Media Top Stories
6 mins read

Uncharted horizons: Navigating the video-first revolution

Video has ambushed the online world. The medium, certainly within the social space, and especially in short form, is now the primary mode for communication, entertainment, and marketing.

What is still uncertain is where the battle between vertical and horizontal, short and long form, video will take us. What is certain is that no matter where video treads, content, engaged audiences, and monetisation opportunities follow.

Let’s be clear. What we see now is not the “pivot to video” pre-maturely announced in 2015. That was a trend, or rather an excuse, by media companies to fire journalists and use the savings to produce short-form video content as clickbait on third-party platforms. Many publishers blamed Facebook for inflating video data at the time. Yet, just as many jumped on the bandwagon and were complicit in what can only be described as a crime.

Today’s video-first online world is real. It is driven by users, particularly Gen Z and Millennials, who prefer to engage with video content. And where young generations go, older generations follow. A report published earlier this year by Statista analysing global digital video viewership since 2019 reveals that in 2020, over three billion internet users of any age watched streaming or downloaded video via any device at least once a month. This figure is projected to increase annually and reach 3.5 billion by the end of this year.

Leading social media dominance

Statista’s ‘Mobile video worldwide’ report published last year illuminates the fact that short-form user-generated videos now dominate the social media landscape. The report findings highlight how user-generated short videos first gained prominence on social media platforms between 2020 and 2021, leading to the launch of Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, and Video Pins from Pinterest.

In this space, YouTube Shorts and TikTok dominate. TikTok amassed over 2.7 billion global downloads between 2020 and April 2023, surpassing other social platforms in terms of user engagement.

The report also highlights the changes made by Instagram to include a short-form video dynamic. Powered by Meta, Instagram strengthened its position by launching an in-app video feature, Instagram Reels, in August 2020. This contributed to approximately two billion downloads on the platform in the period up to mid-2023.

Are we all going to be goldfish soon? 

Short-form video growth is attributed to the theory that younger generations suffer from a shortened attention span. Supporters of this theory, like TikTok General Manager UK Kris Boger, argue that short-form videos offer instant gratification by delivering content briefly and engagingly and find short videos more appealing than longer, traditional formats. “Gen Z typically have an attention span of just 8 seconds; a few seconds shorter than millennials, who come in at approximately 12 seconds,” Boger wrote for the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB UK), the industry body for digital advertising.

It might not be as simple as that. Data supports the notion that younger generations are better at multitasking. Growing up in the digital age, they have been exposed to a non-stop influx of information through multiple online platforms. Behavioural analyses by insight companies such as PYMNTS, a global leader for data and insights into the connected economy, support the theory that Gen Z spends more time multitasking at work compared to older generations. “Gen Z individuals are more likely to listen to music, browse social media, and even shop while working”. Short-form videos accommodate this multitasking behaviour, allowing users to consume content quickly and seamlessly. While this might suggest short bursts of attention, it also supports the notion that Gen Z has the attention span to deal with and process more information. 

Other obvious factors boosting video-first consumption and creation include mobile-first consumption, improved internet speed, the availability of high-quality smartphone (video) cameras, and the visual appeal of the format, which encourages creative expression in a short time frame.

Where eyeballs go, advertisers go

Brands have been fast to recognise the power of video, including it as an important part of their marketing strategies, particularly those looking to target diverse, engaged, and younger audiences.

Insider Intelligence, a subscription-based market research company that provides insights and trends related to digital marketing, media, and commerce, says its research shows programmatic ad spend growth will largely come from one place in the coming year: video. This could be as high as 96%.

More specifically, Statista projected that in 2023, ad spending in the video advertising market will grow around 6.5% to US$176.6bn, ultimately reaching a market volume of US$241.9bn by 2028. For short-form video alone, ad spending is projected to reach US$88.1bn by the end of this year, with an annual growth rate of 10.61%, resulting in a projected market volume of US$145.8bn by 2028.

Navigating the video bifurcation

But, warns knowledgeable and influential voices in the world of online video and over-the-top (OTT) TV, we should be careful not to overcook the importance of short-form video. Media ‘cartographer’ Evan Shapīro insists video is bifurcating into two main categories: “long-form, premium, lean-back horizontal connected TV content; and short-form, time-killing, vertical mobile content”.

He firmly believes that audiences will use both – in large amounts. The premium horizontal video experience will become the in-home default for most viewers, while the vertical phone-based video experience (with emphasis on short-form) will be “relegated to in-between times”. Both will offer effective advertising platforms, but the horizontal experience will increasingly be seen by users and media buyers as ‘premium’, whereas mobile will be viewed as ‘incremental’.

As proof of this theory, Shapiro offers the recent urgency in which YouTube has invested in YouTube TV, an American streaming television service operated by YouTube.

The way in which many established legacy publishers have invested in video supports this notion. To offer only one example, the publishers of Readers’ Digest, Trusted Media Brands (TMB), have invested in both social video and streaming TV. The move has resulted in exponential growth for the company. 

Speaking at the FIPP World Media Congress earlier this year, CEO Bonnie Kintzer said this investment was pivotal to TMB’s growth into a multi-platform media brand. “One of the great things about us is that we now have massive reach across all aspects of media.” That ‘massive reach’ translates into 90 billion social video views and 12 million streaming TV minutes. While TMB’s social media accounts boast monthly video views of 2.5 billion, they have also invested in partnerships with Apple TV, Samsung, and the American OTT video streaming service Peacock.

Where video goes, content follows

Ryan Broderick, the writer behind the highly influential newsletter Garbage Day, explains why he now devotes a large portion of his work week to adapting his newsletter content for video. “At some point in the last two-three years, a likely permanent shift happened online. It’s a video-first medium now. And most major social platforms use short videos as coal for their recommendation engine and if you want to build up an account quickly in 2023, which in turn helps you promote the content you’re making online, then the easiest way to do that is with video.”

And so, too, do podcasts. Simon Owens, the creator of the podcast about how publishers create, distribute, and monetise digital content, points out that many conversational podcasts are simultaneously distributed as videos on platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. Many industry professionals, himself included, have argued that every podcast should have a video component.

Written articles and blogs have seen similar trends where many online publications now incorporate video elements to enhance storytelling and engage audiences visually. This happens too for interviews and conversations. There are many examples of this on this Mx3 platform right here. Video interviews provide an immersive experience and often attract larger audience figures. The same is true for educational content, webinars and workshops.

Surprisingly, news outlets and journalists are increasingly also using video as a primary storytelling medium. A recent example is the success of Deutsche Welle, the German state-owned international broadcaster. It uses TikTok for the dissemination of news and attracts audiences as young as 14 with millions of interactions via short-form vertical video. Read our report here

As video continues to increase its domination of the online landscape, its influence will extend far beyond social media. It will reshape content forms, marking a shift in the digital landscape. Where video goes, content follows, influencing both consumption patterns and revenue generation strategies.

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Piet van Niekerk is a retired gas engineer. He also worked as a journalist and editor earlier in his career. Based in Bristol, he now writes about media and content innovation. Mail him at