ANAHEIM, Calif. — While some VidCon attendees lined up for hours to try Squishmallow's "human claw machine" and packed into the Dream SMP panel to see their favorite Minecraft role-players, YouTuber Jenny Nicholson quietly posted her first YouTube video of the year.
The hour-and-20-minute dive into church plays — in which Nicholson plunged into the "cinematic universe" of a Canadian evangelical church's elaborate retellings of movies like "The Dark Knight" — seemed to counter the push for shorter content seen at VidCon. This year’s annual conference, where TikTok was the official partner for the first time, catered to short-form video content. (NBC News was a sponsor of the event.)
A massive installation of TikTok’s logo was on display front and center of the Anaheim Convention Center, where the conference took place. The majority of the event's billed "Featured Creators" primarily use TikTok as their main source of engagement.
Outside the convention center, a sprawling YouTube Shorts exhibit invited fans to post short videos for the chance to win custom snacks curated by popular creators. Instagram’s parent company, Meta, hosted an exclusive lounge on the top floor of the convention center, where staffers recorded participants before a variety of backdrops and assisted them in editing transitions and adding music to post to Reels.
Social media platforms, creators and industry leaders alike may be scrambling to compete with bite-size content. But long-form YouTube videos — from a 50-minute video essay about the rise and fall of a popular creator to a two-hour-deep dive into a Reddit conspiracy theory — have endured the TikTok boom.
The motto of the subreddit r/mealtimevideos is “Click and Consume.” The community of 2 million members organizes posts by video length, from 5 to 7 minutes to over an hour. On TikTok, lists of long-form video recommendations consistently go viral. YouTube playlists like “best video essays about random niche subjects” and “video essays to fall asleep to” provide hours of background noise.
Even though it does the complete opposite of what industry experts and many established creators recommended, like posting frequently to engage with viewers, Nicholson's church play video was viewed more than a million times in the few days since she posted it. She and other creators who specialize in documentary-style deep dives, pop culture analyses and video essay takes have carved out a niche of viewers who demand quality over frequency.
For creators, the videos are a win-win situation: Their audiences love long-form videos as much as creators love making them. Specializing in feature-length videos has helped manage burnout, some creators say, because the content is easier to monetize than most short-form video options.
“People just want to put something on,” said Kevin Perjurer, the documentarian behind the “Defunctland” YouTube channel covering defunct theme parks and discontinued children’s TV.
Creating feature-length videos helps Perjurer feel less feel pressured to post regular updates, he said. And for the most part, his audience remain invested.
“I think my audience is kind of along for the ride as far as whatever I’m doing,” Perjurer said.
The demand for longer videos
Nicholson theorizes that the long-form genre remains popular because viewers enjoy consuming content without actively engaging with it. TikTok videos, for example, require viewers’ full attention, even if they’re scrolling through their For You pages.
“There’s definitely a market for the stuff you can just put on and you don’t have to touch your phone and go to a new video because it’s not going to end on you while you’re doing your tasks,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson’s YouTube content runs from just under half an hour to well over two, but her most popular videos are the longer ones. Her hour-and-a-half-long review of the book “Trigger Warning” garnered 5.4 million views, and her 2½-hour video on “The Vampire Diaries” series has 8.7 million views. Nicholson said that she avoids checking her channel’s analytics for her own sake but that she knows viewership drops off at about 30 seconds in. The viewers who stay, she said, typically stay for the entirety of the videos.
Perjurer said long-form videos appeal to audiences who don't want to actively engage with content, unlike on TikTok.
“You’re constantly making decisions, whether you know it or not,” Perjurer said. “TikTok is such a decision-based platform. You’re making a decision even if you enjoy a video. You decided to keep watching, and every second of that video you’re making a decision.”
Certain topics necessitate length and nuance. Kat Blaque, who also attended VidCon as a Featured Creator, makes content about the intersections of LGBTQ issues, race and pop culture.
She said that when she first began posting on YouTube nearly 15 years ago, she tried to keep her videos under 5 minutes but realized that for the conversations she wanted to elevate, “it’s not always productive to do it short-form.”
“With the internet and YouTube, it kind of democratizes a lot of conversations,” Blaque said. “I talk a lot about sexual violence, sexual assault, trauma, things like that. I’ve made several very long videos where I talk about that sort of thing. ... I know that for me, hearing other people, how they process their own stuff, is productive for me.”
TikTok’s tendency to facilitate discussions about race, sexuality and other nuanced topics without context has been a source of frustration for many creators. It’s nearly impossible to have a productive conversation within the app’s 3-minute time limit, which concerns Blaque, because the algorithm “sometimes rewards misleading stuff by the nature of it being short.”
“I think a lot of people just want to sit with you for a while.”
youtuber kat blaque
Blaque said that even if she covers everything she wants to in a video essay, she has faced pressure from her viewers to make longer content and gotten comments from viewers asking why some of her video essays were only 10 minutes long.
“I think I have a talent for making very heavy short videos, but sometimes people don’t want that,” Blaque said. “I think a lot of people just want to sit with you for a while.”
Monetizing content is more sustainable
Monetizing longer videos can also be more sustainable than making it big on short-form video platforms.
Blaque will use YouTube Shorts to advertise her videos, which “does help you algorithmically,” because YouTube promotes them.
“Sometimes it’s a different audience. Some people don’t want to sit through the long video. Some people are only going to want to see the short clip,” Blaque said. “And that’s the way that they get reached. So what I started to do is take clips from my longer content as a way of increasing engagement, because it does absolutely increase engagement.”
Reaching a “different audience” using Shorts does drive traffic to her main channel, Blaque said, but “you don’t make a lot of money on Shorts.”
“I will always make more money on my longer-form content on my YouTube channel,” Blaque said. “But I look at Shorts as like advertisements.”
