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YouTube's TikTok competitor Shorts expands to the US

Nathan Ingraham
·Deputy Managing Editor
·3-min read

Last fall, YouTube introduced Shorts, a short-form video platform that competes directly with TikTok (as well as other TikTok clones like Instagram’s Reels. While YouTube users from all around the world have been able to view Shorts, only people in India had initial access to the Shorts creation tools built into the YouTube app. That changes today, as the company announced the Shorts beta is expanding to the US. As with many Google releases, this one will roll out gradually over the next “several weeks.”

When Shorts launched in India, it had the expected tools for making short-form video, including the “multi-segment” camera first popularized by Vine, a catalog of music to use, text, speed settings and so forth. Shorts are still limited to 15 seconds when shooting with the built-in camera, but you can upload videos as long as 60 seconds that you’ve With the US launch, YouTube has added a few clever new features, many of them focused around audio. YouTube now has licenses for music from hundreds of record labels and publishers, including the “big three” of Sony, Warner Group and Universal. This means that you’ll be able to access pretty much any popular music you want to put in as the background of your Short. 

Shorts will also let creators sample audio from any other Short on YouTube to remix and use in their own creations. And even audio from standard YouTube videos is up for grabs, assuming the original creator wants to make it available. And YouTube is leveraging its vast video catalog as well as the YouTube Music service to tie Shorts back into these other products. For example, if you watch a Short featuring a specific song, you can tap on it to get directly to the official artist channel and see the original music video. YouTube also plans to show Shorts featuring a particular audio track below the official video, making it so you can easily find other Shorts using the same song. To encourage people to make more Shorts, YouTube videos will also soon have a button that lets you start making your own video based on the one you’re watching.

Unsurprisingly, YouTube plans to make Shorts more visible, both in its app and on the web. There’s already a “shelf” on the YouTube app homepage featuring Shorts, and they’ll be collected on the YouTube website as well. Finally, Shorts now has a text timeline that lets you pick exactly when and how long a text overlay will remain visible in your video, something pretty useful for the various “step by step” style clips that are poplar in this format. 

I asked YouTube’s Todd Sherman, who’s the product lead for Shorts, if he thought the pandemic of the last year had anything to do with the wild proliferation of TikTok-style videos. He called it an “accelerant,” but thinks it’s more about a confluence of technology coming together at the right time. “If you look back and take YouTube as an example, YouTube’s founding came at a good time, because at that time a whole bunch of people had access to digital cameras, computers, and video editing software,” he said. 

He sees the same thing happening here with Shorts and similar formats. “This new era of video started I think with the “Vine” camera, the multi-segment camera, because that feature has survived Vine,” Sherman said. “That’s one, but there are others like speed control and recording with a provided audio source. On the creation side, this makes it so a whole bunch of people can produce short videos that are entertaining to strangers.” 

All of these updates are rolling out to YouTube users starting today, though how long it’ll take before it hits your account remains to be seen. If you’re in a country besides the US or India, though, you’ll have to be patient — YouTube hasn’t said when the Shorts creation tools will hit other countries yet.