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Many TikTok videos don’t start from scratch, so neither can its competitors. TikTok is all about remixes where users shoot a new video to recontextualize audio pulled from someone else’s clip, or riff on an existing meme or concept. That only works because TikTok’s had time to build up an immense armory of content to draw inspiration from.

Creators will find themselves unequipped trying to get started on TikTok copycats including Facebook Lasso, and Instagram Reels which is testing in Brazil. Direct competitors like Triller and Dubsmash are racing to build up their archives. YouTube Shorts, which The Information today reported is in development, only has a shot if Google lets users harness the 5 billion videos people already watch on YouTube each day.

This is the power of what I call “content network effect”: Each piece of content adds value to the rest. That’s TikTok.

You’re likely familiar with traditional network effect — ‘a phenomenon whereby a product or service gains additional value as more people use it.’ It’s not just the network itself that gains value, as the value delivered to each user increases too. Today’s top social networks are shining examples. The more people there are on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, the more people you can connect to, and the more material their relevance algorithms can draw on to fill your feeds.

If you had to choose between using two identical social networks, you’re probably going to pick the one with more friends or creators already onboard. Network effects raise the switching cost of moving to a different network. Even if it has better features, fewer ads, or less misinformation and bullying, you’re unlikely to leave a robust network behind and decamp to a sparser one. That makes scaled social networks difficult to Disrupt. All the top ones have been around for almost a decade or more.

Except for TikTok. The Chinese music/video app has managed to demonstrate a new concept of “content network effect”. In its case, each video uploaded to the app makes every future potential video more valuable. That’s because all the content on TikTok serves as remix fodder for the rest. Every song, dance, joke, prank, and monologue generates resources for other creators to exploit. It’s a bottomless well of inspiration.

Remixability, the ultimate creative tool

TikTok productizes remix culture by making it easy to “use this sound”. Tap the audio button on any video and it becomes yours. Click through and you’ll see all the other videos that use it. TikTok even offers a whole search engine for sorting through sounds by categories like Trending, Greatest Hits, Love, Gaming, and travel. Sometimes remixes are based on an idea rather than an audio. #FlipTheSwitch sees couples instantly swapping clothes when the light flicks off, and has collected over 3.6 billion videos across over 500,000 remixed versions of the video.

You can even duet with the original creator, sharing your video and theirs side-by-side simultaneously. A solo performance becomes a chorus as more duets are hitched together. Meanwhile, remixes of remixes of remixes provide an esoteric reward for hardcore users who recognize how a gag has evolved or spiraled into absurdity.

Other apps in the past have spawned video responses, hashtags, quote-tweets, surveys, and chain letters and other ways for pieces of content to interact or iterate. And there’s always been parodies. But TikTok proves the power of forging a social app with content network effect at its core.

Facilitating remixes offers a way to lower the bar for producing user generated content. You’d don’t have to be astoundingly creative or original to make something entertaining. Each individual’s life experiences inform their perspective that could let them interpret an idea in a new way.

What began with someone ripping audio of two people chanting “don’t be Suspicious, don’t be suspicious” while sneaking through a graveyard in TV show Parks & Recs led to people lipsyncing it while trying to escape their infant’s room without waking them up, leaving the house wearing clothes they stole from their sister’s closet, trying to keep a llama as a pet, and photoshopping themselves to look taller. Unless someone’s already done the work to record an audio clip, there’s nothing to inspire and enable others to put their spin on it.

TikTok’s archive vs the world

That’s why I wrote that Mark Zuckerberg misunderstands the huge threat of TikTok after the CEO told Facebook’s staff that “I kind of think about TikTok as if it were Explore for Stories”. Facebook and Instagram found massive success cloning Snapchat Stories because all they had to do was copy its features. Stories are autobiographical life vlogging. All you need are the creative tools, which Instagram and Facebook rebuilt, and people to share to, which the apps had billions of.

