TikTok Revenue and Usage Statistics (2020)

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TikTok, known as Douyin in its home market, was launched in China in September 2016. It was pushed out globally as TikTok the following year.

The TikTok app allows users to create 15 second videos, soundtracked by music clips. Sounds simple enough, but it’s a wildly popular concept. Depending on who you ask, the app was the world’s second-most or fourth-most downloaded non-gaming app of 2019 (only behind various Facebook entities in either case).

TikTok/Douyin parent company ByteDance also owns hugely popular Chinese AI-powered news aggregation platform Toutiao, created by CEO Zhang Yiming at the age of 29 in 2012. Notably, he was not backed by either Alibaba or Tencent. TikTok has succeeded where the latter failed with WeChat – success beyond China.

This was a strategic triumph. In November 2017 ByteDance acquired the popular (also China-based) would-be rival app Musical.ly app for a reported $1 billion. TikTok was merged with Musical.ly in August 2018, with app users’ accounts migrated to their TikTok accounts. This was seen as a way for the Chinese app to enter the US market – with Musical.ly already boasting a considerable American audience.

TikTok/Douyin (and formerly Musical.ly) users use the app largely to create, share, and view content based around lip syncing, dancing, comedy skits, and other physical activities. Clearly, this is something that appeals to young people (and quite a few older ones) around the world, with app snowballing in popularity over 2018 and 2019. Despite only being released in 2016, it was one of the most-downloaded apps of the 2010s.

As of 2020, TikTok is one of the world’s best-loved apps (for those under a certain age at least), its success powered by some of the world’s most sophisticated AI.

That said, it has not been without its controversies. In 2019, it was briefly banned in India for “morality issues”, with pornographic content and predatory behaviour a concern. It has been accused of not adequately safeguarding young users’ data. It is also being investigated in the US over national security concerns. ByteDance has released a transparency report to deal with these accusations, and has moved to ringfence TikTok from the rest of its operations.

Nonetheless, as of early 2020, TikTok seems like the app to beat. Scroll on to read our collection of TikTok stats from around the web.

Table of Contents

TikTok User Statistics

TikTok Usage Statistics

TikTok Revenue Statistics

Key TikTok Statistics

  • TikTok MAUs estimated at 800 million
  • TikTok downloaded 738 million times in 2019,
  • Total TikTok downloads over 1.5 billion – making it the seventh-most downloaded app of the 2010s
  • It is estimated that 57% of the TikTok/Douyin userbase is based in China
  • India top market for TikTok downloads in 2019 (if we exclude Chinese Android downloads), with 323 million
  • 46 million US TikTok downloads in 2019
  • Only 9% of US internet users have used TikTok, with 5% more interested in using it; this rises to 49% for teenage users
  • ByteDance reports 400 DAU of Douyin in China, and claim 68% of Chinese social media users/59% of smartphone users are Douyin users
  • Musical.ly counted 100 million users at time of August 2018 merger with TikTok
  • Singer Loren Gray is the most-followed person on TikTok, with close to 40 million followers
  • On Douyin, the most-followed account belongs to actor, model, and singer Dilraba Dilmurat, with around 55 million followers
  • Android TikTok users spent 68 billion hours using the app in 2019
  • China accounts for eight out of every 10 minutes viewed on TikTok
  • Average daily time on TikTok estimated at 45 minutes
  • US users open TikTok an average of eight times a day, with sessions averaging just under 5 minutes
  • Indian users spend 38 minutes daily using TikTok
  • TikTok one-week retention rate stands at 26%
  • A late 2018 Global Web Index study found 55% of TikTok users uploaded a video in the last month, compared to 68% who had watched one
  • TikTok 2019 revenue came to $176.9 million (excluding non-iOS Chinese revenue)
  • ByteDance controls 23% of the Chinese digital app market
  • ByteDance became the world’s most highly-valued private startup, with a valuation of $78 billion after a SoftBank-led $3 billion investment round

TikTok User Statistics

TikTok is available in over 150 markets around the world, in 39 languages. The latest available official statistics show that there are 500 million TikTok users around the world (monthly active users).

The 500 million figure, however dates back to an official announcement in July 2018. ByteDance has not released anything more recent. We can assume that given its huge popularity, the figure is higher. In September 2019, TikTok VP Blake Chandlee suggested that while it was not up to 1 billion, it was not at half that level either.

Hootsuite and We Are Social have set the figure at 800 million. This would make it the sixth-most used social app in the world. Only the various Facebook properties, YouTube, and WeChat rank ahead of it. Notably it has leapfrogged Tencent’s QQ and QZone.

TikTok users vs. other major apps

TikTok users vs other social media

Source: Hootsuite/We Are Social

App Annie’s State of Mobile 2020 gives us a ranking of apps according to user numbers, but no cold hard figures. This puts TikTok is sixth place in terms of global users – and the highest that doesn’t belong to Facebook or Tencent.

We know that Instagram in firth-place has 1 billion users. Alipay in eight, logged 785 million users in Q3 2019. This helps us to narrow the range somewhat, and chimes with what seems like a hint from Chandlee’s that TikTok’s user base is climbing up towards 1 billion.

Most-used apps of 2019, Android and iOS

Most-used apps of 2019, Android and iOS

Source: App Annie

It is estimated that 57% of the TikTok/Douyin userbase are based in China.

TikTok download statistics

We can speak with a bit more clarity on download statistics. These show us, unequivocally, that 2019 was TikTok’s year.

According to AppTrace, TikTok jumped from 269th to 4th in global app download rank in February 2019. It has remained in the top-20 since (as of February 2020), and currently sits in fourth position.

Sensor Tower stats reveals TikTok was downloaded over 738 million times globally in 2019. This is a significant increase on the 655 million downloads recorded in 2018. TikTok downloads crossed the 1.5 billion threshold in November 2019.

Download activity peaked in Q4, when the app was downloaded 219 million times. TikTok seems to show a pattern of rising downloads throughout the year. This pattern was somewhat disrupted in 2019 by virtue of what looks like an overspill of enthusiasm from the last quarter of 2018.

Up until the end of 2019, TikTok counts a total of 1.65 billion downloads. 2019 downloads account for 44% of the total downloads.

TikTok first-time downloads, Q2 2016 – Q4 2019

TikTok first-time downloads, Q2 2016 - Q4 2019

Source: Sensor Tower

India was the number one market for downloads in 2019 (only counting iOS App Store and Google Play Store downloads), with 323 million downloads, accounting for 44% of the total figure.

This is despite the fact that TikTok was in fact temporarily banned in the country, for two weeks in April 2019. Legislators believed the app would expose children to pornographic content, sexual predators, and cyberbullying.

TikTok managed to persuade the authorities that it had tightened regulations and the app duly found its way back onto the iOS App Store and Google Play Store. The ban cost the app an estimated 15 million new users in what looked set to be TikTok’s best month to up until that point in the South Asian mega nation.

