TikTok will become the world’s fourth largest social network by 2023, trailing only Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.

It aims to replace YouTube as the top video destination, which it is currently doing among the youngest age groups (13-25). What does this signify for the music industry, which mostly relies on TikTok for music discovery?

YouTube’s senior brass understands that TikTok is vying for second place on the popular social media list, and they are embracing TikTok’s business strategies in order to retain YouTube at the top. With more methods to monetise a YouTube channel than ever before, YouTube has embraced short-form videos, despite offering fewer advertising chances than long-form films. As a result, both services’ formats change: TikTok grows increasingly similar to YouTube as it strives to dethrone it, whilst YouTube does the opposite. Let’s look at how this has affected both services for creatives.

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TikTok is where music discovery happens—not YouTube.
TikTok has become an indispensable promotional tool for musicians, record labels, and anyone trying to get their music heard by the masses. TikTok has helped old songs like “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac and “Runnin’ Up That Hill” by Kate Bush regain popularity. TikTok’s ‘Hot 50’ and ‘Viral’ song charts track the most popular music on the platform on any given day or week.

The short-form video format is so effective in driving music discovery that YouTube adopted the feature wholesale for its YouTube Music app, introducing “a seamless feed of short-form video segments to get you to your new favorite music.”

The tool displays music videos in a personalized way, allowing users to listen the entire song, save it to a playlist, or make a YouTube Short with the music as a backing soundtrack (sound familiar?). In fact, according to an MRC Data report from 2021, TikTok users are 67% more likely to seek out songs on music streaming platforms after hearing them on TikTok.

READ MORE: TikTok Attracts Quarterly Ad Spend Of Over $1 Billion

Despite its recent spat with Universal Music Group, TikTok remains the dominating player in music discovery, and the ‘Top Hits’ playlist on Spotify frequently replicates the ‘TikTok Songs’ playlist. It emphasizes the importance of TikTok in music discovery and why UMG may be concerned about the platform’s rising influence in the music industry. TikTok has made direct partnerships with some artists and courted SoundOn employees to “identify, sign, and develop new artists.” Sounds strangely like a labeling job, doesn’t it?

How TikTok Replaced YouTube in Minutes Watched
TikTok became the world’s most downloaded app in 2022, overtaking previous social media behemoths such as Instagram and Twitter. By the end of 2024, TikTok is expected to exceed YouTube in total view minutes.

That’s because nearly half of Americans (46%) say they watch more user-generated material than movies, television, or streaming services combined. As a result, UGC platforms such as TikTok and YouTube are thriving, while legacy networks such as Facebook are losing minutes watched.

Time spent on social media sites in the previous five years
Photo Credit: Exploding Topics.

In 2017, Chinese startup ByteDance paid $800 million for the lip-syncing Musical.ly app, which it merged with TikTok while preserving the TikTok name. When the merger took place, Musical.ly had approximately 60 million users globally, the majority of whom were based in the United States. TikTok soon overtook Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube in terms of downloads as the world embraced the new social media tool.

READ MORE: TikTok Attracts Quarterly Ad Spend Of Over $1 Billion

When 2020 arrived and the pandemic struck, TikTok witnessed tremendous growth, with a 45% increase in monthly active users from July 2020 to July 2022. TikTok currently has more than one billion monthly active users and is predicted to reach 1.8 billion by the end of 2024. According to a Pew Research Center research, 67% of the app’s users aged 13 to 18 use it on a daily basis, making it the most popular app among young people behind YouTube.

Users spent only 22 minutes each day on TikTok, but that figure has gradually climbed over the last five years, reaching 25 minutes in 2019, 33 minutes in 2020, 32 minutes in 2021, and 31 minutes in 2022. Keep in mind that these are averages from the platform’s billions of users.

What’s noteworthy is that when we drill down into the data and look at session duration for each visit, YouTube remains on top. People spend an average of 7 minutes and 29 seconds every visit on YouTube. Users spend approximately 6 minutes and 5 seconds on TikTok visits, which explains why TikTok has began its transition to allowing long-form videos. People spend more time on the platform when they watch those content.

According to the average time per month that global users spend on social media apps, TikTok users spend close to 34 hours per month on the network. The next closest platform is YouTube, which has an average of 28 hours each month. TikTok already has more than ten hours more per month than YouTube in terms of average time spent on the platform. And the data appears to be driven primarily by women who use the platform.

Females aged 16 to 24 are the most active on social media, spending an average of 3 hours and 4 minutes every day. As people become older, they spend less time on social media; 55-64 year-olds spend about 1 hour and 32 minutes per day. Across all age groups, women use social media more than men.