Zuckerberg misunderstands the huge threat of TikTok

But TikTok isn’t about sharing what you’re up to like Stories that typically start from scratch since each user’s life is different. It’s micro-entertainment powered by content network effect. If TikTok competitors give people the same video recording features and distribution potential, they’ll still be missing the archive of source material.

Facebook’s Lasso looks just like TikTok but it’s failed to gain steam since launching in November 2018. Instagram Reels smartly copies TikTok’s remixing tools, but if the Brazilian tests go well and it eventually launches in English, it will start out flat footed.

When YouTube launches Shorts, as The Information’s Alex Heath and Jessica Toonkel report it’s planning to do before the end of the year, it will be buried inside its main app. That could make it impossible to compete with a dedicated app like TikTok that opens straight to its For You page. Its one saving grace would be if YouTube unlocks its entire database of videos for remixing.

Thanks to its position as the default place to host videos and its experience with searchability that Facebook and Instagram lack, YouTube Shorts could at least have all the ingredients necessary. But given YouTube’s non-stop failures in social with everything from Google+ to YouTube Stories to its dozen deadpooled messaging apps, it may not have the chef skills necessary to combine them.

[Postscript: Or maybe YouTube will be worse at cloning TikTok than anyone. Record labels and YouTube should understand that short videos promote rather than pirate music, as TikTok propelling Lil Nas X and many other musicians up the charts prove. But if YouTube ruthlessly applies Content ID and takes down Shorts with unauthorized audio, the feature is dead in the water.]

Other social networks should consider how the concept applies to them. Could Facebook turn your friends’ photos into collage materials? Could Instagram let you share themed collections of your favorite posts? Remix culture isn’t going away, so neither will the value of fostering content network effects. With video consumption outpacing professional production, remixes are how the world will stay entertained and how amateurs can contribute creations worthy of going viral.

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Short-form video app TikTok announced today it’s committing more than $250 million to support front-line workers, educators and local communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as an additional $125 million in advertising credits to public health organizations and businesses looking to rebuild. Some of these funds are being directed toward major health organizations, like the CDC and WHO, while other funds are aimed at helping individuals or smaller businesses.

The $250 million includes three separate efforts: the TikTok Health Heroes Relief Fund, TikTok Community Relief Fund and TikTok Creative Learning Fund.

The first is the most significant effort, as it provisions $150 million in funds for things like medical staffing, supplies and hardship relief for healthcare workers. Included in these distributions is $15 million to the CDC Foundation to support surge staffing for local response efforts through state and local governments, and $10 million for the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. 

In addition, TikTok, which is owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance, said its employee matching program will deliver aid to organizations like the Red Cross and Direct Relief.

TikTok also said it’s working with global and local partners to deliver masks and other personal protective equipment to hospitals in India, Indonesia, Italy, South Korea and the U.S., among others. Earlier this month, TikTok announced it had donated 400,000 hazmat medical protective suits and 200,000 masks to protect doctors and front-line medical staff in India, for example.

The TikTok Community Relief Fund, meanwhile, is focused in particular on vulnerable communities impacted by COVID-19.

This effort involves allotting $40 million in cash for local organizations that serve representatives of TikTok’s user community — including musicians, artists, nurses, educators and families. The fund has already been used to donate $3 million to After-School All-Stars, which is providing food for families who had previously relied on school lunches, and $2 million for MusiCares, which supports artists, songwriters and music professionals whose livelihoods have been disrupted.

As a part of the Community Relief Fund, TikTok will also be matching $10 million in donations from its community.

The third effort, TikTok’s Creative Learning Fund, will provide $50 million in grants to educators, professional experts and nonprofits working on distance learning efforts. TikTok sees itself as a potential home for creative remote learning efforts, but didn’t announce any specific plans on this front.

Outside of the funds themselves, TikTok is extending ad credits to health organizations and SMBs.

