2020 has been a year of chaos, uncertainty and grief. A global pandemic, record unemployment and nationwide protests have left people reeling. Through it all though, there’s been TikTok, providing moments of levity and new dance crazes, interspersed with more serious commentary on the issues that we face.
TikTok, it’s like the party you want to be at, a t the moment. You’ll see hair tutorials, cooking tutorials. People can create challenges, they can create duets, they can interact, they can engage. TikTok is the most downloaded app of 2020. Since its global release less than two years ago, TikTok and its Chinese counterpart, Douyin, have amassed 800 million monthly active users, more than Reddit, Snapchat or Twitter. Its parent company, ByteDance, is the most valuable startup in the world. Its reach might surprise you unless you’re a member of Gen Z or the parent of one. But as millions scramble for connection amidst quarantines, more and more users of all ages are hopping aboard.
The Chinese-owned app faces a slew of regulatory hurdles, privacy concerns and allegations of censorship. Amidst these struggles, it’s brought in a new CEO. This guy is Kevin Mayer. Formerly the Head of Streaming at Disney. That’s basically what Kevin Mayer’s first priority needs to be, is to make sure that Americans trust TikTok. In the end of the day , t hat may prove complicated. But in the short term, it hasn’t prevented tens of thousands of new users from signing up. The predecessor to TikTok was an app called Musical.ly. Founded in 2014, it provided a platform for users to create short, 15 second videos set to a song of their choice. The content mostly involved lip-syncing and dancing, and it took off quickly among preteens and teenagers within the U.S. This is an app that was built around the fact that there was music that was licensed to be used on this app. This was something that Musical.ly decided really to invest in, because they knew that music and sharing music was inherently social.
In July 2015, a year after its launch, Musical.ly reached number one in the iTunes app store. It continued to grow and was bought by the Beijing-based startup ByteDance for one billion dollars in 2017. ByteDance already owned Tik Tok, a similar video sharing platform, and merged the two apps less than a year later. Now TikTok’s main office is in Los Angeles, California. They’re essentially an American startup that is subsidized by a successful Chinese tech company. As the app has grown, it’s given rise to a whole new pack of social media celebrities. Content is public by default TikTok, and therefore the algorithm that determines what appears on a user’s home page gives every creator the prospect to place their video in front of millions. Really what we saw was a different style of humor. It wasn’t the sketches that you saw on Vine, and it wasn’t longer-form YouTube videos. It was meme culture or like the general public’s take on a meme. What I enjoyed about it is there was some deeper humor in there if you were paying attention to the trends that were happening.
On TikTok, King uses creative video editing to make it look like he’s performing magic tricks, a skill which has earned him over 44 million followers, the second most on the app as of June 2020. But at 30, King represents the rare millennial that’s broken into TikTok’s top ranks. Many of the most followed users are in their teens, and lip syncing and dancing remain wildly popular. So I originally started when I was 14 years old, and so I started using my facial expressions and hand motions to make these like larger than life lip sync videos. And as I grew up, I think the app also grew up. Now there’s so much more that you can do. While Martin has found her niche with dancing and lifestyle content, she says there’s something out there for everyone. There’s like creators who are huge when it comes to comedy, some still do lip syncing, some cooking videos, tutorials. You can do whatever you want as long as it’s fun, it’s quick and it catches people’s eye. Stay at home orders have propelled the app’s rapid growth in the United States. The U.S. is third in terms of downloads and second in terms of revenue, and its influence continues to grow.
Viral dances and memes have propelled a number of songs to the top of the U.S. charts, most famously, Old Town Road in 2019 . And now the moms, dads and siblings of the TikTok o bsessed have began to get in on the trends also , learning dances and performing challenges together. You’re still laughing at them, but actually the fact that parents are getting on it, I mean they needed that demo so badly to even make it to this level that they’re at now. In order to build out a sustainable revenue model, e xperts say that TikTok eventually needs to attract older users. Advertisers are going after broader demographics and especially those with purchasing power. TikTok claims that all American user’s data is stored within the U.S. and is not subject to Chinese law, many security experts remain skeptical. Similar concerns exists in India, where data protection laws are weaker and thus citizens are more vulnerable. Regulators are going to be very weary of that separation. Most recently, the app received criticism for what it said was a technical glitch, in which post tagged with #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd appeared to have zero views when they actually have over two billion. And in the past, both India and Indonesia have instituted brief bans on the app due to concerns over inappropriate content like violence and pornography. Lastly, there are ongoing issues regarding children’s privacy.
Experts say that TikTok’s long-term prospects depend upon its ability to keep users engaged while building out a sustainable monetization strategy. YouTube could be seen as a model in the way that YouTube shares advertising revenue with its content creators. Mayer’s background in streaming services also has both analysts and creators excited about what new forms of content may lie on the horizon. I have been begging TikTok to get into the streaming game. People have speculated that TikTok might get involved in original programming. To make TikTok sustainable, you’re going to have to do long-form content. I don’t see a version where you make 60 second videos forever and it stays cool for another two to three years. King also says TikTok’s live-streaming feature has room to grow. It’s super popular in China, but hasn’t yet taken off in the U.S. I think what’s next for TikTok is how they figure out how to make money, how they figure out how to create a home for advertisers, and how they make sure that content creators themselves want to stick around and don’t want to go jump off to whatever the next cool app is going to be.