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“TikTok represents uncharted territory”: What publishers need to know

TikTok is a video app from China that has been notching up impressive figures worldwide attracting serious attention from publishers. Currently, it has over half a billion active users, 40% of whom are from outside China.

According to Sensor Tower, a US company that tracks apps, TikTok added 75 million new users worldwide across the App Store and Google Play last December. That represents a 275% growth YoY from 20 million in December 2017.

TikTok also ranked at No. 3 for new installs among all apps worldwide, across both stores. It was the fourth most downloaded app for all of 2018.

“Potential Instagram rival”

TikTok allows users to record and publish video clips of up to 15 seconds. It offers a variety of effects, filters, and stickers that they can use to enhance their videos. On the surface, it does not seem much different from other video-centric social media apps like Vine, Snapchat or Dubsmash.

What makes it more interesting is the wide array of sound and visual effects on offer that allow content creators more possibilities. Also, its algorithm is quite effective at creating an endless feed of binge-worthy content keeping users engaged.

The growth of TikTok is very exciting; it incorporates the viral nature of Vine and merges together the interactive elements of Snapchat. Young digital natives are really taking advantage of the interactive tools and using them to create interesting and original short videos.

Devran Karaca, Co-founder of Kyra TV, a British video publisher

Rebecca Jennings, reporter at Vox Media, says, “Multiple popular TikTok users I spoke to pointed to the astronomical views, comments, and likes that posts can garner — which easily eclipse those of Instagram, Snapchat, or Vine in its heyday — as one of the reasons they loved it, as well as the relative rarity of bullying and trolls that swarm other sites.”

In essence, what we see at the moment is an app with a trajectory that places it under the heading of potential Instagram rival. For users, TikTok represents uncharted territory, where they have the opportunity to carve out a new following and potentially leverage these early days to find success as an influencer, something that’s much more difficult on well-established platforms.

Alex Malafeev, Co-founder of SensorTower, to The Telegraph

The decline of Facebook usage among younger audiences may have opened up space for a new platform. Karaca told Digiday, “With the decline of Facebook amongst a younger audience, there is definitely space for a new player in the game to live alongside Instagram, which basically has a monopoly on social media right now.” TikTok claims to have around 17 billion monthly average video views, and mean viewing time of 40 minutes, according to Variety.

In fact, last November Facebook launched Lasso, a standalone app similar to TikTok. A Facebook spokesperson—speaking about the new app—said, “Lasso is a new stand-alone app for short-form, entertaining videos, from comedy to beauty to fitness and more. We’re excited about the potential here, and we’ll be gathering feedback from people and creators.”

“A new way to reach younger audiences”

TikTok’s growing popularity has got both publishers and advertisers interested. Recently, Digiday reported that U.K. publishers are looking at TikTok as a new way to reach younger audiences, “For the last 18 months, U.K. publishers like the BBC, MTV and Kyra TV have been exploring ways to use the platform either as an incubator for talent, a route to TV or as a content distribution partner. Meanwhile, TikTok is staffing up and beginning to run ad campaigns in the U.K.”

Many brands have already started sponsoring videos with TikTok’s top creators. Last year, the BBC commissioned a two-part series for its kids’ channel CBBC, featuring 14-year twins Max and Harvey Mills who have over 6 million followers on TikTok. MTV partnered with the platform to stream the MTV European Music Awards. It also plans to work with TikTok talent in future shows, according to Digiday.

In the US, TikTok caught the attention of The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, who asked viewers of the show to send videos of themselves engaging in various challenges. One of his challenges got around 8,000 video submissions, which garnered 9 million views.

Here’s Fallon showing his favorite videos from The Tonight Show Challenges segment.

Patricio Robles, who covers technology, digital marketing and startups for Econsultancy, says, “TikTok’s timing appears to be good. Video is well-established and booming, and younger generations appear especially entranced by the kind of short-form video content that TikTok is focused on.”

So will this shiny new toy write the next chapter in the history of social media, or only find mention as a passing fad? We can’t predict that, but then it’s backed by the world’s most highly valued start-up, ByteDance. The company raised $3 billion in funding last October taking its overall valuation to $75bn, and counts Softbank as one of its investors. In other words, it’s in the game for the long haul.