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YouTube email to creators highlights rivalry with TikTok, Netflix


YouTube released new details about its payments to creators on Tuesday, offering a pledge to continue its commitment to long-form storytelling as it faces a challenge from TikTok for creator and audience loyalty.

YouTube CEO Neal Mohan sent an email to creators that revealed the new data just days after TikTok began urging its contributors to post more long-form, horizontal content, saying those that do will find their videos favored by the company’s algorithm.

The YouTube announcement is the latest sign of growing competition for audience loyalty not just among social media platforms but between social media platforms and more traditional entertainment outlets such as Netflix. In releasing its new numbers, YouTube sought to emphasize how much entertainment is consumed on its site.

“Creators should be recognized as next-generation studios,” Mohan wrote. “[Creators] are redefining the future of the entertainment industry with top-notch storytelling that can’t be dismissed as simply ‘user-generated content.’”

Mohan said YouTube has paid out more than $70 billion to creators, artists, and media companies over the last three years and added more than 3 million channels to its partner program, which allows creators to monetize their YouTube content.

TikTok has been working to reposition itself as an entertainment app rather than a social platform. It had a strong presence at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, even hosting a TikTok Short Film Competition for young filmmakers. According to a report from Insider Intelligence, TikTok users are spending almost as much time on the platform as they do on Netflix.

TikTok, like YouTube, has been open about its ambitions to take on streaming and long-form entertainment to capture more ad dollars and keep users hooked for longer on their platform. Besides gaming, streaming is the largest category where advertisers spend their money on mobile, according to a report from Data.ai.

All of this comes as YouTube stars MrBeast and the Sidemen have apparently struck deals with major streaming services. Netflix will air a documentary about the Sidemen, a U.K.-based YouTube super group with over 20 million subscribers, and MrBeast is reportedly in talks with Amazon Prime Studios to host a reality competition show on its streaming service.

“When I started at YouTube, people thought about content from major studios and content from creators as entirely different, but today that stark divide is gone,” Mohan said. “Viewers want everything in one place, from a live sports game to the BBC to Khan Academy and NikkieTutorials.”

Mohan said that people are now watching YouTube videos the way that they used to sit down and watch traditional television shows. Globally, viewers now watch more than 1 billion hours on average of YouTube content on their TVs every day, he said. And according to Nielsen’s report on streaming in the United States, YouTube was the leader in streaming “watch time” for the past 11 months.

This shift has led creators to think differently about the content they produce, with an increasing number now considering how to optimize their content for a living room experience, rather than a phone, according to YouTube.

In the last three years, the number of top creators that received the majority of their watch time on the big screen increased more than 400 percent, YouTube said. Major creators such as Ms Rachel, who makes children’s entertainment content, and SypherPK, who makes gaming videos, have seen their living room watch time double in the second half of the year, according to the company.

Mohan said that some people now consume YouTube Shorts on their television sets. Shorts, intended to compete with TikTok, now averages more than 70 billion views daily, he said, while the number of channels uploading Shorts has grown 50 percent year over year.

To keep its edge with creators, YouTube announced it would expand the options creators have to earn money from their posts. Soon, viewers more easily will be able to shop for products on the platform, Mohan said, and support creators through memberships. The number of creators using memberships increased more than 50 percent last year, the company said.

YouTube also announced plans to invest further in artificial intelligence-driven features such as YouTube Shorts’ Dream Screen, which lets creators produce AI-generated backgrounds for their videos, and AI-driven music features. “AI innovation will make it possible for even more people to create,” Mohan wrote. “We’ll continue to ensure AI is in service of creativity through our work with creative industries, in the rollout of AI-powered features, and as we unlock opportunities while building out appropriate protections.”

Mohan also promised that YouTube would press government officials to do a better job of tracking the role content creators play in the economy, something the U.S. government does not track. For YouTube, TikTok, and other social apps to be viewed as serious entertainment and media platforms, creators need recognition from the government, he wrote.

“This year, we’ll help policymakers and partners across the industry see the economic and entertainment value that creators bring to the table,” he said.

“Being a creator is a full time job with an international audience, but most governments don’t account for creators in their labor data,” he said. “We alleged creators should be recognized for their work and creators at the top of their game should be acknowledged in key industry forums.”

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