The company is providing $25 million in prominent “in-feed” advertising space for NGOs, trusted health sources and local authorities, allowing them to share their important messages with millions of people, it said. Other major tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, have done the same on their own platforms.

TikTok noted it has worked to spread educational information in other ways, as well, having hosted live streams from representatives of WHO, IFRC and other popular voices in public health and science, including Bill Nye the Science Guy. There’s also a dedicated section in TikTok with other resources: the COVID-19 Resources Page on TikTok’s Safety Center. And it has partnered with creators on campaigns like #HappyAtHome, which airs live programming at 8:00 PM ET/ 5:00 PM PT on Fridays and has other themed experiences planned during weekdays.

TikTok will also offer $100 million in advertising credits to small and medium-sized businesses trying to get back on their feet in the months ahead. This effort hasn’t yet started, as it will depend on the decisions made by public health authorities about the re-opening of businesses, the company explained.

“We understand that these are challenging times for everyone,” wrote TikTok president, Alex Zhu, in an announcement. “Alongside businesses, governments, NGOs, and ordinary people across the globe stepping up in this critical moment, we are committed to offering the very best that we can to help out humanity. Together, we will persevere through this time of crisis and emerge a better community and part of a world that we fervently hope will be more united in common purpose than it was before,” Zhu added.

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Social networks are in for a rude copyright awakening. A new European Union law called Article 17 essentially eradicates safe harbor and requires that they’ve made their “best effort” to get licenses from rights holders for all content on their platform. If a user uploads a video with a popular song in the background, tech platforms can’t just take it down if requested. They’ll be liable if they didn’t already try to get permission.

That’s good news for musicians and film producers who are more likely to get paid. But it could hurt influencers and creators whose clips and remixes might be blocked or have their revenue diverted. It will certainly be a huge headache for content-sharing sites.

That’s where Pex comes in. The profitable royalty attribution startup founded in 2014 scans social networks and other user-generated content sites for rightsholders’ content. Pex then lets them negotiate licensing with the platforms, request a take-down, demand attribution and/or track the consumption statistics. It has collected a database of over 20 billion audio and video tracks found on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter and more. It’s like an independent YouTube ContentID.

Today that business gets a big boost as Pex is acquiring Dubset, which has spent 10 years tackling the problem of getting remixes and multi-song DJ sets legalized for streaming on services like Spotify, to some success. The $11.3 million-funded Dubset does fingerprinting of 45 million tracks from over 50,000 rights holders down to the second so the artists behind the source material get paid.

Pex has come a long way from when CEO Rasty Turek tried to build a Shazam for video. “It took me years to figure out how to do it technically, but there was no market for it,” he tells me. Turns out that the technology was perfect for spotting illegal usage of copyrighted songs.

Now Pex will gain Dubset’s connections to tons of record labels and other rightsholders in what two sources close to the deal say is an acquisition priced between $25 million and $50 million. “There are very few companies in the music business that have successfully licensed as much catalog as Dubset, and the music rights database they’ve built is massive and rare,” Turek tells TechCrunch exclusively before the deal’s formal announcement tomorrow.

Together, they’ll be pushing Pex’s new Attribution Engine that establishes a three-sided marketplace for content. Instead of just working with rightsholders, the fresh tech can plug directly into big platforms and instantly identify copyrighted audio and visual files as short as one second. It can even suss out cover versions of songs via melody matching, as well as compressed, cropped and modified variations. Creators can also use it to ensure the source material they’re remixing or turning into memes is given proper attribution or a cut of revenue.

The Attribution Engine earns money by facilitating the licenses and payments between platforms, rightsholders and creators. It’s free to register content with the service as well as for platforms to perform identification scans.

Indeed, the Attribution Engine is free for rightsholders to register their content and free for platforms to run identification scans on what’s uploaded to them. The hope is that by creating a simpler path to cooperation and revenue sharing, more rightsholders will make their content accessible for use on social networks or in remixes. It could also grant platforms protection from Article 17 liability as they’ll be able to say that Pex made its best effort to get content usage approval from rightsholders.

