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YouTube Shorts, which showcases videos that are less than a minute long, has been gaining ground as some creators see big benefit to subscriber counts. Photo: TNS

YouTube says its TikTok rival Shorts is helping musicians rapidly grow subscribers

  • YouTube’s global head of music Lyor Cohen said he is excited about the opportunity of short videos, but those that don’t link to longer content are ‘junk food’
  • As some creators feel pressure to make viral TikTok moments, Google’s video platform is betting on a combination of short- and long-form video

Pop singer JVKE has been posting short clips of himself dancing and clowning around on YouTube’s Shorts video platform for more than a year.

In one, he sings into a soda bottle. In another, he pretends to show what to do if you catch your girlfriend cheating on you. Spoiler alert: It involves writing a new song.

All the screen time is paying off. The singer, who got his start posting clips on TikTok, now has over 1.8 million subscribers on YouTube, more than two-thirds of them added this year. YouTube, a division of Alphabet Inc’s Google unit, wants more musicians to make short-form videos for its platform.

In data shared exclusively with Bloomberg, the social media site said artists are using Shorts, its TikTok competitor, to rapidly grow their subscribers. In addition to JVKE, others benefiting from the product include singers Madilyn Bailey, Cooper Alan and Emeline, who increased their subscriber counts by 480,000, 290,000 and 150,000, respectively.

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“It is a very important opportunity that both the fans and the artists have,” Lyor Cohen, YouTube’s global head of music, said in an interview.

Cohen is excited about the music industry’s opportunity in the short-form space, though he’s also “deeply concerned” some viewers might only watch short-form content without exploring an artist’s deeper, longer-form work, like music videos and interviews. He called short-form videos that don’t link to long-form content “junk food”.

“I think short-form video could help crowdsource and make it easier for kids to find the soundtrack of their youth, but then you have to be prompted, and it has to lead you [to long-form content], so it’s not empty calories, but it leads you to learning and discovering and becoming a fan,” Cohen said.

YouTube introduced Shorts two years ago. It focuses on videos under one minute in length. The opportunity to link to longer videos, and thus generate even more ad revenue is great, however. As of April, Shorts containing content from other longer-form videos, not just music-oriented ones, generated over 100 billion views, YouTube said. The company is targeting “multiformat creators” who make both long- and short-form content. YouTube is paying some record labels and musicians to create Shorts.

Still, a backlash from artists making all this content has begun. Some, including Halsey, have spoken out about the pressure to create viral TikTok moments. Cohen said Shorts would thrive because artists could pick either the long-form or short-form path, or do both.

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“We truly trust our artists to guide how they want to express themselves and communicate with their fans,” said Nicki Shamel, senior vice-president of global commercial partnerships at AWAL, which partners with artists to create and distribute their content. “And quite honestly, that has to be a personal choice, and something that is authentic to them, but for many artists, short-form content is a low pressure, fun and inspiring way to interact with and communicate to their fans.”

YouTube said in June it reached more than 1.5 billion monthly logged-in Shorts viewers, and, as of April of this year had 30 billion daily views. At the same time, TikTok increased its maximum video length to 10 minutes earlier this year in an effort to become a complete video destination. It started in 2016 at just 15 seconds.