Over the past few years, TikTok has become synonymous with shrinking attention spans and snackable content, revolutionising how quickly media goes viral and how internet users can be glued to their phones for longer. This has been credited to the app’s highly tuned algorithm, which serves users with ever-more personalised content at an unprecedented rate, and its short-form videos – clips that could be no longer than 60 seconds.
But after introducing livestreaming, and increasing the potential video length from one minute to three last July, TikTok has announced yet another shift: it is gradually rolling out an update that more than trebles the maximum video duration, from three minutes to ten.
This move may appear counterintuitive. Why would a platform that gives users as much content as possible in as short a time as possible move away from the very idea that made it a global phenomenon? Surely users looking for 20-second clips aren’t going to be happy when they are served up videos 30 times that length.
However, if implemented strategically, this change could be good news for TikTok – because it allows the service to eat into competitors’ markets without alienating its existing base.
The move can be summed up as an attempt to win YouTube’s audience. On YouTube, viewers prefer lengthier videos, and TikTok seems to have been aiming for a chunk of that space since it first started loosening its time limits (meanwhile, YouTube has since introduced TikTok-style content called YouTube Shorts).
Long-form content is easier to monetise and typically keeps people on platforms for longer periods. Speaking to the Verge, the social media analyst Matt Navarra also suggested that if longer videos appeared elsewhere in the app – and not served to users on their main feed alongside TikTok’s typically snappier content – then it could bring in YouTube audiences (as well as that platform’s most popular creators) while keeping existing users happy.
The ten-minute option is currently only available to some users, and it’s still unclear how and where such videos will appear. But even if they are only viewed by a small chunk of new users, compared with the platform’s existing billion, it seems likely that TikTok is not harming what makes it the fastest-growing platform in the world, but simply introducing a new feature that will only allow it to expand faster.
[See also: Why Facebook’s future depends on Nick Clegg]