The importance of the market to TikTok is clear. In October, it launched an education program in India – the first such initiative from the app. Certainly this suggests an app wanting to stay in a nation’s good books.

Despite the fact that third-party Android downloads, which are not included in these figures, are by far the biggest channel for downloads in China, TikTok’s home market still logged around 52 million downloads (7% of the total). The US is in third with 6%, or 46 million.

A different set of TikTok statistics, from Priori Data, show slightly lower figures (though these stats go only as far as November 1st 2019). India still leads by some distance, logging 190.6 million downloads. The US, in second, logs 41 million TikTok downloads. This puts it someway ahead of the cluster of Turkey (23.2 million), Russia (19.9 million), and Pakistan (19.5 million).

A total of 44 countries are covered by these stats. It is unclear whether these include China.

Android downloads account for all but a sliver of download in most of these markets, with the exception of the US, where iPhone users predominate. In Russia there is a slightly higher preponderance of iOS users, albeit still a relatively insignificant proportion.

TikTok downloads by country, 2019

TikTok downloads by country, 2019

Source: Statista

According to App Annie, TikTok was the top app in terms of download growth in 2019 in Canada and India, and came in second-place in the US and the UK.

Overall, TikTok ranked fourth in terms of global downloads. Only Facebook properties (Messenger, Facebook, and WhatsApp) were downloaded more often. These stats refer to the Google Play Store and iOS App Store – so will exclude most Chinese downloads, which are third-party Android.

Most-downloaded apps of 2019, iOS App Store and Google Play Store

Most-downloaded apps of 2019, iOS App Store and Google Play Store

Source: App Annie

We don’t get the full picture of just how big an impact TikTok has made, however, until we look at the most downloaded apps of the 2010s. TikTok, despite being only released in China in 2016, and internationally the year after, still somehow managed to be the seventh-most downloaded app across the 10-year period.

Only the four apps that make up the Facebook stable, Snapchat, and Microsoft’s Skype feature ahead of it. And behind it? Twitter and YouTube, no less.

Again these figures won’t include Chinese third-party downloads – who knows how high TikTok might have featured if so (as might’ve some other Chinese apps, particularly WeChat).

Most-downloaded apps of 2010s, iOS App Store and Google Play Store

Most-downloaded apps of 2010s, iOS App Store and Google Play Store

Source: App Annie

In the 2019 official iOS download chart, TikTok ranks fourth, with the chart limited to free apps.

TikTok was well on the way to global success over the course of 2018. Sensor Tower reported that 2018 downloads were in excess of the 444 million reported by Instagram. Total TikTok downloads crossed the 1 billion mark in early 2019.

According to this app download data, TikTok was the single most-downloaded non-game app on iOS in 2018, and the fourth-most downloaded on Android (Google Play Store only). Its overall global positioning reflects the latter, which accounts for a far greater percentage of users than the former.

Most-downloaded apps 2018

Most-downloaded apps 2018

Source: Sensor Tower

App Annie also places TikTok in fourth position overall in terms of total 2018 global downloads. Apple’s own most-downloaded apps of 2018 list, however, puts TikTok a little lower – in 16th position.

TikTok in the US

In terms of TikTok’s US user base, Reuters reported a figure of 26.5 million in November 2019 – though this does perhaps seem a little bit on the low side.

On the other hand, it would chime with App Ape Lab’s figure of 10 million Android users the following month. This represents considerable growth in US Android TikTok users over the course of 2019, starting from a point just a little above 2.5 million.

Android TikTok users in the US, 2019 

TikTok users in the US, Android

Source: App Ape Lab

Going back a little, the August 2018 merger with Musical.ly provided a substantial boost to active users of the platform – particularly in the US. Musical.ly, it should be noted was a hugely popular app, which had topped iOS free download charts in 19 countries and counted 100 million monthly active users. This was a clear part of TikTok’s strategy to grow its overseas userbase to over 50% of total users.

This was not just powered by pure excitement over new functionality for Musical.ly users; Apptopia reports a significant increase in advertising spend by ByteDance in the months following the merger (something not unnoticed by the online commentariat).

ByteDance advertising spend following TikTok/Musical.ly consolidation

ByteDance advertising spend following TikTok/Musical.ly consolidation

Source: Apptopia

This investment into advertising was maintained. In a June 2019 analysis, the Wall Street Journal reported that TikTok was the largest advertiser on Snapchat, running an app-install campaign worth $1 billion. Advertising on rival platforms has been a key strategy for TikTok. Indeed, a slowdown in download growth was ascribed to a decline in Facebook ad spending.

The merger with Musical.ly has not been without its challenges, however. The ByteDance’s failure to seek from the US Committee on Foreign Investment forms the basis of current American concerns over national security, and a resultant investigation. Divestment from these assets has been suggested as a possible solution.

TikTok still has considerable potential to grow in the US. Despite the hype surrounding the app, only 9% of US internet users had used the app, as of October 2019, with a further 5% stating an intention to use it. 49% remained unmoved by the app’s appeal, with a further 37% reporting that they had never heard of the app.

We probably can’t assume that the two last categories are a potential user pool, given TikTok’s strong demographic tendencies, but certainly there may be some who can be converted to or informed of the app’s merits.

What percentage of Americans have used or plan to use TikTok as of December 2019?

What percentage of Americans have used or plan to use TikTok?

Source: eMarketer

Figures are, of course, stronger among teenaged users, 49% of whom had used the app in the month prior. This, however, is someway inferior to the 67% who had used Snapchat, 74% who had used Instagram, and the 90% who had used YouTube.

TikTok in Asia

Global Web Index stats show that TikTok penetration is seemingly at its highest in Asia, where over a third of users aged 16-64 had an account. There’s not much to split the rest of the world, with penetration of between 12% (North America) and 10% (Latin America and Europe).

TikTok penetration by region, Q2 2019

TikTok penetration by region, Q2 2019

Source: Global Web Index

As of June 2019, it was estimated that there were 120 million monthly TikTok users in India. But it’s not just India where the app is popular.

The Straits Times reported in May 2019 that Southeast Asian downloads of TikTok numbered 190 million. Of these, Indonesia led the way, with 81 million downloads at that point – around 42% of the total.

App Ape Lab gives us a slightly more conservative figure for India, at 75 million users (Android only), as of December 2019. This is actually down a little on the year’s peak for TikTok users in India, with nearly 80 million monthly active TikTok users logged in September. Growth in Indian TikTok MAU for the year comes to around 50%, despite this.

Its figure of 6 million MAU in Indonesia and 3 million in South Korea also seem on the low side. Whether or not we can take these TikTok user numbers as representative, we can at least chart user growth over the course of 2019.

These figures are Android only, though this is only likely to have a significant impact on South Korean MAU.

