Content creation app TikTok is taking over the social media scene and if you’re over the age of 18 there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of it. After merging with app Musical.ly, TikTok blew up internationally and has garnered nearly 800 million downloads worldwide, recently becoming the #1 free app in Apple’s app store in the United States.
TikTok, a Vine-like video app, lets users create and share 15-second videos providing a fresh platform for a new generation of influencers and viral challenges, all while changing the way social platforms make money. Instead of launching an app and finding a way to monetize it afterward, TikTok has developed its business model around what its users want: creating and sharing short-form videos with copyrighted music.
The short-winded videos are set to music and usually feature people lip-synching and dancing. The app offers an array of editing tools, AR filters, and mainstream music tracks to sync your video to. Essentially, TikTok is a combination of Snapchat’s interactive filters, Vine’s viral clips, and Musical.ly’s lip-synching feature.
But how did TikTok come to be? Well, it really all started with Musical.ly.
Musical.ly was founded by two China-based entrepreneurs and launched in 2014. After substantially growing its user base for several years, it was eventually bought in 2017 for up to $1 billion by a Beijing-based company called ByteDance. When ByteDance bought Musical.ly, the company had already owned a similar app called TikTok, which was popular in Asia.
Because the two apps were basically the same but reigned in popularity in different parts of the world, ByteDance decided to merge the two. So in August 2017, TikTok acquired all of Musical.ly’s user accounts and videos. Since then, TikTok has been a way for ByteDance to expand into the U.S. market and and attract younger users. And it’s done just that.
TikTok is a hub for viral challenges featuring non-famous teens and celebs alike becoming a hotbed of memes, viral challenges, and addictive clips. But what really sets the app aside from others like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube is its licensing deals with music studios.
While most social media platforms have strict rules about the use of copyrighted materials like popular music, TikTok has found a way to capitalize on it. By partnering up with music studios, TikTok is able to license mainstream songs that its users like to post their videos to.
This is a win for studios, too, since user videos provide exposure for new tracks. Now, artists are using the platform to promote new music, while some studios have even recruited TikTok influencers.
At a time when other social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, are pivoting away from short-form content and moving toward easier to monetize, longer-form videos, TikTok has found a way to make a profit from it.