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Is TikTok’s experimentation with long-form heralding the next evolution in video?

9th May 2024

There’s been lots of chatter since TikTok announced the Beta testing of 30-minute videos. Associate Director Emma Sivakumaran explores what it means.

It’s not the first step in the platform’s move towards longer-form videos. Over the past few years, TikTok has been bumping up the limits from 15 seconds to a minute, then three minutes, then 10 minutes and last October, it began testing 15-minute videos.

But this latest move is leaving many of us questioning its real motivations. TikTok’s stratospheric rise in popularity (it’s the fastest growing social platform of all time) was wholly led by its unmatched delivery of short form, fast paced, hyper personalised video. The antithesis of YouTube, more real than Instagram, more entertaining than Facebook.

Young, fun, high energy – TikTok became an instant trend setter, and we still can’t get enough. The platform has over one billion active monthly users, placing it just slightly behind Instagram and double that of Snapchat.

It’s formula for success is working – and while it’s a given social media’s most disruptive platform isn’t resting on its laurels – this move to real long form video still took some by surprise.

It’s not immediately obvious whether the demand for long-form video is coming from TikTok’s users. The optimum TikTok length is still considered between 21-34 seconds and research from Wired revealed that users actually found videos longer than 60 seconds ‘stressful’.

There’s also a question over how lucrative the move will prove to be.

The beauty of TikTok is that it’s almost impossible to get bored – and we all know how quickly a little check in to fill a quiet moment can lead down a rabbit hole of scrolling. But the clever bit is how much opportunity the pace of the platform creates to serve promoted content and learn about user behaviour.

It’s quite typical to see an ad every couple of videos, without it being particularly disruptive to the experience. Average session time on TikTok is 10 minutes and 51 seconds according to Statista – by far the highest of any other social channel. If we take that and an average video length of 25 seconds, then a user could be seeing around 26 pieces of content, with potentially 4-5 adverts in a single session.

Additionally, the more content people see, the more TikTok can learn about them – building up important data for more sophisticated and effective targeting.  Of course, the volume of data TikTok can access is the driver for increased scrutiny and debates about its future, but that’s a story for another day.

While we may only be talking in averages, it’s a simple illustration of how introducing long-form video could affect the volume of interactions and behaviour on a platform – and potentially revenue if advertisers get less frequency and exposure.

For brands, adding a long-form content format into the mix could also require more investment. Creating short form TikTok content can be relatively cost effective, with in-platform editing tools and low-fi executions favoured. Not to mention that content can be easily repurposed across other platforms including Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts and Pinterest idea pins – all capped at 60 seconds – for maximum budget efficiency.

So, what is driving the introduction of longer videos?

Some speculate it’s a move to keep things fresh, offering users more variety in how they consume information.

It’s no secret that TikTok is being touted as the new Google, and longer video lengths provide more time and flexibility to share things like tutorials and explainers, which are likely to keep growing in popularity.

Longer-form video may keep people on the platform for even longer. And while it’ll likely look quite different to the promoted content we see now, it’s safe assume TikTok is working on how to monetise this opportunity effectively.

It’s a similar opportunity for creators, with longer videos providing more time to incorporate ads and sponsored content and drive deeper storytelling. TikTok has already nodded towards support for this through its Creator rewards programme which provides incentives for longer videos.

While the reasons why TikTok is introducing more long-form may initially seem at odds with everything that’s made the platform a success, it has the potential to add more variety for user, create more engagement and likely more revenue opportunities.

And it’s not the only platform to think so. Cementing TikTok’s trendsetting status, Instagram recently announced testing of 3 minute and 10-minute Reels.

It may take a little time for long-form content to rediscover its place in the social landscape alongside its quick consumption counterparts, but we if can take anything from the recent moves, it’s on the horizon. And as ever, quality is king: if the content is good enough, people will watch.

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