TikTok is the New YouTube

image credit: SensorTower

published by Rachel Gold
June 28, 2021 at 3:43 p.m.
  • Founded in 2005, YouTube originally intended to be a video platform for ordinary people, making it easy to share personal videos.
  • Over the years, YouTube drifted into semi-professional reality television, moving away from its populist origins.
  • TikTok, a rapidly rising YouTube competitor, enables anyone to create and share video within the app.
  • TikTok is currently the most downloaded app in the App Store, with YouTube demoted to second place.

UPDATE: September 10, 2021

A new report reveals social media users spend more time on TikTok than on YouTube. Research provided by App Annie shows TikTok edging out YouTube for video viewing time per user. YouTube still retains more overall users; however, TikTok remains the most downloaded app. The emerging social media company is on a trajectory to overtake YouTube, possibly within a few quarters.

TikTok is the New YouTube

If you haven’t heard of TikTok, you’ve likely been dwelling in a cave for the past few years. With explosive growth, the new video platform is outpacing every other video and social media provider, including YouTube. Although the formats differ, TikTok embraces personal video sharing more than its ironically named competitor, where top earners adopt professional production standards.

TikTok’s rise may have a lot to do with social media culture, where fame is paramount. A handful of YouTubers dominate the platform, marginalizing other creators. To even earn the privilege of live streaming, a YouTube channel needs at least 1000 subscribers while meeting several other requirements.

The San Bruno video streaming giant favors its top earners, granting them leeway with moderation and pushing their content on users. YouTube will even look the other way if a lucrative channel produces hate speech and white supremacist content. If you’re just an average YouTuber, the algorithms and moderation work against you. Some smaller players get banned for technicalities while combatting racism on YouTube. Meanwhile, top creators can be racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and misinform viewers yet are unscathed by YouTube’s incongruous regulatory mechanisms.

TikTok seems to give the fame-seeker a little more hope. As with every new platform, a new set of creators have the opportunity to grow an audience before getting drowned in a sea of content. If TikTok were simply a YouTube clone, which it’s not, it would still do well because it’s a new opportunity for an average person to become famous with mediocre, reality-TV style content. 

Let’s face it, YouTube and TikTok programming doesn’t win Emmys or Oscars (not even Golden Globes), and there’s typically no writing or script involved. It ain’t Kubric. It’s all about people without lives watching people who pretend to have real lives. It’s an extension of reality TV and idolism — a bleak reflection of society’s atomization.

TikTok Makes Content Creation Easier

TikTok is a one-stop shop, making it easy to capture inspiration. YouTubers upload videos created offline. You have to be quite successful, with at least 1000 subscribers, to broadcast a live stream. The live stream itself is a daunting process, with a lengthy checklist. One has to prepare 24 hours in advance to do a live stream on YouTube. TikTok lets anyone broadcast live, and its content creation tools reside entirely within the app.

YouTube requires serious creators to buy expensive cameras and high-end computers for editing if they wish to be successful. Many invest in gear only to sell it at a loss on eBay, as they’re simply a drop in the vast YouTube ocean. If you wanted to make it big on YouTube, you should have done that years ago. At this point, new creators are simply sharing an ever-shrinking pie.

TikTok’s Rapid Rise

Unlike any other social media provider, TikTok experienced hyper-viral growth. In just a few years, both TikTok and Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese business, managed to gain 1.26 billion active users. TikTok’s viral growth outpaces Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. As formerly established social media and video platforms fade out of fashion, TikTok becomes more appealing.

Social media is trendy, which means it’s also ephemeral. Many assume that Facebook, YouTube, and others will be around forever. Although MySpace is still around, its first-wave social media contemporary Friendster no longer operates. YouTube will probably persevere; however, it will likely face an exodus as users depart to greener pastures. Such is the lifecycle of most tech corporations, but social media, being so frivolous and non-essential, is a much more vicious downward spiral.

Is YouTube Doomed?

As with most older corporations, YouTube’s growth is beginning to stall. Despite worldwide stay-at-home orders, 2021 realized only a slight expansion for the streaming giant. As economies start to open, people weary of staring at screens for 18 months are eager to get out in the real world.

This year may be the peak of YouTube’s popularity. As part of a public corporation, they must demonstrate quarterly growth to appease stockholders. Once it’s clear that YouTube is past its prime, it may be sold off or rebranded, as Google often does. Regardless of Google or YouTube leadership, the board may decide it’s time to refocus.

YouTube doesn’t maximize profits from its top earners. Much like with other social media platforms, influencing deals exist outside of the platform’s monetization features. Top YouTube earners don’t make almost $30 million a year from internal ad revenues. They make it from eating Taco Bell on camera. YouTubers make deals with corporations to recommend products. It’s like the good old days of the Lawrence Welk show, where he would directly recommend Geritol geriatric vitamins to his audience, but unlike a TV network, YouTube doesn’t get a cent of these revenues.

YouTube is also full of misinformation, and unlike Google, its ranking system doesn’t seem to address this. Some of the misinformation is hateful. Other misinformation will ruin your hair, car, home or produce other DIY disasters. This has the effect of turning off users. I find myself more repulsed than attracted to YouTube. If the videos aren’t offensive, they’re juvenile and banal. I’d rather live my life than experience it vicariously through others. After being cooped up for 18 months, many people feel the same.

My DIY projects never start with a trip to YouTube. Since so many websites now host their own video content to maximize ad earnings, YouTube no longer features the best and most accurate content regarding home repairs, grooming, cosmetics, or any other project or hobby. If you want to learn how to write code, YouTube is no longer the best place to start.

Beyond TikTok, many other opportunities attract new creators, directing them away from YouTube. Less prominent YouTubers are also defecting from the platform. Websites often host their own videos because they don’t want YouTube to take such a large cut of ad revenues. Creators can do better than YouTube, and the company has little room for improvement. Being more generous with advertising would only hurt their bottom line, as their user base plateaus.

YouTube will be around for some time, but instead of being the world’s largest video portal, it will only be as important as VH1. Content is king, and YouTube’s main content is reality TV and fringe political shows. The best education and DIY programming is leaving the platform because YouTube favors a cadre of semi-professional reality TV creators.

It may seem like a poor strategy, and it is. Once the leader in amateur streaming video, YouTube is now “tryna” be a reality TV channel, similar to VH1, Bravo, A&E, and countless others. They’re taking the “You” out of YouTube, as the company’s new strategy focuses on a handful of promising creators.

It appears that TikTok is the new YouTube, and its predecessor is becoming just another reality TV provider. YouTube will likely still host academic lectures, arts, and culture, and other quality content; however, this programming will likely migrate elsewhere. YouTube is changing. If you love reality TV, this change is for the better. For those who enjoy more spontaneous, democratic, and equitable video sharing, TikTok seems to be the new frontier for creators and viewers alike. TikTok’s format will likely change and expand to fill YouTube’s void.

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