“Basically every platform in the world that operates in the EU will have to identify all copyrighted content on their platform as it comes in, or go back and identify all of it,” says Dubset chief strategy officer Bob Barbiere who’s now Senior VP of Digital Rights for Pex. “Dubset was really built to serve at the DJ or content creator level . . . doing it purely for the purposes of mix and remix content. Pex does it in a much bigger way for the platforms.”

For up-and-coming platforms like TikTok competitors Dubsmash or Triller, Pex’s business model is a gift. They don’t have to pay for the ID service until they’re ready to cut licensing deals with rightsholders, when Pex adds a fee on top. Trying to build this stuff from scratch could be slow and hugely expensive, given YouTube’s still perfecting its ContentID system eight years in.

Pex will have to manage the careful balance of staying ahead of regulation but not so far that it’s building technology people won’t need for a long time. European Union states have until June 21, 2021 to implement Article 17 with local laws. “We don’t want others to out-innovate us, but we also don’t want to out-innovate ourselves out of existence by being too early and then waiting for the market to catch up to us,” Turek explains.

Image via HelpCloud

The internet needs this kind of infrastructure because we’re still at the beginning of the age of the remix. TikTok has proven how recontextualizing a song or vocal track with new visuals can create chains of jokes and content that go massively viral. The app productizes the Harlem Shake phenomenon, whereby people promote their own takes on a piece of content, drawing attention to the original and all the other versions. But these webs of remixes could be severed if platforms and rightsholders can’t forge licensing agreements.

“I hope that thanks to Pex, 20 years from now people will not have to think about copyright,” Turek concludes. “Any content they produce and distribute on the open internet will be automatically attributed to them and generate revenue if they so choose.” That could allow more people to turn their passion for creation into their profession, whether they’re building an app, writing a song or remixing a song into a meme for an app.

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Lizzo, who is known for fighting negativity in regards to her appearance, posted a clip accusing TikTok of deleting her videos

Lizzo has accused the social media app TikTok of body shaming after it deleted multiple videos of her in a bathing suit.

TikTok keeps taking down my videos with me in my bathing suits, she wrote in the clip she posted on TikTok. But allows other videos with girls in bathing suits. I wonder why? TikTok … we need to talk. The clip has received over 8m views on TikTok.

A TikTok spokesperson told the Guardian that Lizzos videos were not removed because she was wearing a bathing suit. They cited other violations, including sexual gratification, that lead to a moderator initially banning the videos. The spokesperson specifically cited one video that featured Lizzo lifting up her dress to reveal her undergarments. There was initial confusion over what the garments were. After officials at TikTok spoke to Lizzos team, and the undergarments were confirmed to be Spanx, not underwear, the videos were reinstated exactly as they were originally uploaded. We love Lizzos creativity, the spokesperson said. And the videos were originally removed because of other violations, not a bathing suit.

The Juice singer has worked hard to combat negative comments and attitudes towards her physical appearance. Last year, Lizzo received a flurry of attacks for wearing an ass-less dress and thong to an NBA game. Never ever let somebody stop you or shame you from being yourself, she said in response to the attacks. This is who Ive always been. Now everyones looking at it, and your criticism can just remain your criticism. Your criticism has no effect on me.

Lizzo also shrugged off the controversial comments fitness expert Jillian Michaels made on the body-positivity movement surrounding the singer. (Why are we celebrating her body? Why does it matter? Why arent we celebrating her music? Cause it isnt gonna be awesome if she gets diabetes. Michaels said during a morning news segment.)

TikTok is not the first social media platform Lizzo has taken issue with. Last year, she quit Twitter due to severe bullying and online trolls.

TikTok has come under fire before for its censorship of users content. In November, Washington DC officials held hearings over the app censoring political content. And last year, officials at TikTok admitted to censoring offensive content in an effort to curb bullying towards users who are fat, disabled, LGBTQ+, and/or people of color.

