Accelerated by the pandemic, 3 trends that are redefining video

Neal Mohan / March 2021

Today’s video landscape is rapidly changing in ways that are redefining how we watch, what we watch, and why we watch. These are developments that impact the entire ecosystem, from viewers to advertisers to creators and artists.

While some of these trends have been years in the making, the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated them. For the past year, as people around the world turned to digital to work, shop, connect with friends, and handle other daily essentials, we at YouTube have paid close attention to how video trends are evolving.

Here are three significant things we’ve noticed, and which we believe are helping drive digital video behavior into the future.

3 line drawings, of a TV, a shopping cart, and a video app, represent the trends driving digital video: video streaming and connected TV are on the rise; e-commerce is accelerating, fueled by digital video; short-term content is here for the long run.

Video streaming and connected TV are trending

Even before the pandemic, streaming was quickly becoming the preferred way to enjoy content. But 2020 solidified the trend, as people increasingly abandoned linear TV. This year, eMarketer projects that more than 106 million U.S. households will watch streaming content, eclipsing the number of households that pay for traditional TV services like cable or satellite.1

A line drawing of a house overlaid with a green video app window. More than 106 million U.S. households will watch streaming content, eclipsing traditional pay TV. Source: eMarketer, U.S., U.S. Connected TV Households and Penetration Forecasts, Feb. 2021.

At YouTube, we’re finding that, as viewers move away from traditional primetime, the new primetime is personal. People want the freedom to stream anything whenever they want, whether it’s a favorite movie, a rare music performance, a premiere sports event, or simply a video that helps fulfill a timely need.

And as viewers spend more time at home, they are streaming more content than ever before on connected TV (CTV) screens. While it’s true that people still watch a lot of YouTube on mobile, TV is now our fastest-growing screen. In December, more than 120 million people in the U.S. streamed YouTube or YouTube TV on their TV screens.2

A line drawing of a video app window. In December, more than 120 million people in the U.S. streamed YouTube or YouTube TV on their TV screens.

For advertisers, the move to streaming and CTV brings both challenges and opportunities. Many challenges — like planning what to buy and measuring impact — aren’t new. But new and critical solutions are underway to address these issues. For example, starting this year, advertisers in the U.S. will be able to measure their YouTube CTV campaigns through a third-party provider, Nielsen.

As for opportunities, streaming gives advertisers more places to connect with the customers they care about, including viewers who have been abandoning linear TV for streaming platforms. While it may feel like this landscape further fragments the audiences we’re all trying so hard to reach, the number of ad-supported platforms with scale is actually pretty small.

For advertisers, the move to streaming and CTV brings both challenges and opportunities.

According to Comscore, more than 82% of CTV reach in the U.S. falls on just five streaming services: Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Disney+, and only two of these platforms sell ads. Among ad-supported platforms, YouTube is No. 1 in reach and watch time,3 and represents 41% of all ad-supported streaming watch time.4 All of this makes it clear that CTV has opened a significant new chapter for video, on YouTube and beyond.

E-commerce is accelerating, fueled by digital video

It’s no secret that e-commerce has been growing for years, but the pandemic increased its momentum: Online shopping’s share of total retail sales grew 44% in 2020. As consumers continue to shift to digital, video will play an increasingly important role.

A line drawing of a shopping cart with a globe inside. 44% increase in online shopping’s share of total retail sales.

One reason for this shift is that while consumers want the convenience of researching and reviewing products online at home, they also want the trusted guidance of an in-store experience. That’s where YouTube creators come in.

It’s no secret that e-commerce has been growing for years, but the pandemic increased its momentum.

Creators spend considerable time and effort building authentic connections with their audiences, and, as a result, they’re uniquely positioned to offer trustworthy brand and product recommendations. Take iJustine, for instance, who vlogs about all types of tech gear, from mobile phones to consumer drones. Her expert reviews are a resource that her fans have come to depend on.

The unique role creators play in the customer journey has created opportunities for platforms like YouTube to offer more seamless shopping experiences. We’re currently beta testing a new offering that allows viewers to tap into the credibility and knowledge of their favorite creators to make informed purchases, directly on YouTube. It’s our hope that innovations like these can help unlock new value for consumers, creators, and retail brands.

Short-form content is here for the long run

Amid the rise of CTV this past year, we’ve seen a fascinating trend play out on mobile, which is the growth of short-form video creation and consumption. This momentum can be explained by two related developments: easy paths to creation and consumption on mobile. We’ve found that mobile devices continue to be simple, powerful tools for anyone looking to create or watch compelling content.

To help give viewers access to more of the short-form content they’ve grown to love — and make it easier for creators and artists to build it — we’ve been developing our own short-form mobile experience, called “Shorts.”

Mobile devices continue to be simple, powerful tools for anyone looking to create or watch compelling content.

We began beta testing Shorts last year in India with various creation tools, including a multisegment camera, the ability to record with music, speed controls, a timer, and a countdown feature. Since early December, the number of Indian channels using Shorts creation tools has more than tripled. In the next few weeks, we’ll begin expanding beta access to the U.S.

As these trends underscore, it’s an exciting time for digital video. Video empowers viewers to experience content as never before; advertisers to reach customers as never before; and creators and artists to create as never before. While CTV, e-commerce, and short-form video continue their acceleration in a post-pandemic world, I’m excited to see which new trends arise down the road.

4 COVID-era trends that will have a lasting impact on the products and experiences people want