TikTok users in India, Indonesia, and South Korea, Android, 2019

TikTok users in India, Indonesia, and South Korea, Android

Source: App Ape Lab

The region is clearly an important one for ByteDance. TikTok announced a partnership with on-demand video player iFlix in 13 countries in Southeast Asia. This would make a selection of TikTok clips available in the iFlix ‘Snacks Library’. This is TikTok’s first attempt to reach an audience through an over-the-top video player. TikTok compilations are common on YouTube however.

In November 2019, TikTok ran a talent contest entitled All-Star Southeast Asia. 302,000 entrants entered the competition, with judges including a range of singers, actors, and TV personalities from the region. Awards were handed out over three categories: Acting, won by HT Channel, talent, won by Yanyan de Jesus, and lifestyle, won by Dao Thi Quynh.

A marketing conference focusing on the region was held in Singapore in July 2019.

TikTok (Douyin) in China

In China, Douyin’s daily active user count currently stands at 400 million, as of January 2020. This is up from 250 million in January 2019. 68% of Chinese social media users use Douyin, and 59% of smartphone users, says ByteDance. These figures are set to rise over 2020.

Previous figures set Douyin’s monthly active user count at 300 million in June 2018, with 150 million of these logging into Douyin on a daily basis. This increased to 400 million monthly active users, and 200 million daily active users by November of the same year, according to Chinese media reports.

The short video format as a whole is big business in China, accounting for 9% of online time in the world’s most-populous nation as of late 2018.

According to Miaozhen data published by WalktheChat, Douyin overtook Kuaishou in Q1 2018 to become the most popular short video app in the country.

QuestMobile data from June 2019 shows that this has very much remained the case. Douyin’s monthly user count of 486 million at this point is well in excess of Kuaishou’s 341 million users. We should note that ByteDance’s dominance does not end with TikTok. Its Xigua (more focused on search, allowing for videos up to five minutes) and Huoshan (livestreaming) apps, with 131 and 106 million users respectively are the third and fourth most-used short video apps. Both are, however, some distance behind Kauishou.

Media titans Tencent and Baidu fill in the bottom places, with their apps some distance behind in terms of active user count. The exception is Tencent’s Weishi, which is not far behind ByteDance’s apps. The standout feature of Weishi is its lyric and subtitle matching, and access to the sizeable QQ Music library.

From left to right this graphic shows ByteDance’s Douyin, Xigua, and Huoshan; Kuaishou; Tencent’s Weishi and Huoguo Shipin; and Baidu’s Haokan Shipin and Quanmin Xiao Shipin.

Top short-video apps in China, MAU, hundreds of millionsMost popular short video apps in China

Source: QuestMobile via Pandaily

eMarketer predicts that the total number of active Douyin users in China will rise to 556 million by 2023, accounting for 60% of mobile users in the country.

Douyin users in China, 2018 – 2023

Douyin users in China, 2018 - 2023

Source: eMarketer

The combined level of penetration of ByteDance’ video apps in China stood at 72.1% in September 2019. This compared to 42% for Kuaishou. For more specific Douyin stats, we can refer to ByteDance’s penetration figures of 59% of smartphone users and 68% of social media users, as above (allowing for the fact that these are drawn from different datasets).

The Miaozhen data to which we referred above put Douyin’s level of market penetration at 30%, as of June 2018, compared with Kuaishou’s 25%.

Short video apps are massive in China; 810 million users of such apps were counted in Q3 2019. This represents a 25% increase year-on-year.

TikTok demographics

60% of US TikTok users are aged between 16-24, according to a November 2019 release from Reuters.

MarketingCharts TikTok data (March 2019) finds over 50% of TikTok users in the US are aged 18-34 – with a nearly even split between 18-24 year olds and 25-34 year olds. Interestingly though, we still find a quarter of US TikTok users are aged 45-64. Its appeal, therefore, is not simply limited to kids…

We should note that this data does not include those under 18 years of age, which is clearly a key TikTok demographic – and certainly may significantly reshape this data.

We also get a snapshot of TikTok user income. We find a preponderance of usage among those with household income in excess of $100,000 bracket (37% of users). TikTok, then, seems to be an app for the comfortably off – which certainly makes a compelling case to would-be TikTok marketers.

On the other hand, 30% of US TikTok users report household income of $40,000 or less. We might assume some quantity of these would be students, not yet earning an income – or those at early stages of their career.

US TikTok user demographics

US TikTok user demographics

Source: MarketingCharts

App Ape Lap also published a demographic breakdown of US TikTok users, albeit limited to Android users – which obviously cuts down the sample size a good deal in Apple’s native market.

Interestingly, these stats that female TikTok users far outnumber male in the US, by a ratio or nearly 2:1. Interestingly the gender imbalance is most pronounced in the teenage category in which we find the highest proportion of TikTok users.

The single largest demographic by some way is teenage girls – if this is a US market you’re trying to reach, then TikTok could well be the channel through which to do this.

Two thirds US TikTok users are teenaged or in their 20s. In the US, TikTok is undoubtedly a young person’s app.

US TikTok user demographics, Android

US TikTok user demographics, Android

Source: App Ape Lab

The same agency also gives us a demographic breakdown of TikTok users in India, Indonesia, and South Korea.

As with so many apps, India’s TikTok user base is heavy skewed male, a ratio not too far off being 10:1. In South Korea and Indonesia, we see a slight tilt towards female users.

In India, usage is most prevalent among users in the their 20s. Interestingly, we see users in their 30s outnumbering teenage users. The landscape here, then, is different.

Indonesian TikTok users show a more typical pattern, with usage declining as we go up through the age groups. In South Korea, the pattern in anything but typical. Users in their 40s are the biggest demographic, followed by 30-somethings.

The app sees its lowest levels of usage among users in the their 20s, with male users in their 20s the smallest demographic, followed by male teenagers. The latter are outnumbered by users in their 50s or over of both genders.

Indian, Indonesia, and South Korean TikTok demographics

Indian, Indonesia, and South Korean TikTok demographics

Source: App Ape Lab

We are also given a demographic break down of users in Japan. This is a relatively small sample of 6 million users, though this affluent, highly-digital, Asian can perhaps give us an indication of TikTok’s success in particular market conditions.

Here we see a near-perfect gender split. Interestingly, usage seems relatively evenly split through various age groups, with only a slight weighting towards younger demographics. Interestingly, there are nearly as many 40-something users as there are 20-something users, with usage trailing off very slightly among presumably career-focussed 30-somethings.  Teenage users, are however, the largest constituency.

Teenage users also show one of the strongest gender imbalances, skewing significantly female. Among older demographics, we see the opposite trend.

Japanese TikTok demographics

Japanese TikTok demographics

Source: App Ape Lab                                                                                                                          

In Brazil and Germany (both reckoned at around 3 million Android TikTok users), TikTok users skew female. This is particularly pronounced in Brazil, where the ratio is close to 2:1.

