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YouTube to expand test that reopens mobile app directly in its TikTok rival, Shorts

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YouTube is looking to give its TikTok rival, Shorts, a competitive advantage. The company confirmed it’s expanding a recent global test that defaults the YouTube mobile app to open directly in Shorts if the user had previously watched Shorts videos before exiting. In other words, instead of being taken to the YouTube homepage when you return to the app, you’d be dropped into the short-form video experience.

The company said the test, announced publicly last week, has been running on iOS only for a small percentage of global users. YouTube now says it’s preparing to expand the experiment to Android, as well.

The test will only target users who are engaging with YouTube’s answer to TikTok, known as Shorts. First launched over a year ago, initially in India, YouTube Shorts arrived in the U.S. this March and has since expanded to other global markets over the course of 2021. The short-form video platform allows users to create up to 60-second videos set to music, original audio, or “remixed” content sourced from other YouTube videos — unless creators have opted out of having their content repurposed in Shorts.

Like TikTok and its competitors from Instagram and Snapchat, Shorts includes video creation tools that let users either upload videos or film new content directly in the app. It also offers a set of basic editing features to do things like adjust the video’s speed, set a timer, combine clips, or even use a green screen effect, among other things.

According to a YouTube spokesperson, the company is looking to understand with the new test whether or not users find it helpful to start off from where they left off the last time they closed the app.

But the test also signals how YouTube sees TikTok, and the broader shift to short-form videos, as a potential threat to its business. Although TikTok popularized the short-form, vertical feed format, it has since been inching into YouTube’s territory. This summer, for example, TikTok officially extended the maximum video length to 3 minutes, up from 60 seconds. And it’s been spotted testing 5-minute videos in recent months.

To better take on TikTok, YouTube this year announced its plans to directly pay Shorts creators with the introduction of a $100 million YouTube Shorts Fund that will run over the course of 2021 to 2022. These payouts may range anywhere from $100 to $10,000, based on viewership and engagement with the Shorts videos.

But simply incentivizing the creative community may not be enough to give YouTube an edge. So it’s now trying a more aggressive tactic — dropping users back into Shorts upon relaunching the app, if that’s what they had last watched. By doing so, it’s possible those users will scroll and watch a few videos before they do whatever they came to do in the app. And if they were just launching YouTube because they had time to kill, the app will aim to capture their attention with Shorts’ content.

The test arrives at a time when the use of Shorts has been growing. During its Q2 earnings, YouTube parent comapny Alphabet announced Shorts had surpassed 15 billion daily views, up from 6.5 billion in Q1. But some of this increase could be attributed to market expansions, and not necessarily increased user demand.

YouTube declined to specify how long these new tests will run, saying only that it will make that determination based on user and creator feedback, in addition to metrics.

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