Why Google Is Bullish About Winning Its Fight with TikTok
Alphabet, Google’s parent, announced third-quarter earnings that fell short of expectations. Normally an earnings miss is cause for concern especially during recessionary times. But the company sounded upbeat. In fact, Alphabet believes it’s making the right investments for long-term growth, including one crucial YouTube feature.
First, let’s take a look at the numbers. For the third quarter, Alphabet reported:
- Revenue: $69.09 billion vs. $70.58 billion expected, according to Refinitiv estimates.
- Google advertising revenue: $54.48 billion, up 2.5 percent year over year but down 3 percent between the second and third quarters. (By contrast, Google’s ad revenue jumped 43.2 percent between the second and third quarters of 2021.)
- YouTube advertising revenue: $7.07 billion vs $7.42 billion expected, according to StreetAccount estimates.
The decline in ad revenue for YouTube is most bothersome for Google, especially because YouTube rival TikTok continues to pick up steam. Advertisers are finding something better on TikTok: younger, highly engaged audiences who prefer TikTok’s short-form video content.
According to Statista, TikTok generated $4.0 billion in advertising revenue in 2021, a figure that is expected to double by 2024 and triple by 2026.Digiday reported just a few days ago that ad agencies are shifting content creation from Instagram and YouTube to TikTok. In April, Insider Intelligence predicted that TikTok’s ad revenue will grow 184% to nearly $6 billion in 2023 (that amount tops Twitter and Snap combined). Meanwhile, Insider Intelligence says that Influencer-marketing spend on TikTok will overtake YouTube in 2024.
YouTube Is Fighting Back
But Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai says he is confident that Google will turn things around. One reason: the company has developed an answer to TikTok.
YouTube recently launched Shorts, which is YouTube’s version of short-form TikTok videos. Shorts is basically a TikTok copycat. Using the YouTube app, people can quickly and easily create short videos of up to 15 seconds. The videos are created on mobile devices and viewed, in portrait orientation, on mobile devices. And once you open one short, you essentially access the motherlode in that videos start playing one after the other. Just swipe vertically to get from one to the next.
According to YouTube, more than 1.5 billion people use Shorts – impressive numbers that actually surpass TikTok’s user base. As a result, more brands are creating campaigns on Shorts. It’s early days for Shorts and brands, but Shorts has two big advantages over TikTok:
- Integration with YouTube, which has 2.6 billion active users. This is important because YouTube can promote Shorts to the built-in user base, and brands can connect Shorts content to their already established YouTube presence.
- A creator monetization program that is more favorable than TikTok’s. YouTube recently announced Shorts will soon be eligible for monetization, and creators will keep 45 percent of the revenue generated from viewership. Having more savvy and popular creators on Shorts will generate more ad revenue for YouTube – and likely attract more brands.
Shorts is a fledgling operation. It only recently launched an ad program. But in an earnings call with investors, Pichai voiced optimism that the company’s investment into Shorts will pay off. He reiterated YouTube’s commitment to Shorts monetization, challenging TikTok directly, and attracting creators to the platform.
He has one other reason to feel upbeat. TikTok continues to grapple with a recurring and very ugly issue about its possible threat to national security related to accusations of privacy breaches — an issue that flared up in 2020 and is making headlines again. Who knows how that is going to turn out?
The best course of action for YouTube is the one that the company has chosen already: answering TikTok as it has done and capitalizing on its built-in user base. This will take time, and investors are impatient, especially during a down economy. But Alphabet has the cash to ride out the down times and continue to make YouTube more appealing to advertisers and creators.