Brazil and Germany TikTok demographics

Brazil and Germany TikTok demographics

Source: App Ape Lab

While TikTok users are typically teenagers in the popular imagination, this is coming to be less the case in many markets. In China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the UAE, 25-34-year-old users outnumber 16-24-year olds.

Douyin demographics

According to Global Web Index TikTok stats (published in August 2019), Chinese Douyin users tend to be a little older than TikTok users from elsewhere. Outside of China, 43% of TikTok users are aged 16-24, whereas in China over 60% are 25-44.

A demographic breakdown from iResearch gives us a snapshot of Douyin users as of September 2019.

According to these stats, male Douyin users narrowly outnumber female, 52% to 48%. We might bear in mind that this is slightly less pronounced than China’s birth ratio, which currently stands at 115:100 in favour of males.

In terms of age, the best represented age group is the under 25s, who account for nearly a third of users. 31-35 year olds outnumber 25-30 year olds, though not by a huge distance (26.1% to 24.8%). We see a distinct tail off among older users, with over 40s (a low cut-off point) accounting for a mere 5.4%.

In terms of ‘city tier’, Douyin usage is concentrated among the larger urban areas, with Tier 2 cities accounting for nearly a quarter of Douyin users. These are closely followed by new Tier 1 and Tier 3 cities. The three, between them, account for over two thirds of Douyin users.

The biggest Tier 1 cities (Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou) account for only 11% of Douyin users. Only a handful of cities qualify as Tier 1, so this is actually closer to representative of the wider population. This reveals that Douyin is a country-wide phenomenon, not limited to early adopters in technologically-progressive big cities.

This, however, has its limits. Usage levels are significantly lower in less-developed but highly-populated bands of Tier 4 and 5, while Tier 3 cities’ numerical advantage presumably contributes to its large share of Douyin users.

We might add that we are looking at an unannotated dataset here. The city tier system is an informal one, with cities moving between bands depending on who you ask. The number of tiers varies too – often ending at Tier 3. The data we have here is at slightly more granular (albeit completely unscientific) level. Lower bands tend to contain more cities, and more people as a consequence, despite being smaller individually.

Douyin demographics, September 2019

Douyin demographics, September 2019

Data Source: iResearch

More comprehensive recent data than this is relatively hard to come by, so until we get out hands on some, we’ll have a look at some slightly older data from Jiguang (also known as Aurora Mobile) published by digital agency WalktheChat. It’s from a different source, so obviously not directly comparable to the above.

At this stage, we already saw Douyin users relatively spread out over the country

In overall terms, however, the biggest percentages of users came from so-called Tier 2 cities (Nanjing, Chonqing, Dalian, etc) and Tier 4 cities (smaller cities – by Chinese standards at least), which both laid claim to just over a third of users.

Where do Douyin users live in China?

Where do Douyin users live in China?

Source: WalktheChat/Jiguang

Breaking it down by individual city, the most populous cities topped the list, as we’d expect, with Beijing leading Shanghai.

Top Chinese cities for Douyin usage

Top Chinese cities for Douyin usage

Source: WalktheChat/Jiguang

Notably the proportion of Douyin users living in the biggest cities fell significantly between March-May 2017 and March-May 2018. Smaller cities, on the other hand, saw growth in Douyin usage over this period. The percentages listed here are drawn from another data set and do not quite tarry with those above.

Also, don’t forget that the tier system is nonofficial, with more than one version being used.

Shift in Douyin users’ geographical base

Shift in Douyin users’ geographical base

Source: WalktheChat/Miaozhen

In terms of age groups, we find the highest preponderance of users fell into the 20-24 age group (around a third), followed by 25-29, accounting for a little over a quarter. One in five users was yet to reach to their 20th birthday.

Age of Chinese Douyin users

Age of Chinese Douyin users

Source: WalktheChat/Jiguang

This spread represents something of a demographic shift. As of July 2017, users under the age of 25 represented just over half of users. By February of 2018, this had dropped to 32% – which still leaves it as the largest age demographic, if not by so generous a margin.

The greatest growth over this period came in the 25-30 demographic, which has more than doubled to come to account for nearly a quarter of users, overtaking the 31-35 bracket of users in late 2017.

The latter has also grown, though not quite as dramatically and from a much higher base. It did, however, draw level in February 2018 (the end point of this analysis) with the 25-30 bracket.

Changing age demographics of Douyin Users in China

Changing age demographics of Douyin Users in China

Source: WalktheChat

According to the app’s creators, on the other hand, as of early June 2018, 40% of users fell into the 25-30 bracket – overtaking 18-24 year olds as the most numerous users of the app.

Unlike the above analyses of TikTok users, these Douyin stats showed a greater proportion of female users in China: around two thirds.

Gender breakdown of Chinese Douyin users

Changing age demographics of Douyin Users in China

Source: WalktheChat/Jiguang

In terms of who publishes content on Douyin, we saw the same gender split we saw above, with female Douyin users far more active than their male peers. Of these, the 21-25 year old grouping were by far the most active, accounting for half of the content posted by women or girls.

The same applies on the male side, though not quite so starkly, with older male content posters more active (in proportional terms at least).

Douyin content publisher demographics

Douyin content publisher demographics

Source: WalktheChat/Miaozhen

If we break down content posters in a different way, we see that regular users accounted for just shy of 50% of content posted. Internet celebrities post another third, offline celebrities and brands (a piffling 4%) the rest.

Who publishes content on Douyin?

Who publishes content on Douyin?


According to Tencent Market Insight, cited by Sean Wang on Medium in May 2018, 82% of TikTok/Douyin users were looking for funny videos, with talent (56%) and daily life (54.1%) the next most popular categories. The same study shows that a greater proportion of creators were interested in trying the app out for themselves (78%) than were trying to get followers (16%) – don’t forget the requisite pinch of salt to season this self-reported data. This was, however, early days for the app.

In terms of content, the app prioritises an in-house curated feed over an accounts-followed feed. Accordingly, only 23% of users use the latter function at the point at which this data was collected – something which might be of note to brands or other users trying to gain traction on the platform.

TikTok users’ values

TikTok users are conscious of status, reveal Global Web Index stats. They are 1.5x more likely to promote a brand online if it would enhance their status online – which chimes with the fact that they are 1.3x more likely to be categorised as status seekers.

Below we can see some of the most-distinctive values of TikTok users, measured by the proportion of users ascribing to each value and how this percentage compares to the average internet user.

TikTok users value product-centric communities; they are 1.4x more likely to buy a product in order to feel part of their community associated with said product. They are open to advertising (1.35x) and can be swayed by others’ opinions (1.34x) – ergo open to influencer marketing.

They seem fairly relaxed about things, with a majority feeling comfortable about the global economy, and the environment alike – levels 1.32x and 1.31x greater than average. They are also confident about their own personal economies, with 41% – 1.33x more than global average – reporting that they were comfortable borrowing money.

