The platform has gradually raised the maximum length of a video from 15 seconds, to one minute, to three minutes, and now to a whopping 10. Social media experts aren’t surprised by the uptick; the platform has still managed to keep users around, even as its videos get longer. Plus, longer video formats include more space for ad slots and let creators spend more time promoting products, allowing the platform to profit more from ads and shopping.
“Advertisers are going to want to spend somewhere where there's rapt attention, where they know their ads are going to be around long enough and considered long enough to be seen,” Margo Kahnrose, CMO at intelligent marketing platform Skai, told Protocol. “TikTok has struggled with that, whereas the other platforms that have longer-form content really just command so much focus. That advertising performs.”
Social media consultant Mari Smith said longer videos could let TikTok monetize much more like YouTube does. YouTube places ads at the beginning of or throughout a video, whereas TikTok places ads as individual, separate clips that a user scrolls through just like they would a regular video. Those pre- and mid-roll ads on YouTube have historically brought in more cash for creators: A recent Forbes study found that about half of the money earned by YouTube’s top 10 creators came directly from ad revenue, whereas many of TikTok’s highest-earning stars are making a lot of their money elsewhere.
TikTok already knows creators will stick around for longer videos, too. Some creators may post a multipart video and ask followers to visit their channel to watch the other segments. “But this solution is not as elegant as simply being able to create and publish longer videos,” Smith said.
TikTok has a history of getting people to buy products — #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt seems to be perpetually trending — and it has also used live events hosted by creators as a way to get people shopping. A longer format may help TikTok get even better, by allowing creators to form deeper relationships with their audiences, according to Ali Fazal, VP of influencer marketing software platform GRIN. Users want to get to know creators just like they would a friend, and longer videos allow those creators to appear more authentic when they’re trying to promote a brand.
“TikTok is seeing that maybe less people will watch a 10-minute TikTok than will engage with a 15-second TikTok, that's probably for sure,” Fazal told Protocol. “But the depth of those relationships is actually stronger between the audience and the creator. And if we're looking ahead at what's important, I think it actually is moving away from the number of followers or a number of impressions or number or clicks, and more toward the depth of the creator and their audience.”
Those relationships matter for brands, too. Over time, Fazal said that longer videos will make it harder to differentiate between an ad and a regular post because products will be placed more “seamlessly” in creators’ lives. “It opens up so many more opportunities for creativity between brand creator partnerships, going beyond the typical pay-to-post.”
Still, as everyone else tries to be like TikTok, the platform is clearly trying to be like YouTube — and encroaching on another platform’s image could hurt TikTok’s own reputation in the end, Kahnrose said. People have gone to YouTube for the product reviews and the long videos where they can really get to know creators for years. On the contrary, they go to TikTok for the easy, endless scrolling. Long videos might not change that, but it definitely won’t help its reputation as the place for short-form videos, she said.
TikTok knows it does exceedingly well with short-form video. In fact, an internal presentation last year found that half of users thought videos longer than a minute — the maximum length of a TikTok at the time — was stressful. But moving forward with longer videos is a risk TikTok is willing to take, even if it means users will fast forward videos or skip longer clips entirely.
“I do think they're totally at risk with this move, in losing what they stand for in this mix of social media apps that you have on your phone,” Kahnrose said. “What do you like TikTok for? It's going to be harder to answer that question.”