YouTube launched a $100 million YouTube Shorts fund last year to encourage creators to use the short-form feature, which YouTube’s director of discovery, Todd Beaupré, and Jimmy Donaldson, the creator known as MrBeast, highlighted during their VidCon panel about YouTube’s algorithm.
TikTok’s Creator Fund reportedly pays 2 to 4 cents per 1,000 views, and it requires creators to have 10,000 followers and at least 100,000 authentic video views to qualify. Hank Green, who founded VidCon in 2010 with John Green, his brother, has expressed concern this year that the Creator Fund is being distributed among more creators than when it launched in 2020, which means creators are getting less per view. Green himself said his payout fell from 5 cents per 1,000 views to 2.5 cents per 1,000 views over the last two years, even though his account got more engagement than it did in 2020.
Blaque said she made some cash off of Instagram Reels, which distributes bonuses to creators of thousands of dollars for posts. The factors that determine the bonuses are unclear, with creators reporting that they were offered $600 to $8,500 a month for their posts.
Neither YouTube Shorts payouts nor TikTok’s Creator Fund payouts compare to those of the YouTube Partner Program. Users don’t have to be part of the partnership program to receive money from the Shorts fund — YouTube says it will distribute “bonuses” from the fund based on a channel’s Shorts performance each month.
Qualifying as a partner, meanwhile, grants creators ad revenue from AdSense, which places ads throughout their videos, as well as a cut of subscription-based YouTube Premium revenue. The partnership program gives creators incentives to post higher-quality content over posting frequently, Perjurer said, unlike its Shorts fund and TikTok’s Creator Fund.
“That’s based on your watch time,” Perjurer said. “It’s not based on clicks. It’s not based on views. You put out a long video, you’re guaranteed to get more watch time.”
It took Blaque years to let go of feeling “beholden” to her audience’s demands for content. She said her viewers often expect her to make a video about “every single anti-LGBTQ thing.” The pressure to produce videos became an emotional burden.
“A lot of times when I look back at videos, I don’t particularly care for videos that I felt pressured to make,” Blaque said. “My mentality has really shifted a lot. There’s a lot of dark [expletive] happening right now. I don’t want to dwell on that, and I don’t think that the people who follow me want to dwell on that. I don’t emotionally want to do that.”
Other long-form creators post less.
Perjurer has posted on Defunctland just twice this year. A video he posted in November about the history of Disney’s FastPass, which was an hour and 43 minutes long, has more than 12 million views. Perjurer said the back catalog of monetized videos like the one he made about FastPass continues to attract viewers, which allows him to space out his posts and take the time to produce a thoroughly researched video.
“Every time we put out new content and somebody finds us, they have five years’ worth of stuff to look at,” said Perjurer, who launched Defunctland in 2017. “The beauty of the feature piece is, I think, that you’re not reminding people that they’re forgetting about you.”
Perjurer said some long-form creators may release supplementary media, such as shorter content that takes less time to produce or the occasional Twitch stream, to continue engaging with their audiences. He describes his typical feature-length content as "tentpole videos."
“On something as important as your main channel, it’s kind of this spaced-out content that you work really hard on,” he said. “I am so thrilled that there seems to be a step away from the 2017, 2018 YouTube that I started in, which was very much ‘Wait, you didn’t post last week, I thought you died.’ Now it’s ‘I can tell you worked really hard on this and it paid off.’ It’s an audience that’s evolving in a good way.”
While the YouTube algorithm does recommend videos, seeking out content often involves more intention that stumbling upon a video via TikTok’s For You page. Long-form creators don’t need to make the same bids for viewer attention once they’ve established themselves in their niche — their content may not have the same reach on YouTube as it does on TikTok, but sustained engagement from a smaller audience is more valuable than high viewership on a single viral video.
Nicholson’s supplementary media is on Patreon, where a subscription costs $1 to $25. The lowest membership tier grants subscribers access to Patreon-exclusive monthly videos from Nicholson, while the $5 tier allows subscribers to vote on the topic of the next monthly video. The highest membership tier lets subscribers submit the video topic ideas that the mid-tier subscribers vote on each month.
“The burnout really came from, like, I noticed the views going up. I feel like as a YouTuber you want the views to go up, but the more it kept happening, the more I felt like people had higher expectations for each video."
youtuber jenny nicholson
Creating videos for Patreon, where she doesn’t have to brainstorm video ideas and people “didn’t care as much,” has relieved Nicholson of both financial stress and the pressure to outperform herself. When her channel began gaining traction in early 2020, demand for new content became “higher than ever,” Nicholson said, and she “got into this huge funk” over creating better and better content.
“The burnout really came from, like, I noticed the views going up. I feel like as a YouTuber you want the views to go up, but the more it kept happening, the more I felt like people had higher expectations for each video,” Nicholson said. “It’s, like, more views, and people are nice, which is good, but then you’re like my next one has to be as good or my next one has to be better. You can’t keep getting better infinitely. There’s a ceiling in your abilities.”
Nicholson pivoted to posting primarily on Patreon about a year ago. She said that the videos she posts for subscribers typically average around an hour long and that, behind a paywall, viewers are less likely to “uncharitably read in to” everything she says. It’s easier to share an unpopular opinion — especially when it comes to pop culture takes — with people who are more willing to hear out her arguments.
Nicholson said she used to worry about her channel’s losing relevance because she doesn’t post as much on it, but the anticipation for her videos is reassuring.
“I used to be more afraid of it — I feel like I worry all the time about what the algorithm is doing,” Nicholson said. “It’s like this big mysterious monster to everybody, and you only have a vague idea of how it works. But I was optimistic that it seems like there were enough people waiting for content that when I do put something out, people will probably show up for it.”