And finally, we see that they are brand conscious people: 1.27x more than average.

TikTok users’ most distinctive values

TikTok users’ most distinctive values

Source: Global Web Index

These users are keen to express their opinion, with one third saying their opinion was the main reason for using the internet. Two-thirds had posted a review of a product or service.

Top TikTok users

As with any viral app, TikTok can count a number of celebrity users. In the US, these include comedian and Tonight Show presenter Jimmy Fallon and pro-skateboarder Tony Hawk. The former’s videos have been viewed over 10 million times. Fallon’s #tumbleweedchallenge asked viewers to roll along on the floor like tumbleweed accompanied by music; in the space of a week, the challenge attracted 8,000 submissions and 10.4 million engagements. This was the greatest level of engagement generated by any such ‘challenge’ on the platform recorded up until this point.

The accolade of most-popular user – or users we should say – on TikTok was formerly held by Germany’s Lisa and Lena, with 32.7 million followers. The twins (also big on Instagram) were known for their lip-synced clips, and even released a single of their own in July 2017.

They, however, left TikTok in March 2019, claiming that they did not want to support a site that wasn’t safe (thought to be in reference to the platform’s failure to meet child protection guidelines, and usage of minors’ data). The pair are still active on Instagram and YouTube, and have even crossed over to television, doing work for children’s television network Nickelodeon.

The title of most-followed TikTok account) now lies with American singer and social media personality Loren Gray, who with 38 million followers (January 2020) outranks TikTok itself (36.5 million followers).

The second-most followed individual is also Amerian, Zach King, with 31.9 million followers who specialises in digital sleights of hand, with Baby Ariel in third with 30.2 million. The latter was chosen as one of Time magazine’s most-influential people on the internet in 2017, and one of Forbes’s top influencers the same year. As with Loren Gray, she also a singer, having crossed over from lip-syncing.

The highest non-American is impressively-bequiffed Indian teenager Riyaz Aly, with 27.3 million followers. Our top-10 list also includes Indians Nisha Guragin, Awez Darbar, and Arishfa Khan. These three are described respectively as social media personality, choreographer, and actress (a job title also shared by Canadian Kristen Hancher in fifth place).

It seems as if many TikTok users who gain fame view the platform as a springboard to more conventional types of fame, which is probably linked to the superior earnings potential on offer. On the other hand, there is no questioning the levels of screaming fandom that are possible for those using TikTok, and previously Musical.ly, as their medium.

We’ve limited the graphic below to individuals. If we were to include corporate accounts as well then, aside from TikTok itself in second, we would also be including Musical.ly with 23.5 million followers, and American digital entertainment brand Flighthouse, which counts 22.2 million followers. A little lower down the chart, we also find TikTok India, in 14th by virtue of its 20.6 million followers.

The presence of Musical.ly here, as well as a host of names who first made their names on the platform (Loren Gray, Baby Ariel, and Kristen Hancher for example), confirms how significant this takeover was in terms of gaining a foothold in the West.

Most-followed individual accounts TikTok (January 2020)

Most-followed individual accounts TikTok (January 2020)

Data source: Wikipedia

Not even Loren Gray can compete with top Douyin user, actor, model, and singer Dilraba Dilmurat – who boasts a huge 54.4 million followers (February 2020). She is followed by Chen He (54 million) and Liu Erdou (46.2 million)

An Indian TikTok collective called Team 07 were followed by 40 million users collectively, with most-popular member Mr Faisu counting 21 million. Three of its five members were, however, banned from the platform in July 2019 for posting content warning of possible repercussions after an Indian Muslim man was lynched the previous month. The three were referred to the police for promoting enmity between different groups.

TikTok, naturally wanting to stay on side in its second-biggest market, banned the users. Previous Team 07 content had featured the usual benign TikTok content, such as lip-syncing and dancing.

Outside of the ranks of the rich and/or famous, the app is also reportedly popular among nurses, firefighters, and members of the US army – albeit it has been banned by the US Navy over security fears.

An analysis from Jing Daily looked at the most popular users on Douyin in China in March 2019, analysing some key trends. Among these was a trend towards comedy, with three of the top-10 accounts classifiable in this category. These include the top account, an account featuring comedian Guo Donglin, which at this point was growing by 8 million followers per month.

Another popular theme was videos focused on one single area (beauty, pets, food, etc), around which relatively formulaic videos are produced. These ‘single-vertical’ accounts made up four of the top-10 at this point.

The article also points to the popularity of mini-TV shows on Douyin, with one example clocking up 6 million followers after posting a mere 14 videos.

TikTok vs. Facebook

Instagram’s parent company, Facebook – never known to rest on its laurels in the face of competition – announced it was building a standalone app known as Lasso, which aims to directly challenge TikTok for a share of the Generation Z market. Lasso launched in November 2018.

As of October 2019, Lasso had logged 425,000 installs – not in TikTok’s league.

A leaked recording from July 2019 revealed that Mark Zuckerberg’s strategy was to first target markets in which TikTok has as of yet failed to gain a foothold. Although sources have also indicated that Facebook is aiming to go head-to-head with TikTok in its biggest market outside of China, India, in 2020.

It was reported in November 2019 that Instagram was also trialling a suspiciously TikTok-like function in Brazil. This short video platform will reportedly be known as Cenas (Portuguese for ‘reels’).

This would not be the first time Facebook has attempted to parrot the functionality of another app – it remains to be seen if TikTok can as easily be brushed aside as Snapchat was with Instagram Stories.

The choice of Brazil is interesting – it is a market which looks set to be a battleground for app developers. Indeed, it’s not just Facebook TikTok needs to fight off. Brazil has been targeted by TikTok’s biggest domestic rival Kuaishou – known as Kwai in international markets. As of early November 2019, Kwai had the momentum, ranking second in Brazil in terms of Google Play downloads, having held the third spot in late October.

TikTok had fallen to seventh, having occupied second at the start of the period.

As of November Kwai counted 7 million daily active users in Brazil. This compares to 18 million active TikTok users (this is a slightly older figure – it is unclear whether this is daily or monthly).

Kuaishou/Kwai has a second app in the Brazilian market: VStatus – ranking first in late October and second in early November in terms of downloads. With 120 million active users, this app – which allows users to make short profile videos for their WhatsApp profile – is one of the most popular in Brazil.

Kwai, it should be noted, is backed by Tencent.

TikTok vs. Kwai in Brazil, Google Play ranking Oct-Nov 2019

TikTok vs. Kwai in Brazil, Google Play ranking Oct-Nov 2019

Source: EqualOcean

TikTok Usage Statistics

According, to App Annie’s State of Mobile 2020 report, Android TikTok users spent in excess of 68 billion hours using the app in 2019. This represents a stunning 210% increase over 2018.