Social media platforms have long faced accusations of unfairly censoring womens bodies, with many womens rights groups calling the decisions sexist. Instagram has come under fire for heavily deleting photos that feature womens nipples. The Free the Nipple movement rages on the app multiple artists and celebrities, including Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and Chrissy Teigen have challenged the censorship rule with their own buzzed-about, scandalous photos. In 2015, Milk and Honey poet Rupi Kaur gained notoriety for challenging Instagrams ban on period blood by posting her own.

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TikTok, the hugely popular social media app, found a lot of early traction by giving users a way to create funny lip-synced versions of clips from well-known songs and then share them with friends (its predecessor in the West was even called Musically). Now at long last, TikTok’s owner, China’s ByteDance, is doubling down on the music connection with the release of its first standalone full music streaming app, starting first in India.

Today, the company is launching Resso, which describes itself as a “social music streaming app”: users are encouraged to share lyrics, comments and other user-generated content with each other, alongside full-length tracks of music that they can consume and also share with others. And the music begins to auto-play as soon as you open the app.

Resso is not disclosing how many tracks are on the service at launch, but it notes that it has secured licensing deals with Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, Merlin and Beggars Group, as well as big publishers specifically in the Indian market, including T-Series, Saregama, Zee Music, YRF Music, Times Music, Tips, Venus and Shemaroo, as well as Speed Records, Anand Audio, Lahiri Music, Divo and Muzik 247.

You might have clocked one notable holdout in that list: Universal Music, one of the “big three” global music publishers. Resso would not comment on why it has yet to ink a deal with Universal, but it’s notable that one of biggest investors in the music company is Tencent — an arch competitor to ByteDance in China that took a 10% stake in Universal at the end of last year that is valued at around $3.4 billion.

Unlike its sister app TikTok, which is free to use and is built on an ad-based model, Resso is following the freemium route that a number of other big music apps, such as Spotify, have taken. A free tier includes ads and limits streaming quality to 128 kbps; a premium, ad-free tier boosts streaming to 256 kbps, includes downloads and the ability to skip tracks and costs INR 99/month ($1.35/month) on Android and INR 119/month ($1.62) on iOS. Resso is not commenting on why the iOS price is higher.

The launch comes about two months after Resso opened up for testing in two markets, India and Indonesia (it remains in test mode in the latter). The choice to focus first on India was to tap into the country’s massive, youthful population of mobile users.

“India has the largest population of GenZ as compared to any other country globally,” Hari Nair, Head of Music Content & Partnership, Resso India, told TechCrunch. “With the core of Resso’s target audience being GenZ, it is only logical for Resso to make its debut in India. We will discuss additional markets when appropriate.”


Resso’s Nair at a briefing with media in New Delhi

India is music to ByteDance’s ears

TikTok is already huge in India — around 200 million users as of last October and expects to add another 100 million this year. But even without a clear TikTok connection — the app is published by “Moon Video” on Google Play, for example, and there are no obvious pushes to prioritise TikTok shares on the app — the test version has already seen some traction.

Resso has been installed by approximately 1 million App Store and Google Play users to date in India and Indonesia, research firm SensorTower told TechCrunch, with 600,000 of these installs in India, and 400,000 in Indonesia.

“All our marketing efforts are focused towards building a strong community of passionate music fans,” Nair said. “The idea is to have a digital first approach where in we identify the right set of audience groups and reach out to them.”

The market for music streaming is very competitive in India — where Resso will compete against not just Spotify, but Gaana, JioSaavn, Apple Music and YouTube Music, among others. Even so, partly because of the success of TikTok, Resso was highly anticipated. It comes after months of rumors stretching back almost a year, as well as a number of music licensing deals to expand the catalog — critical not just for Resso itself but for sister app TikTok, whose existing deals last year approached expiration.

