One of Google’s strong advantages in the world of online video has been the sheer size of YouTube: currently, the site has more than 2.3 billion monthly active users and over 500 hours of content uploaded every minute. Now, Google and YouTube are hoping to leverage some of that heft as it goes head to head with TikTok.
Shorts, YouTube’s TikTok rival for building 60-second videos set to music that launched first in India and then expanded to the U.S., is now coming to three more regions — the UK, Canada and Latin America. And alongside that, YouTube is turning on a new feature: users will now be able to dip into the wider YouTube catalogue when creating their videos.
The rollouts to new countries are starting today and will be fully live by the end of June, a spokesperson tells me.
The geographic and feature expansions underscore how Google continues to double down on the shorter video format to capture some of the audience that might otherwise go to TikTok — or rival products from the likes of Instagram (Reels), Snapchat (Spotlight) or others — for their quick-shot fix.
It’s not clear how well that is playing out in terms of engagement or creators just yet: YouTube tells me that the YouTube Shorts player — which appears as a bar on the YouTube app — now has passed 6.5 billion daily views in the countries where it is available. YouTube is not disclosing creator numbers, and it’s not disclosing active user numbers of Shorts itself. (But it has definitely built out a strong channel for incentivizing creators: last month it launched a $100 million creators fund to lure more people to build content in its new channel.)
The company declined to say whether it plans to launch a standalone Shorts app at any point, but it’s in the process of improving user experience for people through the YouTube app: you can now scroll vertically from one Short to the next, not unlike how you would on TikTok, and you can get to Shorts directly from a tab on the app.
Shorts is still technically in beta, and so it’s to be expected that YouTube will be adding in a lot of new features in the coming months as it watches how it gets picked up, or what people decry is lacking.
YouTube tells me, for example, that the ability to sample licensed music had been getting slowly expanded and rolled out in India and the U.S. in the past few weeks. If you are able to access shorts UK and you get access to Shorts as of today, you will be able to use the audio feature, too. (That licensed music trove now numbers millions of songs, YouTube said, from 250 labels and publishers, including Universal Music Group’s labels and publishing companies, Sony Music Entertainment and Publishing, Warner Music Group and Warner Chappell Music, Believe, Because Music, Merlin, Beggars, Ditto, AEI, The State51, Kobalt and more: to be clear this was the same number and list that it had last month, no new updates there.)
In addition to this, YouTube has added in other features since it launched, for example, text or graphics overlays on Shorts videos, sample audio from other Shorts, clips from your phone’s gallery, and filters for color correction — a template that will be expanded with more effects over time, YouTube said.
But within that context, it will be interesting to see whether the ability to add in audio from across all of YouTube — we’re talking billions of videos — will have on how Shorts gets used.
This will mean not only music from creators, but all kinds of video segments that may have already gone viral, or may get their 15 minutes of fame as a result of one great Short. Conversely, Shorts viewers and would-be creators will also be able to get directly to the original content, and information about a creator, that was used in a Short — a key detail that should matter to those who have felt that originators of memes, dances, songs and other creator content sometimes get lost in the mix in a lot of what you see on TikTok.
The network effect for a platform like YouTube is particularly compelling here, if the right audience takes YouTube up on what it is offering to them. At a time when TikTok remains a relatively new phenomenon, and there remains the question over how regulators will treat the Chinese-owned app longer term in countries like the U.S., there is a lot still to play for.