The app seems to have taken off in a big way in South Asia, with India and Pakistan the biggest markets outside of China in terms of viewing time, with the US coming in a distant third (in fairness, Pakistan is a distant second behind India). The time spent on TikTok in the US grew 375% year-on-year. TikTok sage exceeded that of Amazon Prime in the US in 2019.

No market compares to China, however – eight out of every 10 minutes viewed on TikTok is viewed in China.

Global time spent on TikTok, Dec 2017 – Dec 2019, excluding China, Android

Global time spent on TikTok, Dec 2017 - Dec 2019, excluding China, Android

Source: App Annie

In terms of time spent, ByteDance apps account for 66.5% of time spent with short video apps. This compares to 26.6% for Kauishou.

Average daily time spent on Douyin, accordingly to Trustdata TikTok stats increased from 17 to 27 minutes between September 2018 and September 2019. This pales in comparison to Kuaishou/Kwai, according to this data, which saw average daily usage increase to 48 minutes from 36 minutes year-on-year.

This saw it pull ahead of even the mighty WeChat, which saw daily usage fall from 40 minutes to 31 minutes. Indeed, the time spent using short video apps has to come from somewhere – and time spent using WeChat is no doubt the richest seam for this precious resource…

Daily time spent on Douyin, vs other popular Chinese apps, September 2018 vs September 2019

Daily time spent on Douyin, vs other popular Chinese apps, September 2018 vs September 2019

Source: eMarketer

An analysis of the 2020 Chinese New Year period, with added consideration of the increase in seasonal confinement due to the coronavirus outbreak, saw average daily time spent rising to 122.3 minutes (this pertains to users of the Jiguang/Aurora Mobile network – so not perfectly comparable to other datasets we’ve looked at). This represents close to double 2019’s figure of 68.8 minutes. Daily active Douyin user numbers increased by 19.4% over this period.

RMB 2 billion ($287 million) in red envelopes (money parcels sent during the Chinese New Year period) was also sent over Douyin over this period. Money transfer is an increasingly central part of the Chinese social app landscape, so it will be interesting to observe whether ByteDance takes any further steps in this direction.

According to venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, TikTok users spend 52 minutes per day using the app (a figure that dates back to September 2018). Fast Company reported a figure of 45 minutes nearly one year on.

TikTok itself has reported that US users open the app eight times a day in a bid to woo ad clients, with sessions averaging 4.9 minutes in length. This puts it in excess of Facebook (4.7), Instagram (3.1 minutes), and Snapchat (1.6 minutes).

The Economic Times reports that average Indian TikTok users spent an average of 38 minutes daily using the app (vs 44 minutes on Instagram, or 35 minutes on Facebook).

AppTopia reports that while TikTok may have been in a dominant position in the US in terms of download volume in October 2018, it was not competing in terms of engagement with its more established rivals.

TikTok’s daily engagement rate in the US at this point stood at 29%, which pales in comparison to Facebook’s 96%, Instagram’s 95%, or YouTube’s 95%. Indeed, even the ailing Snapchat posted a figure of 95%. The metric used here is the proportion of monthly users who are daily users.

An updated figure does not seem to be publicly available – thus we will have to settle for this for now. As the app has entered the mainstream we might assume that it is more a part of users’ daily lives – thus perhaps this figure could conceivably have crept upwards since.

TikTok engagement vs. other social apps

TikTok engagement vs. other social apps

Source: Apptopia

The takeover and subsequent merging of Musical.ly and TikTok seems to have had a significant effect on daily usage of the app. Apptopia report that between early August and late October 2018, TikTok sessions rose from 58 million per day to over 70 million.

These statistics purport to show a global figure. Again, they do not seem to include China, however, where 200 million active daily users of Douyin at this stage would nearly quadruple this total.

TikTok daily sessions

TikTok daily sessions

Source: Apptopia

According to App Ape Labs, we saw that the proportion of US TikTok users who used the app heavily (more than two-thirds of days in month) stood at 22.6% at the end of 2019. Middle users, who used the app between one-third and two-thirds of the month accounted for 12.7%, and light users (less than that) for 38.5%.

These figures also take into account ‘inactive users’ – who account for 26.2%. The precise definition of an inactive user is unclear.

Apptopia also looked at user retention back in 2018. Here, TikTok fares well compared to social media averages, with 10% of downloaders continuing to use the app seven days after downloading. The social media average is 4%.

A study published by Tencent Market Insight (cited by Sean Wang on Medium) found 48% of users who stopped using the app did so because of the lack of variety in the content published.

TikTok user retention in the US

TikTok user retention in the US

Source: Apptopia

A different set of (clearly incomparable) TikTok user retention stats published by App Annie in June 2019 reported a one-week retention rate of 26%. This compared negatively to Facebook (45%), Instagram (44%), and Snapchat (32%). By September 2019, the TikTok retention rate had climbed to 39%.

GlobalWebIndex TikTok stats show that TikTok users are nearly as engaged in creating videos as they are in viewing them. In all, 55% of users had uploaded a video, compared to 68% who had watched one in the past-month.

These stats date back to late 2018, however – it is unclear if the ratio of creativity to spectating has remained in this proportion as the app has grown more popular. While the app already had a relatively large userbase at this point, these are relative early adopters.

They also refer to the US and UK. We may see differing results elsewhere.

In what activities do TikTok users engage?

In what activities do TikTok users engage?

Source: GlobalWebIndex

In favour of the above hypothesis, however, is a general feeling reported among video makers that TikTok could be the video platform of the future. eMarketer reports that at the annual VidCon convention in California in July 2019, YouTube creators bemoaned Google’s often mysterious Preferred system. Creators who are a part of this earn higher payouts than those not – naturally frustrating many users excluded from it. On the other hand, TikTok’s ease of usage earned praise.

While certainly it would be dramatic to declare YouTube’s dominance was under threat, certainly there is scope for TikTok to thrive in this environment. That is provided it resolves its own problems with unhappy creators waiting for their earnings…

What sort of content do Douyin users upload?                         

Courtesy of an annotated version from Katherine Wu, a New York-based investor at Notation Capital, we can glean a little bit of what ByteDance shared in its annual Douyin report for 2019. As you’ll see, it’s not necessarily the most deeply insightful – though please do have a look if you want to know what the most popular dog, cat, and…erm, duck breeds are on the platform.

(Okay, fine: husky, dragon li, call duck).

Ducks aside, these stats perhaps do give us a little window into how 400 million daily active Douyin users interact with the app.

They show us a strong family orientation. An app that we associate more with irreverence here is the tool through which key life moments are documented.

