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It started as an experiment for one creator management group: What would happen if three of their shortform creators, popular on apps like TikTok but relatively unknown on YouTube, went all in on posting to YouTube’s new shortform platform, Shorts? The answer: surprisingly rapid subscriber growth and views in the millions.
Alyssa McKay, who has 8.5 million followers on TikTok, was one of the first creators to try out Shorts in February while it was still in beta mode. Beginning with 40,000 subscribers, which she gained back when she posted a smattering of videos, McKay started posting her “rich girl” videos — a POV-style series first popular on TikTok — to YouTube. Six months later, and McKay boasts more than a half a million subscribers on YouTube, and her most popular Shorts video has more than 13 million views — a number that McKay describes as “insane” by YouTube standards.
Two other creators, Katie Feeney and Hannah Montoya, saw similar success on Shorts. In 30 days, Montoya, who has 3.8 million TikTok followers, gained 125,000 new subscribers after she started posting her POV videos to Shorts. Feeney, popular on TikTok with 6.3 million followers, gained 750,000-plus subscribers in three months.
“Even when I was young, I wanted to be a YouTuber … but I hadn’t yet figured out the YouTube algorithm or how to grow with these longform videos,” Feeney, a dancer who posts comedy and vlog-style videos, says. “No matter how many shout-outs I gave from my TikTok to my YouTube, I was stuck at this number, like 20,000 subscribers. But that all changed with Shorts.”
Shorts launched in India — where TikTok is banned — in late 2020 and since has expanded globally in more than 100 countries, surpassing 15 billion daily views. The platform’s built-in global reach may be one explanation as to why Shorts has been able to scale up so quickly. Though the offering hasn’t replaced TikTok by any means, several shortform creators tell The Hollywood Reporter that they are flocking to Shorts because they can grow subscribers faster than if they were to post longer videos to YouTube.
Brian Mandler and Brian Nelson, co-founders of the Network Effect agency, which led the Shorts experiment with clients McKay, Feeney and Montoya, say building out a sizable YouTube subscriber base is the “gold standard” for creators aiming to make a living.
“Madison Avenue, at large, really understands the value of a YouTube following and understands the value of a YouTube view,” Mandler, a former Google and YouTube executive, says. “There is only benefit to having a really large YouTube following.”
Even creators without established followings on other platforms have found rapid success through Shorts. Anthony Baroud, a dental student in Chicago, launched his channel Dental Digest last summer and started focusing on shortform after seeing “insanely high” engagement. In one year, his channel hit 4.5 million subscribers.
“I [have] way more growth on Shorts and I think that’s, hands down, the reason why my channel has blown up,” says Baroud, whose Shorts typically average between 5 to 10 million views while videos above 8 minutes average around 1 million.
Though the creators who spoke with THR aren’t leaving TikTok to post exclusively on Shorts, uploading original shortform videos to the platform will allow creators to be eligible for a $100 million Shorts fund that will be distributed through 2022. In the first month of the fund, YouTube is sending invites to more than 3,000 creators — including Baroud — across genres to claim payments, which could be as a high as $10,000 a month.
The fund is most similar to TikTok’s $1 billion creator fund that will pay creators through the next three years. But Kevin Ferguson, a former TikTok executive who joined YouTube in May as its new director of operations and partnerships for Shorts, tells THR that the Shorts fund is just a stopgap until YouTube develops a long-term monetization and support tool for shortform creators that will be modeled after, but differ, from YouTube’s Partner Program.
“For traditional YouTube, the goal for us has always been to support creators and allow them to support themselves as a business, and that certainly remains true for Shorts,” Ferguson says. “This is still the beginning, and we think there’s a huge opportunity to really see how this ecosystem continues to grow over time.”
A version of this story appeared in the Aug. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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