YouTube’s Tara Walpert Levy on the Future of Shorts and Creator-Driven Shopping During a Recession

YouTube’s Tara Walpert Levy on the Future of Shorts and Creator-Driven Shopping During a Recession

When longtime Google executive Tara Walpert Levy moved over to YouTube in Nov. 2021 as the video platform’s vp Americas, the video platform was coming off a record year of pandemic-fueled revenue growth. But with TikTok driving the rise of short-form content, YouTube was still relatively early in its launch of Shorts and was experimenting with how to best attract creators onto the platform — and keep them there.

Taking over leadership of the company’s content verticals, Walpert Levy prioritized five areas: Shorts and building out YouTube’s multi-format creator ecosystem, streaming and connected TV, shopping, gaming and responsibility, which includes issues like tackling misinformation as well as investing into areas like news and family-oriented content.

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Since then, Shorts has grown to 1.5 billion monthly logged-in users and averages 30 billion views a day. In September, the company also announced its first meaningful revenue-sharing program for Shorts creators that allocates a 45 percent cut of the revenue for creators, based on their total contribution to the number of Shorts views on the platform.

The company is also leaning heavily into shopping, producing live events with top creators and preparing new product features, like an affiliates program, that will encourage more creators to incorporate e-commerce into their content.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter on her one-year work anniversary, Walpert Levy reflected on the growth of Shorts and what’s next for YouTube’s businesses amid an economic downturn.

With the rise of short-form content, it feels like [a lot of companies have been] playing catch up. There’s always that fine line between being reactive to trends versus being the platform that is making the trends. How did you balance this?

YouTube has a long history of leading the industry, and so I think in many areas of our business, that has still been the case and it hasn’t been as much of a ‘debate, decide’ as you allude to. I think it’s a fair point in Shorts. We only launched it two years ago, and so there it is a little bit more of a balance of what are the priorities and feature sets. When you’re getting an ecosystem moving, the the first and foremost is to have the fundamentals, and so we were focusing on things like making it easy to create and making sure we had our well-known trust and safety standards and essentially making the product viable and attractive for both creators and viewers.

The speed at which adoption happened [with Shorts] really exceeded our expectations. One and a half billion logged-in users, 30 billion views a day. It’s really incredible stories of creators who were not on YouTube prior and, frankly, might not have been creating prior who have created livestreams and businesses out of the platform.

We think our philosophy about when we grow, creators should too — and vice versa — is what fueled the part of the YPP announcement that was about opening up revenue sharing on Shorts, which we’re very passionate about and which we think does remain unique in the industry and is differentiating for creators.

The multi-format element of of YouTube has always been something that we’ve prided ourselves on, in terms of allowing creators to express themselves however they wish, whether that’s live or audio or long-form or now Shorts, and the go forward is how do we tie those even more tightly together? … You’ll start to see some more of the fun bells and whistles and things that tap into Google and YouTube’s strength as an AI company.

What’s some of the feedback that you’ve heard about the revenue-sharing program for Shorts? What are other future tweaks that you’re hoping to make to it?

I think people are really excited. The program formally launches in February so we’ll get more real-time feedback as it unfolds. … We’re all excited about the explosive potential of unlocking the rev share, and I think it has motivated a meaningful number of, in particular, long-form creators who had not yet moved into short-form to start trying that.

The percentage of the revenue share is different; if you’re doing long-form content, you get a bigger percentage of the ad revenue versus if you’re doing short form. Did you hear any concerns from creators wondering why [this was the case]?

YouTube has a lot of different formats and we have different rev shares on all of them, so we always try to match the business model to the ecosystem. One of the things in particular that influenced the Shorts ecosystem was the importance of music, and so there’s also in there the opportunity, for example, that you get the same rev share whether you use music or not, whereas in long form, that’s not possible — you actually don’t have that kind of rev share on music. And so, if you were to line any two formats up side by side, it’s a little apples and oranges-y, but I think overall, the creators felt great that we were really sort of meaningfully sticking to our philosophy of giving creators value for what they do and sharing in the growth together.

The goal is always to net out with doing our very best to both build a sustainable business for the future for all of us because otherwise it doesn’t work for any of us and to make sure we are rewarding creators for the incredible value they provide.

What is your next priority in terms of the growth of Shorts as you head into your next year?

You will see a lot of product innovation in Shorts, which we’re incredibly excited about. I think, you know what my colleagues are doing there is going to continue to explode the ecosystem, which is awesome. Similarly, my ads colleagues are going to continue to grow the financial pie for everyone, which is exciting. And for my team, the biggest opportunity is twofold: really onboarding creators who have not yet gone deep on Shorts and helping them participate successfully, and then really helping people evolve into this multi-format world.

Do you have the next benchmark for number of billions of logged in users that you want to reach for Shorts?

We don’t. We’re excited to see the continued growth. We expect it to be meaningful. Again, we want to also start looking across Shorts and long-form and audio and live and just ensuring that we’re helping creators to be successful in growing their whole ecosystem.

How does live shopping fit into your plan to revitalize ad spend? With a pending recession, how do you expect that to impact the rest of YouTube?

YouTube is an interesting platform where in the ad spend itself, there is overwhelming data that it drives sales because [users] are getting recommendations from creators, they’re getting a halo from the platform. That’s why we see in the ads themselves, actually, quite a lot of continued strength in terms of formats that are intended to drive consideration or purchase in addition to awareness.

One of things we learned this year is that scalable live shopping, the behavior in APAC is just way more primed for this. As we look at ’23, we may lean even more heavily into live in that region and we may lean more, for example, into Shorts in the United States and around the world where we’re just seeing the most purchase behavior at scale. That’s just sort of the intermediate next step in trying to be as efficient for people as possible in terms of getting the most action for their investments.

Because live shopping is so huge elsewhere, why do you think it hasn’t really caught on as much in the U.S.?

I wish I could answer that. I think you see the the entire industry sort of struggling with that question a little bit. It’s not the first time that a behavior has taken root first in another part of the world. It probably will make it here as well. As everyone tries to optimize for the most important things in the year ahead, it may just take a little bit longer to be as prevalent here, and I don’t really know why.

For gaming, I’m curious about the approach to YouTube’s [exclusive] talent deals. You don’t have exclusive Shorts deals [with talent], for example, and I know YouTube has encouraged its creators to post across multiple platforms. With gaming creators, it’s a little bit different. What was the thinking behind that?

It’s just a matching to the ecosystem that we’re in and, these were very particular types of creators. Our belief is that this will again sort of fuel the ecosystem over time to work in a way that’s more consistent with traditional YouTube, but for the moment, [we’re] working with the ecosystem as it exists.

You’ve mentioned audio as another format, but there haven’t been major updates there. I know YouTube set up the podcasting homepage, but I’m curious what’s happening next there.

We’re super excited about podcasts. We’re not sharing anything right now, but stay tuned for early ’23, for sure. We definitely consider audio as a core part of our multi-format approach.

What are your priorities now that you’ve got this year under your belt? What do you want to accomplish next?

I’m excited for next year to see the absolute explosion of multi-format creators and use cases. I think you’re going to see the recognition and excitement around YouTube as a leading connected TV platform only continue to grow. You’ll see us really lean into extending our connection and brand halo in these like committed communities like shopping and gaming and to see those creators and their businesses become even more robust.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.