Here are some highlights…

  • 460,000 families used Douyin to capture moments with their entire family; family-related content received 2.79 billion views and 100 million likes
  • 6 million videos of parents and children uploaded to the platform
  • 76 million videos made to welcome newborns
  • 180,000 videos pertaining to university admissions tests and 380,000 videos pertaining to graduation uploaded
  • 09 million wedding videos
  • The most-liked profession was teacher, with 620 million likes, followed by nurse and firefighter
  • With 1.02 billion likes the ‘aging’ filter proved more popular than the ‘baby’ filter (210 million)
  • Charting the speed of the journey in-between were 30.71 million users who used the ‘time goes on’ video option
  • Most viewed/uploaded city was Beijing, followed by Liaoning (a northeastern province, largest city Shenyang), and Shanghai; Beijing was also the most-liked city, followed by Chengdu, and Shanghai; top travel destinations were Datang Everbright City in Xian, Disneyland Shanghai, and Chengdu Panda Base
  • Most viewed city outside of China was Bangkok, followed by Seoul, and Tokyo
  • 89 million ‘knowledge-based content’ videos uploaded; cooking content was the most-popular type of knowledge-based content, followed by foreign language education, and academic subject-based education; one creator’s chemistry videos were viewed by 130 million people, another’s ancient architecture lectures were viewed by 64.1 million, and biology courses from a third were viewed by 41.8 million
  • Culture-related content received 543.1 billion views

We also get a content breakdown of what people born in certain decades most like to upload and watch. The fondness of those born in the 60s for uploading dance videos is perhaps the highlight of this exercise…

Most-popular Douyin creation/watch categories, by decade of birth

Most-popular Douyin creation/watch categories, by decade of birth

Source: ByteDance/Katherine Wu

TikTok devices

TikTok’s download rank featured highly in both iOS and Android download charts over the course of 2019. Therefore, we can assume the global ratio will be significantly tilted towards Android, given the much higher user volume of Google devices globally – representing the breadth of TikTok’s appeal.

Chiming with this, back in late 2018, Apptopia reported that 80% of TikTok sessions were on an Android device. More recent stats are hard to come by.

In the US, 52% of TikTok users are on iOS – though this chimes with the market’s preference for Apple phones.

TikTok marketing

As of February 2019, 4% of marketers were using TikTok, making it the least popular platform in this regard. This is in excess of the 2% of internet users that were using the platform at this stage – though this is the case for all of the apps listed here.

Certainly we might expect TikTok to have become more prominent among both marketers and users in the intervening year or so.

US social media platform usage: marketers vs. general public

US social media platform usage: marketers vs. general public

Source: eMarketer

In China Douyin seems to play a more notable role in marketing. An influencer marketing campaign ran by PROYA in support of its Bubble Spa Mask saw 1 million masks sold in a month, and RMB 300 million ($43 million) brought in over the course of three months.

In all the campaign utilised 200 influencers – one of whom brought in 70 million impressions. The below graphic shows search volume for ‘bubble mask’ on Baidu during August 2019.

Search volume for ‘bubble mask’ during PROYA Douyin campaign

Search volume for ‘bubble mask’ during PROYA Douyin campaign

Source: Walk the Chat

TikTok controversies

Two tourists got into hot water after posting clips of themselves damaging a 6,000 year-old landform in China’s Gansu Province. The videos went viral, resulting in the pair (aged 20 and 17) turning themselves into the police.

Chinese online media juggernaut Tencent has disabled linking to short video sites including Douyin on WeChat in what is claimed to be a move against the sharing of inappropriate content. This is something of a blow for TikTok, with 56% of new users reportedly downloading the app after seeing videos shared on other platforms carrying the TikTok watermark.

This is part of a wider battle between the two digital stables, both of which have filed lawsuits against each other for defamation and unfair competition. In April 2019, WeChat was sued by a lawyer named Zhang Zhengxin under China’s anti-monopoly laws. ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming was also involved in a public spat with Tencent CEO Pony Ma.

Allegations of inappropriate content can have serious repercussions in China: TikTok’s ByteDance stablemate Neihan Duanzi (a joke-sharing app) did not survive allegations of this nature. Toutaio was also temporarily removed from app stores in China after falling foul of censors.

State newspaper People’s Daily called for tighter regulations, after users were injured taking part in Douyin challenges. China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism also took issue with a comic series published by ByteDance, which they claimed distorted Chinese history (taken down with an apology).

It seems, however, that ByteDance is on the right side of the authorities at present, with Zhang Yiming featuring on the state-endorsed All China Federation of Industry and Commerce’s top 100 entrepreneurs of the last 40 years list.

That is not to say there are not considerable issues. While users are supposed to be at least 16, many younger users have been reported. Some, as reported in South China Morning Post, putting themselves at risk and creating inappropriate and/or worrying content. Vice also reports a culture of users searching for and soliciting sexual images of underage users.

With fears that young people might be spending too long using apps, TikTok contains a digital wellbeing component which warns users when they’ve been using the app for over two hours.

TikTok came under investigation in the UK for its handling of its young users’ personal data. Concerns were also raised around its open messaging system, which allows anyone to message anyone.

TikTok was banned for around two weeks in India in April 2019. Indian legislators cited fears around child pornography, grooming, and cyberbullying as being behind the ban. The ban was overturned after TikTok successful demonstrated that it had taken suitable measures to deal with these issues.

A similarly short-lived TikTok ban was enforced in Indonesia in July 2019. This ban was lifted when TikTok agreed to censor ‘negative’ content.

There were widespread rumours that the app was to be banned in Pakistan in January 2019. These turned out to be nothing more than rumours, though they gained significant traction. A lawyer approached the Lahore High Court in August 2019 seeking a TikTok ban in the country.

Its troubles extend across the Pacific Ocean also. The US FTC fined ByteDance $5.7 million for collecting data on users under the age of 13 without first seeking parental consent.

The US Navy banned the app in November 2019. This came in the wake of a Congressional demand for an investigation into the app, over fears regarding information sharing with the Chinese government. ByteDance has moved to ringfence TikTok from the rest of its operations in order to protect it from such charges. It was reportedly seeking a CEO for the separated-out TikTok operation in January 2020.

There have also been reports that TikTok is seeking a new global headquarters, outside of China (and the US it would seem). Dublin, Singapore, and London have been touted. At present TikTok’s main office is in Los Angeles, while the CEO is based in Shanghai. Commentators have suggested, however, that this would not likely do much to ease pressure on ByteDance from the US.

TikTok Revenue Statistics

TikTok revenue statistics from Sensor Tower show that TikTok brought in $176.9 million in revenue over 2019. TikTok is still in the early days of revenue generation, having slowly brought in ads over the course of 2019 (see below for more detail). 2019’s total, therefore, while relatively small, still accounts for 71% of all-time TikTok revenue.

Q4 2019 represented by far the best quarter for TikTok revenue to date, with quarter-on-quarter growth standing at 100%, and year-on-year growth at a stunning 500% (albeit from a relatively low base). TikTok is still in the early stages. If we look at equivalent stats for other apps that shared the same sense of global virality in the early stages, we see a similar story.

TikTok revenue 2018-2019

TikTok revenue 2018-2019

Source: Sensor Tower

These figures, however, doesn’t account for revenue generated outside of the app store (Google Play Store and iOS App Store) ecosystem. This means we’re not seeing the impact of third-party Android revenue – which would most likely account for lion’s share of Chinese TikTok revenue.

