YouTube is gearing up to launch a beta version of its TikTok competitor, Shorts, in the United States beginning in March, chief product officer Neal Mohan announced today.
In a blog post announcing a number of features coming to YouTube in the coming months, Mohan said the YouTube team will be giving more creators access to Shorts in the United States. The YouTube team has seen success with Shorts in India, where the feature has existed for several months, according to Mohan. Since December, “the number of Indian channels using Shorts creation tools has more than tripled, and the YouTube Shorts player is now receiving more than 3.5 billion daily views globally,” he wrote.
Reports that YouTube was working on a TikTok competitor first emerged in April 2020, but YouTube didn’t roll out Shorts in India until September. While the company was trying to figure out how to extend its creator base and 2 billion monthly users to a mobile-first product in wake of TikTok’s explosive popularity, Instagram was doing the same thing. Instagram launched Reels not long before YouTube rolled out Shorts, leading two of the world’s biggest tech and social platforms racing to catch up to ByteDance’s app.
It’s no surprise that YouTube is trying to get Shorts into the hands of creators and users as quickly as possible. By November 2020, TikTok was seeing continuous spikes in growth, tripling the user base it had in 2018. Like other companies, TikTok’s business was helped by the pandemic, giving people stuck at home the ability to engage with a never-ending stream of new, short videos and make their own. TikTok is forecasted to cross the 1 billion monthly active user line this year, too.
All of this helps to explain why YouTube is finding new ways to give creators features that will keep them making videos for the platform (instead of pivoting entirely to TikTok or Reels). Mohan’s blog also announced new monetization features, including applause, which will allow fans to buy a one-time clapping animation that appears on top of the video. Creators are given a certain percentage of the revenue from each applause purchased. Similar tools like this already exist, including Super Chat. Mohan didn’t say when the feature will become available to creators, only that people should be able to “unlock” it later this year.
On top of that, YouTube is beta testing a “new integrated shopping experience” that will roll out later this year. The idea is that people can purchase items from channels whose opinions they trust. Creators can tag products in their videos allowing viewers to purchase them if they’d like, according to a YouTube spokesperson. As long as the product is within YouTube’s catalog, creators can tag them and viewers can purchase those products. Currently, those products are limited to beauty and electronic categories. The Verge has asked YouTube for more information about the breakdown of revenue for creators if a product is bought from their channel.
In an effort to give people more control over parts of YouTube and how they watch videos, the company is rolling out a couple of product features that will directly impact what and how they watch. On the YouTube Kids app, the product team will offer new parental tools that will allow parents to add specific videos and channels from the main app, according to the blog. This will allow children to watch videos that parents think are acceptable but may not appear in the YouTube Kids app because of restrictions in place — think certain types of gaming videos.
Finally, YouTube’s team is also expanding its “chapters” feature, which adds specific timestamps to videos. They’ll soon be automatically added to relevant videos that may require chapters (like lo-fi chillhop channels). More detailed information about all of the changes can be read in Mohan’s blog, alongside the videos that YouTube’s product team will release throughout the year detailing what’s to come.