Increasing numbers of users are watching entire films and TV shows via clips posted to the app – but why?
TikTok has come a long way since its beginnings as the humble app which launched a thousand viral dance trends. Today, people turn to TikTok for career advice, recipe ideas, makeup hacks, book recommendations, news, and many even treat it as a search engine. But the latest trend is to use the app as a streaming service.
“I thrive off watching a movie on TikTok in 43 parts,” one tweet reads. “I think I watched the whole season of The Bear from all these little clips on TikTok today,” says another. From Grey’s Anatomy to Severance to Ted Lasso, it appears as though more and more people are eschewing the likes of Netflix and Disney+ in favour of watching snippets or full-length videos of shows and movies posted to TikTok.
Usually, a show or film clip will get picked up by the algorithm and pop up on your FYP. It’ll pique your interest, you’ll go in search of the next clip, and subsequently fall down a rabbit hole where you end up watching clip after clip of the entire thing on an account dedicated to sharing snippets.
One account, with over 11,000 followers, has painstakingly uploaded nearly 300 clips of Emily in Paris. Another is dedicated to posting clips from the second season of The White Lotus, with the first scene alone racking up over 311,000 views. Another account, which boasts over one million followers, has posted condensed versions of a number of films including The Help, Legally Blonde, and Confessions of a Shopaholic. The clips have millions of views, too – the scene where Elle enters the courtroom in Legally Blonde boasts 22 million. Even streaming service Peacock has jumped on the trend, as they recently made the full pilot episode of their comedy series, Killing It, available to watch on TikTok ahead of the second season premiere. Millions of users viewed the episode – which was split into five parts – on the app.
Habiba, 27, tells Dazed that she recently started rewatching Gossip Girl and Keeping Up With The Kardashians on TikTok, and has even watched small, independent films on the app. “When it comes to movies, I struggle to watch new ones, which I think is probably linked to anxiety, plus it takes me quite a while to get into a new film,” she explains. “So when I have the option of watching a few clips of a film on the clock app, I dive right in.”
Reality TV shows are also particularly popular watches on TikTok. Ed*, 25, uses TikTok to watch shows like Love Island and Below Deck, plus, as he puts it, “any trash TV that falls into my lap”. Similarly, Don, 25, watches reality TV shows through bitesize clips, citing the UK, US, and Australian iterations of Love Island and Survivor as favourites.
@y2k.movies rue at cassie’s house Part 1 ☑️ #tiktokmovies #movieclips #euphoria #movie ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim
On the surface, the idea of ‘watching’ a show or film by trawling the app for minute-long clips posted in the wrong order might sound impractical and unenjoyable. But it’s easy to understand how TikTok users get sucked in. For starters, there’s the community aspect: users can discuss the shows in the comments section, akin to the way Love Island viewers often live-tweet while episodes are airing. “It’s fun to watch something and see funny comments, or see a take on something you hadn't thought of before,” Habiba explains. Ed agrees, adding that watching on TikTok means “you get to read comments on stuff which is a bit more fun than just watching on your own.”
Another large part of the appeal is the ability to skip through the boring parts of movies and shows. “TikTok usually shows the best bits of the film, so I don't have to sit through the boring bits,” Habiba says. Ed and Don both feel similarly. “Reality TV is full of pointless filler storylines that I just do not care about,” Ed says.
Don adds that he “hated” his experience in 2018 of watching Love Island ‘normally’ – that is, on television – and describes watching the show in full as “a waste of time”. This year, Don says he managed to keep up with the series solely by watching snippets online. “Just from watching clips, I found I was forming the same opinions or getting the same impressions of contestants and their dynamics as Twitter users who were watching the show in full,” he recalls. “I was able to keep up with all the jokes and memes and was surprised I didn’t feel out of the loop.”
Some might argue that there’s something more sinister behind this trend, and that it’s further proof that Gen Z’s brains have been so corrupted by growing up in the age of instant gratification that we can’t even bear to watch a moment of ‘boring’ TV or film anymore. Even Ed admits that he reckons he’s drawn to watching shows on TikTok because of his “zoomer brain”.
@movietiktok14 ✨𝗘𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗻𝗮𝗹 𝗦𝘂𝗻𝘀𝗵𝗶𝗻𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗦𝗽𝗼𝘁𝗹𝗲𝘀𝘀 𝗠𝗶𝗻𝗱✨Part 1 #eternalsunshineofthespotlessmindfullmovie #eternalsunshineofthespotlessmind #fyp ♬ Complete Silence 3 Minutes - Michael Clendening
But is “zoomer brain” really a thing? Bobby Duffy, Professor of Public Policy at King’s College London and author of Generations: Does When You’re Born Shape Who You Are?, doesn’t think so. “There is no real evidence of shortening attention spans at an individual level – the idea that young people can’t concentrate for long is a common trope throughout history,” he explains. “We always need to bear this in mind when interpreting trends that are driven by or focused on young people – we have a bias to think of these as damaging or a sign of weakness in younger generations, compared with when we were young.” After all, a Gen Z TikTok user flicking from a clip of Gossip Girl to an influencer promoting hair gummies isn’t really dissimilar to previous generations channel-surfing on TV.
Dr Duffy adds that there are clearly “a number of motivations” behind this trend of watching shows and films on TikTok, beyond ‘Gen Z have nonexistent attention spans’. There’s the simple fact that TikTok is free while many young people are “cash-strapped”, for example. Additionally, it’s also obvious that “the design of platforms like TikTok is to keep you engaged in an endless stream of bite-sized content”. Many of the accounts which upload these videos are doing so because it’s clear this is quickly becoming an easy ticket to virality, engagement, views, and followers.
Of course, this way of watching isn’t always appropriate, especially for shows and movies which are more character-driven than plot-driven – it’s unlikely Lost in Translation or The Sopranos would hit the same if you watched them exclusively on disjointed clips on TikTok. Dr Duffy notes that watching snippets “is not great for depth of understanding” and that there are “downsides” to engaging with media so fleetingly like this. “You do lose some sense of connection to deeper thinking that takes more time and reflection,” he says. “If you’re constantly bombarded with new content, it’s hard to find that space, and you lose the context. It’s similar to music, where the capability to dip into streaming platforms means playlists and individual songs are the focus, rather than full albums.”
But people who watch shows on TikTok are well aware of this: Habiba says that often watching a few clips will inspire her to go and watch the shows in full anyway, while Don clarifies that he’ll still watch shows in full when every episode is truly worth watching. “Are You The One? is undefeated,” he says. Because ultimately, this trend says more about TikTok’s ability to keep us engaged and users’ innovation when it comes to finding new ways to go viral than it does about young people’s attention spans.
*Name has been changed