Any frequent user of TikTok is probably familiar with the endless scroll of movie and TV show clips that pop up on For You pages. Clips of Young Sheldon, Family Guy, South Park or Grey’s Anatomy pop up at random, oftentimes accompanied by a generic stock song playing underneath the audio or a grainy filter over the top of it.
The addition of content sludge — videos of slime, glittery DIY projects and absurd cooking videos or bottles rolling down stairs — make these all the popular on that platform. And seemingly benign as these clips are, these movies and TV shows are part of a larger cultural — and marketing move — on TikTok.
There is an entire subsect of TikTok where accounts dedicated to posting movies and TV shows garner millions of views per clip.
TikTok users have noted the seeming randomness of each of these shows and films — network dramas like Young Sheldon, Chicago Med, 9-1-1: Lone Star, Ugly Betty, and The Sopranos; award-winning films like Sully, the Amy Adams-led Arrival, 2000’s Erin Brockovich, and even the 2010 HBO movie Temple Grandin have all had a moment on the platform.
Just a few of the massively successful accounts partaking in this trend are @honenxfxy67904 (734,900 followers and 26.7 million likes), @likemovie91 (49,000 followers and 6.7 million likes) and @squanchyflim (276,700 followers, 16.9 million likes). And this is by no means a comprehensive list — hundreds of these accounts garner millions of views.
Seemingly, many of these accounts skirt copyright rules by altering the quality of the movie or show — the clip might be mirrored, it may feature stock music or a song from the app’s own music library, a filter might be put over the video, and some accounts go so far as to even censor blood or smoking (both of which are prohibited in TikTok guidelines). Many movie pages are known for their strange-sounding AI voiceovers that seem as if they’ve been translated from another language back into English to narrate the movie, and others use a split screen with a cooking video or a clip of a mobile game below it.
In TikTok’s most recent Intellectual Property Removal Requests Report, they state that they removed about 168,000 videos from the platform from July to December 2022 for copyright violations, and about 94,000 of them were successful. That number is a significant jump from January to June 2022, where there were 94,000 takedowns, and July to December 2021 saw only 49,000 takedowns.
Movie and TV studios have also gotten in on the trend.
On Oct. 3 — the annually-celebrated Mean Girls Day — Paramount Pictures launched an official TikTok account dedicated to sharing the entire 1 hour and 47-minute film, broken into 23 parts, for free.
Fans were immediately elated to see the movie on the platform — not even a full day after the account launched, the TikTok page had 66,000 followers and more than one million likes. Although most of the film has now been removed from the account, a post for the “Oct. 3” scene now has over 15 million views.
Other studios have also used TikTok this way — Peacock released a full episode of Killing It to the platform as promotion for the Craig Robinson-led sitcom.
Posting snippets of movies and TV episodes falls within a fair use legal loophole that is actually meant for talk shows to play short clips of a show as a promotion.
Despite the excitement from fans (and marketing execs), some writers — fresh out of a historic, months-long strike that centered around a lack residuals and other pay inequities — are criticizing studios for this tactic.
“As the WGA strike comes to a close, studios find another way not to pay us for our work (and if you think people won’t watch the film this way, you’re obvs not on TikTok),” It Follows producer Rebecca Green wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Mean Girls Day.
There seems to be no end in sight for these videos as the number of clips posted (and the subsequent amount of viewers they get) continues to grow.
One pop culture fanatic, TikToker, and professor of English Neil Shyminsky says this may be indicative of the way we consume media for the foreseeable future.
“People will start watching TV shows the way they read books: a little at a time,” he told CBC news back in June. Additionally, those in the film and TV industries will be impacted by this sort of marketing strategy — the need for meme-able moments in media will grow ever greater, he said.
“What people in the field are calling the ‘meme-ification of film,'” Shyminksy told the outlet. “Because if we’re building stories, if we’re structuring narratives around meme-able moments, will they actually hold up as a story?”