last week, YouTube announced it would be monetizing YouTube Shorts and giving creators 45 percent of the revenue beginning in 2023. Creators must be a member of the YouTube Partners Program and hit 1,000 subscribers and 10 million Shorts views over 90 days, as well as meet brand-safe subject matter. While YouTube currently has a $100 million fund for creators, this was the first time the company announced a sustainable monetization plan.
TikTok reaches 94.1 million users in the U.S., according to Insider Intelligence. However, YouTube — which has been around since 2005 — has about 230.6 million users.
There have been concerns short TikToks have been cannibalizing views from longer YouTube videos. If the company can still draw advertisers in for its newer offering then it could be a win-win for everyone. And, Gen Z doesn't seem to notice the difference: Viewing time is split 46-54 between long-form and short-form content respectively, per Horowitz Research's State of Gen Z 2021 study.
It may be easier to bring that audience over than some may think. Forrester Research found that 23 percent of U.S. online adults use TikTok once a week — and YouTube Shorts is not far behind at 17 percent. In addition, 34 percent said TikTok was their favorite short-form video service, followed by 27 percent for YouTube shorts. Instagram Reels came in a distant third in both categories.
Coupled with TikTok's security issues — ranging from being accused of pushing pro-China propaganda to failures to protect children's privacy to "toxic misinformation" — Google may prove to be the safer option for brands looking to spend ad budgets especially as its YouTube Shorts audience grows. It's true all social platforms have faced similar quandaries, but TikTok's biggest competitors — Meta's Instagram Reels, Google's YouTube Shorts, and Snapchat's Spotlight — all have parent companies based in the U.S. and have been stricter about complying with more rigorous standards.
"If YouTube can transition its long-form audiences to Shorts, it will be a formidable competitor to TikTok," Enberg said. "Audiences go to the platforms where the creators they follow are making content, and the best way to incentivize creators to make content is by helping them make money."