Nonetheless, China is still biggest source of TikTok revenue through iOS users alone. $122.9 million of TikTok 2019 revenue comes from its home market; 69% of the total. The US comes in second place, with its $36 million contribution accounting for 20% TikTok 2019 revenue. The UK, contributing 2% ($2.4 million), was in third place.

Before introducing the ads, TikTok revenue was generated from in-app purchases, such as emojis and digital gifts. As of October 2018, these were bringing in $3.5 million per month. This represented a 275% increase over October 2017 revenue.

TikTok monthly revenue, October 2017 – October 2018

TikTok monthly revenue

Source: Sensor Tower

Around 42% of revenue up until this point – or $1.5 million – came from the US, where the increase in spending measures 144%. This just outstrips spending in China, which at $1.4 million represents 39% of the total. Notably, however, Chinese Android users were not included in the total, so we can safely assume that ByteDance’s home country is the number one source of revenue. In total, users had spent $50 million on TikTok as of the end of October 2018.

TikTok advertising

Initially TikTok did not feature paid advertising. It has been slowly opening itself up. It was reported that ads were being tested by the platform in January 2019. A beta version of a ‘managed service platform’ – bringing TikTok into the biddable ads space followed in April 2019.

Notably, VP Blake Chandlee used to be head of advertising at Facebook. Chandlee has been working on building relationships with major US advertisers. Brands like the NFL, the NBA, Nike, Burberry, Samsung, HP, Chipotle and Walmart were mentioned by Chandlee in a public talk in September 2019.

The FT reports that one 24-hour TikTok campaign ran by Guess logged a CTR of 16% compared to a 4% average. The app was also reportedly introducing a service through which brands could be introduced to influence. Unlike other platforms, however, TikTok does not offer much by way of audience segmentation.

As of November, however, The Verge still described TikTok ads as the Wild West. Self-serve ads on the platform deliver CPM of $10 – which compares negatively to Instagram’s $8.

Back in February 2019, Digiday reported that in-feed TikTok ads were retailing at $10/impression, with a minimum campaign spend of $6,000. Brand takeover ads were available for $50,000 per day – with a guaranteed 5 million impressions.

In China, TikTok advertising has been available for much longer, though we do not have clear figures on revenue generated outside of the app store environment.

Short-form video has been earmarked a key revenue generator in China. iResearch Consulting Group estimate that around $2 billion in revenue was brought in by these apps over 2018 (RMB 14 billion). This would represent 521% growth over 2018. They predict we’ll continue to see strong growth over 2019 and 2020, albeit at a more sustainable rate of 134% and 71% respectively. This would generate revenue of $4.8 billion and $8.2 roughly.

ByteDance commanded 23% of the Chinese digital ad market in the first half of 2020 – making it the second-biggest player in the country.

While ByteDance and TikTok have improved their generation of revenue, it might be noted that creators’ share of TikTok revenue has been judged to be unsatisfactory – with money often taking some time to materialise.

TikTok shopping functionality is also seemingly on the cards (something Chandlee is also working on), allowing brands to attach a shoppable component added to a sponsored hashtag challenge. This sees an added ‘discover’ tab added to the hashtag landing page. Clicking on an item here will lead directly to a shopping cart on a brand mini site.

The first brand to embrace this form of TikTok advertising was retail brand Kroger, who ran a #TransformUrDorm challenge. This attracted close to 477 million views across hundreds of videos over the course of a week or so.

ByteDance revenue

ByteDance is reported have brought in $2.5 billion of revenue in total over 2017, rising to $7.2-7.9 billion in 2018 (around 50 billion yuan). This was the lower end of its revenue target for the years.

ByteDance’s revenue target for 2019 was to double this to $14.8 billion. In September 2019, it was reported that it was well on the way to meeting and beating this target, with revenue in the range of $7 to $8.4 billion (50-60 billion yuan) generated over the first half of the year.

ByteDance has denied reports that it hit $20 billion revenue in 2019.

ByteDance valuation

As well as TikTok/Douyin, parent company ByteDance owns the Chinese AI-powered news aggregator Toutiao. Toutiao could lay claim to 120 million daily active users (as of September 2017), and is alone valued at $20 billion.

Accordingly, ByteDance earned the rank of the world’s most-highly valued private startup, with a valuation of $78 billion in late 2018 (creeping past Uber’s pre-IPO valuation of $72 billion).

An IPO was touted for some point in 2019. This did not materialise. Q1 2020 has been rumoured to be the new target for a ByteDance IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. ByteDance itself has strongly denied that this will be the case.

ByteDance funding rounds

ByteDance’s huge valuation came on the back of a funding round which saw investors led by SoftBank invest $3 billion in October 2018. ByteDance was reported to get a syndicated loan worth $1.3 billion in April 2019, from a group dominated by Wall Street Banks.

Final thoughts

TikTok is one of those apps that separates the old from the young – one of those which inspires a spate of explainer articles. No doubt, many older users will have been left scratching their heads at the rise of this mysterious app.

While its appeal is not limited to younger users, this is a Generation Z app. The short format seems to lend itself perfectly to the irreverent sense of humour of the first generation of true digital natives. One commentator notes that this is part of the appeal of TikTok to these younger users. Tired of the perfect bodies and perfect lives as shown on Instagram, they are looking for something a little more down-to-earth, more, dare we say…authentic…

As we’ve seen with Snapchat – prior to its recent recovery – however, no bubble is immune to bursting – or having 10-figure sums wiped off its value following a celebrity tweet. Whether this momentum can be sustained in light of rivals that may not have even launched yet remains to be seen. TikTok will also have ensure that it avoids scandal. Addressing safety concerns will be paramount. This includes making sure to avoid any issues arising around the advanced AI that lies behind much of ByteDance’s success.

The other challenge, as with all highly-valued startups rated on growth and potential, is profitability. With no clear monetisation strategy in place, how ByteDance approaches this in the run up to any IPO will be of great concern to industry observers and potential investors. Fortnite has, however, shown that apps can thrive on essentially meaningless in-app purchases.

This, of course, will put it in direct competition with domestic rivals Alibaba and Tencent. With growth in the Chinese market slowing, this has the potential to severely damage the prospects of one of the three online behemoths.

ByteDance has one thing over its better-established rivals, however, and that is that it is the first to have succeeded in getting a foothold overseas. Acquiring a previously-established brand in Musical.ly looks like a masterstroke in this regard, and no small amount of credit is due for successfully consolidating the brands without losing users.

This internationalisation may prove a crucial advantage as well as a backup plan if it comes out of this contest badly – or, indeed, it falls foul of Chinese authorities.

Challenges are, of course, par for the course for any app that aspires to dominance. On this evidence, TikTok certainly belongs to that category.


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