READ MORE: TikTok Starts Removing Universal Music Publishing Songs, Expands Royalty Battle

YouTube Shorts—A TikTok Knock-Off That’s Catching On Because of Necessity
YouTube Shorts debuted in 2021 in direct response to the popularity of TikTok’s platform. Shorts has now grown to more over two billion users, despite being objectively bad for the site in terms of advertising. Long-form videos have more options to display advertisements and typically generate higher click-through rates than short-form videos. Creators tend to produce more short-form video material than long-form video content, which has YouTube executives concerned despite the emphasis on Shorts.

According to an internal YouTube analysis, long-form video content is ‘dying out’ as a format because producers are producing fewer of them—and consumers are watching them less. That’s an essential concern because GenZ indicates that they frequently find new long-form content to watch on sites like YouTube—which is being described as short-form content videos. (For example, the David Bowie documentary ‘Moonage Daydream’ was published in 2022, but TikTok and YouTube Shorts producers are discussing it with Bowie fans on those platforms, pushing additional viewers to HBO/Max, where it is currently playing.)

In August 2023, 75% of the 100 most-watched YouTube channels were primarily focused on YouTube Shorts. Long-form material accounts for very little of their traffic, showing the decline in longer video streaming across all platforms. However, this does not imply that long-form content is dead.

TikTok Introduces Long-Form Content, Targets YouTube’s Jugular
TikTok has always been primarily focused on short-form video material because that is what younger generations (13-34) love. However, as YouTube’s VP of Americas Tara Walpert stated in an episode of TubeFilter’s Creator Upload show, long-form content is not disappearing. It has become gated material that people discover via short-form video.

“We’re seeing a huge inflow of people who are starting on [YouTube] Shorts, and interestingly, most of them really struggled in the beginning to migrate to long-form,” Levy said. “Now we’re seeing an increased number of them becoming successful in [migrating to long-form].”

That last sentence explains why TikTok has introduced long-form video material for its customers. TikTok unveiled the Series feature, which allows producers to put collections of ‘premium content’ behind a paywall that viewers must purchase to access.

One Series can have up to 80 videos, each lasting up to 20 minutes. The aim is to retain long-form video on TikTok, where producers can monetise it, rather than sending their viewers off-platform to YouTube or another rival. It’s also why TikTok is preparing to launch TikTok Music under its familiar logo, having tested its in-house DSP under the name Resso.

While short-form material is fantastic for music discovery and the dopamine rush of ‘just one more video’, long-form video is still the king of audience interaction.

TikTok creators are now creating longer films to spark discourse, discussion, and ‘get ready with me’ videos in which popular users reveal their life, thereby connecting with the audience. TikTok’s long-form video strategy is paying off, as it is gradually catching up to YouTube in the GenZ (18-25) and Millennial (26-42) age groups.

Breakdown of social media use by generation—March 2023
Photo Credit: eMarketer.

While YouTube continues to reign supreme among GenZ (82%) and Millennials (78%), TikTok is gaining traction, with 67% of GenZ and 41% of Millennials using the platform to watch videos of any kind. Long-form video content is critical to keeping users engaged on the site, which is why TikTok has embraced it wholeheartedly.

Does it matter whether TikTok is YouTube or YouTube is TikTok?
With YouTube Shorts being the most popular material on YouTube and TikTok embracing long-form content to dissuade its followers from exploring other video platforms, it’s unclear who will win the social media juggling match. YouTube has been keen to point out that it still has all of its key licensing relationships with UMG/Sony/Warner, ensuring that the majority of popular music is available for use in YouTube Shorts. However, brand loyalty is a potent narcotic, especially for free video sites.

According to a brand loyalty poll of internet users provided with Marketing Dive, TikTok went from #21 to #5 among the 100 firms on the list of’most brand loyal’ in 2022. Meanwhile, Facebook plummeted 17 ranks and Instagram fell six. YouTube slid five positions to number 22—right below where TikTok began. As a result, those who use TikTok tend to enjoy it and stick with it—which could cause problems for YouTube as the younger generation gravitates to TikTok and remains there.

TikTok for Sale?
The US House just passed legislation requiring TikTok to be sold within 180 days or the app would be banned in the US. While potential buyers are queued up to acquire the social networking site if ByteDance is prepared to divest, the Wall Street Journal believes a ban is more likely because a transaction could take longer than 180 days. It’s also uncertain how much TikTok could be worth, with some estimations reaching $150 billion.