YouTube Shorts is huge in India, now it’s going after TikTok in the US

YouTube Shorts fared better among older demographics, whereas TikTok continues to dominate among the coveted younger crowd (Photo: Reuters)
YouTube Shorts fared better among older demographics, whereas TikTok continues to dominate among the coveted younger crowd (Photo: Reuters)


Google unit’s short-form video service builds on success in India, where TikTok is banned

When Jonothon Lyons began dressing up as “Buddy the Rat" and filming his antics around New York, he had no idea he was laying the foundation for a massive social-media following.

Especially one with viewers primarily in India.

Mr. Lyons posts his videos on YouTube Shorts, joining the creators who have helped the two-year-old short-form video service emerge as a significant rival to TikTok.

Mr. Lyons and other creators say a key driver of that growth is India—a country of more than one billion people, where TikTok is banned. He says nearly 80% of his views come from India.

“India, specifically, was never on my mind," said Mr. Lyons, who is 40 years old. In the U.S. and elsewhere, “we’re still in the process of raising awareness that YouTube Shorts is actually something you should be paying attention to."

YouTube, a unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., has made Shorts a centerpiece of its plan to kick-start its revenue growth, which has been flagging of late. Its next challenge is to translate success in India to users in the U.S.—specifically young people, who are most desired by advertisers.

“There is a long game here. I think short-form video is here to stay," said Todd Sherman, YouTube’s product manager for Shorts.

Indeed, short-form videos have become the latest battleground in social media. With this type of content, social-media users create full-screen videos that often make use of clips from popular songs and incorporate dazzling video effects, like filters that can digitally apply makeup or put a user’s face on the body of a panda.

YouTube said this week that Shorts, which allows users to post videos of up to 60 seconds, is reaching 1.5 billion monthly users. TikTok in September said it had roughly a billion monthly users.

Besides TikTok, its parent company ByteDance Ltd. owns a Chinese version of the app called Douyin, which claims 600 million daily users. Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc., meanwhile, hasn’t disclosed usage figures for Instagram Reels or Facebook Reels, but in reporting its quarterly earnings in February, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg noted that Reels was the company’s “fastest-growing content format by far."

Among Americans, the most lucrative market for advertising, TikTok continues to reign supreme, but YouTube Shorts is in second place and gaining ground, according to a survey by data platform company Inmar Intelligence.

More than 29% of respondents picked YouTube Shorts as their preferred short-form video service in June, up from 25% in September 2021, according to Inmar Intelligence. TikTok fell as the top choice for nearly 49% of respondents in September to 44% in June. Meta’s Instagram Reels remained in third place and flat at 20%.

Notably, YouTube Shorts fared better among older demographics, whereas TikTok continues to dominate among the coveted younger crowd.

“We believe choice and variety are good for everyone, and we’ll continue to innovate to ensure our community has the tools they need to thrive," a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement.

YouTube Shorts still must prove it can convert eyeballs to ad dollars—it began to roll out ads globally last month.

Google launched YouTube Shorts in India in September 2020, three months after the country’s government banned TikTok, citing national-security concerns due to the app’s ownership by Beijing-based ByteDance.

Within months of launching in India, YouTube CEO Susan Wojicki said that the service was getting more than 3.5 billion views daily. Google expanded YouTube Shorts to the U.S. in March 2021. Mr. Sherman said India is one of YouTube Shorts’ biggest markets, but YouTube hasn’t released any country-by-country data since Shorts was expanded globally. Creators say India regularly dominates viewer statistics, according to the analytics tools provided to them by YouTube.

“That’s like an automatic win for YouTube there to get that whole market, essentially," said Daniel Coughlan, senior content strategist at Viral Nation, a marketing firm that works with creators.

Drawing on the established architecture of the main YouTube platform, Shorts has top-flight analytics about who is watching videos, creators say. Those tools help creators work with brands and prove the effectiveness of their sponsored content.

The service is missing some features available on TikTok. Shorts doesn’t offer creators the ability to record videos using augmented-reality special effects, and doesn’t have a duet feature that allows users to easily combine a video with that of another user.

Mr. Sherman said the company is working toward providing creators with more of these features. This spring, it began rolling out a new feature called cut, which lets users incorporate parts of existing YouTube videos into new Shorts, and a green-screen feature that lets users record themselves overlaid on another video or an image, a spokeswoman for the company said.

Many creators say they have been surprised by how quickly Shorts has emerged as a player.

Fritz Proctor, a 24-year-old painter, generally posts across several of the short-video apps. When he posted a video of himself mixing paint in the middle of Times Square to match the Statue of Liberty’s green, it notched more than 82 million views on YouTube Shorts—his most successful video on any of the short-form video apps. India accounted for almost 20% of the views.

“I was thrilled to see those numbers," Mr. Proctor said. “It also made me prioritize YouTube Shorts."

Catch all the Technology News and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.


Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App