The work of Internet creators is now dominated by short mobile video a la TikTok

Illustration of a one-way sign with a trigger button in place of an arrow

Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

A new era of short video is sweeping the internet, forcing every type of creator—from podcasters to photographers and publishers—to adjust their media strategies.

why does it matterThere has never been much opportunity for content creation online, but commercial incentives are driving all kinds of creative individuals and organizations to chase the same viral trends.

be clever“With TikTok and Instagram Reels and some other new platforms, addiction is the platform,” said Sascha Kaletsky, co-founder of Creator Ventures, a creative economics investment firm. “The user is not looking for any particular creator, they are looking to entertain.” He said to Axios on stage last month.

For creative peopleit means a broad transition to quick and cheap behind-the-scenes videos.

  • TV journalistswho are eager to make new audiences as linear TV fades, tend to “get ready with me” videos featuring their morning routines.
  • paparazzi They post videos of their photo shoots and sexy before-and-after photo edits.
  • Podcasters They post videos of themselves interviewing guests in their recording studios that they hope will draw users to their Spotify or Apple shows.
  • meme makers It even tried posting meme images as short videos on platforms like Instagram to boost its ranking in the app’s algorithms.

In numbers: A new report from mobile analytics company data.ai finds that users spend an average of 3.1 billion hours globally streaming UGC per day on short-form video apps like TikTok and YouTube.

Zoom outAlmost all of the user growth among teens online is going towards short video apps. This means that the best shot creators can take at building an audience is to rely on viral video trends — even if they’re not video professionals.

Data: Pew Research Center.  Note: The 2014/2015 survey did not ask about TikTok, which launched globally in 2018, or YouTube;  Chart: Nikkei Cambridge/Axios
Data: Pew Research Center. Note: The 2014/2015 survey did not ask about TikTok, which launched globally in 2018, or YouTube; Chart: Nikkei Cambridge/Axios

How did we get here: The explosive rise of TikTok during the pandemic and growing concerns about user data privacy have prompted nearly every major social media company to fundamentally change their content distribution strategy.

  • Meta said in July that it would emphasize recommending Facebook content to users based on what goes viral over boosting content based on social connections — a change that would transform the app to feel more like TikTok.
  • “It is only natural that social networks will most likely lean toward recommendation media for the foreseeable future, because if social networks are ad-supportive, the most engaging content will be the one that generates the most ad revenue,” said Michael Mignano. An innovative economy investor at Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Yes, but: When these changes began rolling out to Instagram — an app designed for photographers, artists, and other creative professionals — users revolted.

  • “A lot of artists are having a lot of trouble with transformation,” Kaya Yuriev, The Information’s correspondent who focuses on the creator economy, told Axios. “But they’re embracing video because they don’t have much of a choice anymore.”

National Geographic, The publisher with the largest number of followers on social media, is facing this pressure. “Our incredible social reach is based in large part on our strength on Instagram, which is based on our strength in photography, which is amazing,” National Geographic’s new editor-in-chief Nathan Lamb told Axios last month.

  • “But obviously we know that video is driving a lot of engagement in social media, and that’s where it’s growing most in terms of engagement and users and social platforms. And so we need to focus a lot there.”

Between the lines: Social media platforms have a lot to gain in the long run from penchant for short video. But for now, user adoption of short-form videos has outpaced the job opportunities available to creators.

  • “Ad load on short video products remains low because platforms prioritize increased engagement over monetization at this point,” analysts at MoffettNathanson wrote in a note to clients earlier this year.
  • BuzzFeed Blame it on that dynamicin part, because it had to lay off 12% of its workforce earlier this month.

What’s Next: There are still more people creating new content than ever before, and some observers believe that the advent of generative AI tools like Dall-E, Stable Diffusion, and ChatGPT will make it easier for newcomers.

  • “The way I think of AI now is that it’s a way to enable humans to create more and express themselves more, but it’s not a replica or replacement for true human creativity,” said Mignano of Lightspeed.
  • But many artists don’t trust generative AI. They object to AI companies using vast amounts of data, including some copyrighted material, to train software. They fear that the new tools will make their difficult jobs even more difficult.

what are they saying: said Anushk Mittal, co-founder of AI avatar startup Circle Startup Labs.

  • “I think it’s an emerging field that we still have to explore,” Mittal said. “My point is…we look at art all the time and that’s why you’re inspired to create new art. It’s the same thing but instead of people, it’s a machine.”

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