Karen Cheah
Jul 25, 2019

The MAD world of short videos

User-generated short videos are exploding now, but to be successful they must be meaningful, authentic and differentiated.

The MAD world of short videos
“In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” —Andy Warhol, 1968

Andy Warhol was right about the mass commoditisation of fame, although off by a few minutes. Today, it’s about 15 seconds. Welcome to the MAD world of short videos: user-generated content clips that can range from 15 seconds to even 15 minutes (but usually less), and is expected to be 'meaningful, authentic and differentiated' (MAD) if they aim for fandom.

It’s the fastest-growing trend in China, pushing aside live streaming.

According to TechNode, the China Internet Network Information Centre reported that by the end of 2018, 80% of the country’s 829 million netizens used short video apps. It’s become a phenomena that industry giants Tencent, Baidu and Bytedance are capitalizing on. All of them are innovating as fast as they can—to not only stay on-trend but to also provide the next ‘hot’ offering in the short video app space.

TikTok trending short videos (July 2019)

Tik-Tok, Xigua and Kuaishou to name a few, are among the top apps that dominate the world of short videos. They are as different as they are similar to each other. Scroll through TikTok and you’ll come face-to-face with 15-second videos of gyrating youths lip synching to their favourite songs, pets performing on skateboards and a meme for every mood. The short video social media app by parent company ByteDance, has certainly proven its global appeal. Numbers point to a billion downloads in 2018 and half a billion active users, with over 40% of them outside China. Its AR filters and a suite of easy-to-use editing tools, make it a snap darling for Gen Z.

In contrast, Xigua, also from Bytedance, provides a platform for more professionally created videos that are longer in duration, pushing to a few minutes long. Xigua means watermelon in mandarin but the use here references more to the social past-time of eating watermelon seeds, especially when observing others. The app has divided genres such as culture, cuisine and fashion. There are also games and TV programmes to view.

Xigua video portal

Tencent-owned KuaiShou’s short video app features more prank and stunts clips. It appeals more to migrant workers, small town youth in lower-tier cities and rural communities. Reports from App Annie show that it was the most downloaded video social sharing app in South Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, Russia, Thailand, Indonesia and Turkey by May 2018. In South Korea, it was ranked No. 1 in the video editing app category and was the most downloaded app in the country. The overseas market accounted for more than 50% of Kuaishou’s users in the first quarter of 2018.

Gaming videos on KuaiShou

The plethora of short video apps is mind-boggling as there appears to be a short video app for every demographic—each one aiming to be as 'meaningful, authentic and differentiated' as the next. And what better motivation than a strong monetary pay-off.

Video streaming and short videos have proved to be a successful means of drawing in consumers to ecommerce platforms, a market valued at nearly US$2 trillion. E-marketer has estimated that over 35% of China’s retail sales takes place online, leading all other countries. Consumers are viewing short videos to make purchase decisions, and as a means of sharing information. And the short videos keep consumers within their ecosystem. The short video app market generates revenue from advertising, drawing in key opinion leaders and most importantly, brand connect and identity. Solidifying the need to be Meaningful, Authentic and Differentiated especially with Gen Z.

This post millennial generation is predicted to make up 40% of all consumers by 2020. In China, Z-lennials number 312 million of the country’s 1.4 billion by 2019 and their numbers and spending power make them an essential and growing consumer market for brands. They are also the first generation of digital natives, born and living in a technologically advanced China. As avid consumers of video content, they dislike being ‘marketed’ to and demand ‘authenticity’ and are said to enjoy creating their own content. Compare this to what short video apps provide, and it’s a tick in every box.

Yet the short video apps are not without their share of controversy. Their reach and success has made them their own worst enemy, with increasing government scrutiny. Chinese regulators have stepped up their monitoring of videos and the amount of time young people spend on the screens. TikTok was banned in Indonesia for a week in 2018, and for two weeks in India this year. All of this related to alleged inappropriate content.

Short videos ride on the crest of a trend wave until the next big tide comes along … whatever that might be. Currently, there appears to be a pull to create micro videos—videos that are even shorter than short videos. Fame, regardless of duration, is all about the money. And right now, it’s 15 seconds and counting down.


Karen Cheah is chief product and creative strategist at museorg.com and former VP of creative services at Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific

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