Becoming a star has never been easier for teens in the digital age. Create viral music videos, get discovered, sign an album deal. That’s the dream, anyway.
A Chinese media unicorn wants to tap into that teen stardom phenomenon – especially in Asia. Best known for its popular news app in China, Toutiao, ByteDance today announced its expansion into Indonesia with Tik Tok, which looks very similar to the wildly popular Musical.ly.
Like Musical.ly, Tik Tok lets users whip up short videos set to popular songs, like M.I.A’s Paper Planes, or their own recordings. As a Tik Tok user, you can apply a host of Snapchat-like filters to your videos, speed or slow down footage, and cut the music you need.
Tik Tok users are between 15 and 22 years old, according to a spokesperson. They declined to comment on the number of users it has reached since it launched September 2016.
It looks a good fit for Indonesia, where those under 25 make up 42 percent of its 258 million population. Fast-growing mobile phone adoption and an expanding 4G network are also why Tik Tok chose Indonesia as its next target market, says a company spokesperson.
ByteDance is set on world domination.
Tik Tok is just the latest product from ByteDance, which is valued at around US$11 billion. The Chinese startup invests in and operates a variety of media businesses around the world, including China, the US, India, and now Southeast Asia. According to an interview with MIT Technology Review, the Chinese media unicorn is set on world domination, with ambitions to surpass international publishing and media organizations like Facebook and Buzzfeed.
See: China’s hottest media startup worth $11 billion with new funding
In February, the giant Chinese startup acquired video app Flipagram. Last October, it invested US$25 million into Indian news app Dailyhunt. Tying these businesses together is its increasing investment in artificial intelligence research, which funnels into content recommendation systems, automatic article summarization, and more.
Tik Tok is using “personalization recommendation algorithms” to understand user preferences and increase engagement.
“ByteDance has had great success with short videos on Toutiao,” a spokesperson from Tik Tok tells Tech in Asia. “We notice that this is a format that is particularly attractive to the young generation.”
Tik Tok’s user base has grown rapidly in China and is now spreading into other areas. “We are very optimistic about other Asian markets,” the spokesperson adds, later specifying that Tik Tok plans to enter Japan among other regional markets in the future.
Tik Tok is using celebrities to attract creators to its app. In China, the company gained traction after partnering with a streaming site to create a highly popular rap battle TV show. In Jakarta, there’s been a party for Tik Tok creators, with Indonesian actress Salshabilla Adriani and Thai actress and singer Suppanad Jittaleela among the attendees. Both stars have Tik Tok accounts.
The app will face a host of local and international competition in Southeast Asia. Singapore-based live streaming app Bigo, for instance, is one of the most popular social apps in Southeast Asia. There’s also Paktor, whose parent company raised US$40 million to invest in more content creators and fuel further expansion in Asia.
Tik Tok’s key advantage might be the Chinese unicorn’s enormous war chest. Backed by Sequoia Capital China and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, the company is estimated to have generated more than US$1 billion in advertising revenue last year. ByteDance declined to comment on Tik Tok’s business model, saying only that it’s a tool for “brand exposure.”
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