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  • Meerelle Cruz

Tiktok Is Aiming For Longer Videos

TikTok officials revealed in June 2021 that the site's consumers have short attention spans.

According to a presentation deck shown to Japanese advertisers, TikTok users have such trouble concentrating that the site's quick 60-second films engage them better than any other social media platform.

Representatives from TikTok revealed internal survey data to WIRED, claiming that social media users are flooded with massive amounts of video content, impairing people's ability to concentrate. Nearly half of TikTok users claimed movies longer than a minute were stressful, and a third of viewers watched videos online at double the normal speed.

According to TikTok data, the app outranked other significant platforms for having just the appropriate length of videos among social media users. In their slide deck, TikTok quoted a speed-watching laborer in his twenties to emphasize the point. He explained, "It's not because I don't have time; it's because I can't concentrate." "I'm having trouble concentrating."

Drew Kirchhoff, TikTok's US product manager, stated less than a month later that the maximum video duration would be increased from one to three minutes. Since then, the app has performed extensive testing of five-minute movies between August 2021 and February 2022, as well as a small group of beta testers who attempted 10-minute videos.

TikTok is betting that its users aren't the most knowledgeable. Short films may only get you so far with the app. While TikTok has ridden a wave of popularity that has driven it to the top of app stores around the world, the company needs longer films to consistently grow its revenue. Longer videos attract more attention and allow advertisers to sell more advertising.

While Facebook tries to elicit lengthier videos from its users—and greater attention spans from those who watch—competitors are pursuing shorter videos. In 2020, Instagram introduced Reels, and Snap introduced Spotlight. The following year, YouTube introduced Shorts, and Pinterest introduced idea pins. All of them have a one-minute time limit.

TikTok's success, according to Brendan Gahan, partner, and chief social officer of Mekanism, a New York creative advertising agency, has necessitated change. He claims that TikTok's success acts as a forcing effect on other social sites. “They can't ignore the phenomenal growth - it’s so big it may be the future of social media.” says Conviva, a video analytics business. Videos under a minute length made up 12 percent of the total content on YouTube by 2021. While the majority of social media users believe TikTok is the place to go for short-form videos, the platform's trajectory reveals that this is an outdated perspective. (TikTok declined to comment on this story.)

A content roadmap to teach corporations how to better use TikTok was released in June 2020, and it stated that videos ranging from 11 to 17 seconds functioned best on TikTok. The ideal video duration had increased to between 21 and 34 seconds by November 2021. According to data given by TikTok with certain producers in early 2022 and reviewed by WIRED, around one in four of TikTok's best performing films fell into that sweet zone. Last year, TikTok launched smart TV apps around the world, implying that it sees a future in consumers watching videos in the same manner they do TV episodes.

The average TikTok user—of which there are one billion worldwide, more than 100 million in the United States, and 23 million in the United Kingdom—spends an hour and 25 minutes on the app every day. The average TikTok user uses the app 17 times each day to watch videos according to data shared by TikTok in a private presentation to business clients in late January 2022. For Gahan, longer videos will certainly improve TikTok's market share even further. For starters, it will compete with YouTube's longer videos, which account for the vast majority of the site's content.

As explained by Meg Jing Zeng, a TikTok researcher at the University of Zurich, the decision is partly motivated by the possibility of more advertising revenue. The increase in traffic itself brings more profit, but longer videos themselves can be more lucrative,” she explains. “For instance, it allows TikTok to work with institutional partners, including commercial institutional partners, to produce content with product placement.” While the firm does not disclose its advertising revenue, sources from China suggest it generated $4 billion in 2021.

Longer films may also help TikTok's user base age, as they are more accustomed to YouTube-length videos than those that are only 15 or 60 seconds long.“For mature TikTokers, who are more used to watching longer content on YouTube and less interested in participating in dance challenges or recreating memes, long videos could be suitable products to keep them entertained,” adds Zeng, who is more used to watching longer content on YouTube and is less interested in participating in dancing challenges or replicating memes.

According to internal TikTok data obtained by WIRED in 2022, 56 percent of TikTok users in the UK are still between the ages of 16 and 24, albeit this amount has fallen over time. Extending the length of a video, however, comes with several drawbacks. It foregoes one essential feature that has helped TikTok stand out from the competition: its algorithmic advantage. TikTok can learn more about a user's interests by peppering them with varied, shorter videos rather than fewer, longer ones. Hank Green, a veteran content maker and founder of VidCon, adds, “You get more pieces of data on how people are interacting with more pieces of content,” “That enables the algorithm to make better decisions.” Green says, noting that three-minute videos on TikTok offer 12 times fewer data than 15-second videos.

ByteDance, TikTok's parent firm, may have taken that calculation into account, believing that its algorithm is now well-trained enough on user behavior to not require as much data as before.

Extending video duration also eliminates the possibility of serving advertisements between shorter videos, which could jeopardize the app's monetization aims. While some viewers may dislike longer movies, Marion Thain of King's College London believes they will not be a deal-breaker. Her research indicated that half of us believe our attention span is lower than it is. “Our study shows that people certainly feel stressed by the distractions of new technologies but, perhaps more surprisingly, it also reveals that a significant proportion think that multi-tasking can enhance their lives,” she says.

Longer films that users can watch while doing something else, referred to as second screening, could indicate that TikTok is on to something. It's a problem that a lot of platforms have had to deal with in the past: tiny changes to their algorithms or features can have a huge impact on everyone because of social media's popularity. It's debatable if the videos will be excellent enough to keep viewers viewing for long periods. “I think they’re going to have a hard time getting good, long videos,” Green predicts. The abilities required to create an appealing 15- or 60-second video differ significantly from those required to create longer-form material, which is why some TikTok creators fail when they transition to YouTube.

Zeng, who uses TikTok and its Chinese version Douyin, where movies may already last more than 10 minutes, is annoyed by long films—not by their length. Time is valuable, and TikTok's current creator economics make it difficult for users to maintain the volume of videos required to remain popular on the app's algorithm. Because TikToks can't be shared on other short-form video sites like Instagram Reels or YouTube Shorts because of their 60-second duration constraints, it's uneconomical to spend the time making longer videos. Individual TikTok creators' inability to produce enough long-form videos at a rapid rate could explain what occurred to its sibling service Douyin when it pursued lengthier videos.

When the Chinese app extended the maximum length of video allowed on the platform in 2019, the type of longer material shifted from amateurs to professionals. Douyin began collaborating with established production firms to co-produce variety, reality, and talent shows in 2020.

If TikTok decides to follow Douyin's approach, there is one potential silver lining for consumers who are concerned about longer videos contaminating their For You Page. Longer form videos are siphoned off into their section on the Chinese app's web interface, while the app version is also trying lengthier films.

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