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TikTok is preparing to push the boundaries of our attention spans once again, less than a year after it introduced the ability to upload three-minute videos.
The latest update has now extended video length to 10 minutes. To quote writer Hunter Harris, “10 minutes is a damn tedtok.”
The move has been pitched as an opportunity for users to explore longform content and expand creativity while muscling in on the territory occupied by YouTube. For a platform known for shortform content, this seems like an uphill digital battle where TikTok will have to overcome user behavior and incentivize its creator community.
So how exactly does TikTok plan to get this right? Well, I asked, and a spokesperson didn’t quite have an answer for me (they simply directed me to the original announcement). So I did the next best thing and asked creators for their insights and thoughts.
“I just don't know if that's going to catch on because the incentive just isn't quite there,” said G. L. DiVittorio, the creator of The Pocket Report, a satirical news show on TikTok. “The big difference between TikTok and YouTube is there's a lot more financial opportunity on YouTube, and it's much easier to monetize because the ads don't have to be a direct part of your content.”
With all the shapeshifting that each platform is doing in an attempt to increase its dominance, it’s getting weird to watch them morph into each other. YouTube, for example, recently celebrated 5 trillion views on YouTube Shorts, its take on shortform content that it introduced in September 2020.
In a statement, TikTok said it was thinking of new ways to bring value to its users and “enrich the TikTok experience.” But I can’t help but think of Instagram’s doomed IGTV experiment (RIP), for which the platform courted YouTubers in the hopes of succeeding.
The Instagram feature struggled to replicate YouTube numbers. It didn’t launch with a clear monetization strategy; some users said it got in the way of mindless scrolling. Instagram later quietly folded IGTV into Instagram Video, and the stand-alone IGTV app is being shut down this month. Instagram then unveiled Reels, allowing users to upload videos of up to 60 seconds, and bolstered the feature with the “Reels Play Bonus,” a financial rewards program that pays out cash for views.
Creating longer content isn’t foreign to Austen Tosone, who has been on YouTube since 2017. As a fashion and beauty content creator who teaches other influencers how to optimize their platforms and make them profitable, she sees this as a chance to really put herself out there on TikTok.
“I think that it's going to be a lot more seamless for TikTok to integrate up to 10-minute video content than it has been for YouTube to introduce Shorts just because of the nature of how the apps are set up,” Tosone told BuzzFeed News. “I'm excited about the possibility with longer content on TikTok because I have an audience on there and I just want them to get to know me better.”
But the 27-year-old from New York also feels that there have to be additional features to make it all worthwhile.
“My question for TikTok I guess, then, is if I'm creating a 10-minute video and I wanted to ultimately sell something at the end or pitch my consulting services, I can't directly link within TikTok unless I say ‘link in bio,’” she said. “It's not clickable, or even just [having] little call to actions like having a ‘subscribe’ button to pop up.”
She believes that if TikTok wants creators to offer up longer content, then the ability to produce such content has to be easier.
“Please give me desktop editing access. Otherwise, me trying to do that on my phone feels like such a big ask to actually make it engaging enough with all of the things that I would normally do in longform content,” Tosone said.
On the opposite side are creators like Trevor Merchant, who goes by TimeSaver9000 on TikTok. Merchant doesn’t doubt that this extension will appeal to some creators, but he said that even with the opportunity to make longer videos, creators have opted to do shorter TikToks — just more of them.
“We saw it when the app started allowing 3-minute videos, users still preferred using the short video format in many instances,” he told BuzzFeed News. “This could be due to the fact that creators that are a part of the Creator Fund get paid for views and engagement so they focus on quantity and split their videos up. Another factor to consider could be the algorithm’s focus on watch time.”
Merchant has gained 1.7 million people by providing a simple service: He condenses other creators’ TikToks so viewers don’t have to watch an entire video to get to the point.
“There will always be a demand for my niche, and I do believe that demand will increase as users start seeing videos that drag on for 10 minutes,” Merchant told BuzzFeed News.
The 25-year-old from North Carolina credits people’s short attention span for presenting him with a golden opportunity when he started his TikTok in August last year while isolated with COVID-19.
“One thing I’ve learned through the engagement on my videos is that we live in a society of minimal time, patience, and attention span,” Merchant said. “We want things as soon as possible, as easy as possible, and that goes the same for information and entertainment.”
Then there are creators like Kandace Banks, who sees the scope for 10-minute-long videos on TikTok. Banks is the creator of what is best described as a TikTok drama series titled Thanks, Kandace Banks, which takes the concept of “main character energy” very seriously. The scripted 10-episode show — which are all under two minutes — follows a stylist navigating her life and career after relocating to Los Angeles.
Banks, a former fashion stylist turned entertainment marketer, is part of TikTok’s Creator Fund. While she said she hasn’t made any significant money from it, she credits the app for growing her audience at a much faster rate than any other platform.
“I think for content like mine, the 10-minute videos are definitely beneficial and would work in my favor,” Banks told BuzzFeed News.
In her fourth episode (titled “Am I the Drama?”), Banks goes back and forth with herself as she questions how she’s contributed to some of the problems in her life. Most of her episodes are split across two TikToks; creatively, the chance to deliver a seamless episode in one extended length TikTok has its appeal.
“I actually took a look at my analytics, and most people who watch my videos don't scroll away. They pretty much watch the video in full, and I've also gotten comments from some of my followers basically telling me like, ‘This isn't long enough,’” Banks said.
TikTok filled a hole left by Vine, a punchy shortform content platform that was partially brought to its knees by failing to incentivize creators. Today, TikTok appears to be hinging its growth on emulating the defining features of other platforms — even if they run counter to what the app is known for.
“Unless the app incentivizes 10-minute videos, whether it’s boosted ‘For You’ exposure, algorithm modification, or monetary incentives, I don’t believe creators will shift their focus to utilize this feature,” Merchant said.
Creators already have more established and incentivized platform options to choose from when it comes to making longform content. With the app’s upcoming 10-minute feature, it still seems unlikely that TikTok will be creators’ first choice for longform videos, at least not until the payoff makes sense or new creative tools are made available.
To quote a Wildcat, “Follow one simple rule / Don't mess with the flow / No, no / Stick to the status quo.”