While a lot of the currently streaming services in India offer near identical catalogs, Resso is banking on its ability to convince users to “express and engage.”

The app, by default, rolls somewhat relevant videos in the background whenever a song is playing. Users can comment and also read lyrics of songs. Resso’s user interface is designed to persuade users to share lyrics directly on other platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and of course, TikTok.

And alongside more social features wrapped around the music listening experience, Resso’s other differentiating feature is to push genre-based discovery more prominently, organising its music library by names that it says “address the tastes of today’s generation of music enthusiasts,” such as alternative, experimental, fusion, post rock and indie rock as well as more specific categories like popgaze, bow pop (I had to look this one up), indie psych pop and ambient.

As with services like Spotify aiming to build features also for artists in a two-sided marketplace, Resso is also dabbling in this area, noting that it “empowers artists to reinvent their catalog by providing a fresh way for fans to engage with their music and introduces them to new listeners.”

On the flip side, ByteDance may soon find out just how difficult it is to get Indians to pay for content. Resso’s pricing in India is in line with those of Apple Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Times Internet-owned Gaana, and Reliance Jio’s JioSaavn.

Jayanth Kolla, chief analyst at research firm Convergence Catalyst, said there still is a big room for growth for music streaming services in India. “More than half of internet users in the country are yet to join this bandwagon,” he said.

But none of these services have made significant inroads in their search for paying subscribers. Bloomberg reported in December that YouTube Music / Premium, had amassed over 800,000 subscribers in India, more than any other music streaming service.

And on top of this, according to one estimate, there is not a ton of money to be made in India currently. According to research firm Statista, music streaming services in India will clock about $244 million in revenue this year, compared to the much mature U.S. market, where they are estimated to generate $4.5 billion this year

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Gen Z-ers are posting memes showing their reactions to the fallout from the virus, while the app is helping to educate users

As the world reckons with an indefinite period of social distancing, teenagers on TikTok are bringing people together with memes about coping during the coronavirus pandemic.

Videos using the hashtag #coronavirus are up to 5.5bn total views on the app, which lets users post short clips set to music, as of Thursday.

Many show emotional reactions to the Covid-19 fallout: one user documented the screams of students on campus as they responded to dorms being closed and school shutting down. One user posted a video of themselves crying and dealing with a potentially corona-related fever. Others are devastated to be packing up and leaving study abroad programs.

Many are simply upset that coronavirus is ruining all their plans. While some videos acknowledge the gravity of the situation, most posts are steeped in a dark humor that has come to characterize Gen Z.

This is a generation that grew up after 9/11, came of age during the 2008 financial crisis, and is faced with an unprecedented climate crisis that threatens to end the world as we know it. As one TikTok user put it: the desensitized teens who grew up with information overload are unfazed by the global economic and social impacts Covid-19 could have.

Memes aside, TikTok is taking proactive measures to educate people about the spread of the virus, at a time when many major social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, are pushing back against the spread of misinformation.

TikTok told the Guardian it was working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide trusted information to our community. Through this partnership it has provided a page with a Q&A about the virus, ways to protect yourself, and mythbusters featuring tips from the WHO telling users when to wear a mask, whether you should spray chlorine or alcohol all over your body to stop the spread of the virus (short answer: definitely not), and other daily protective measures.

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Video apps most popular users could rake in millions by collaborating with brands

Teenagers used to aspire to become astronauts, firefighters, footballers or pop stars, but times change and so do career goals. Today, more than half of millennials and Generation Z-ers those aged 13-38 in the US aspire to become social media influencers, according to recent research.

The Chinese viral video app TikTok is the platform of choice for young people seeking to monetise their talents because it seen as rewarding anyones ability to entertain, whereas Instagram or YouTube tend to reward those who already have celebrity status.

And for a very lucky few, taking to TikTok could be a seriously lucrative career option. Marketeers reckon that the most popular TikTokers could currently charge close to $200,000 (155,000) per post if they promote and collaborate with brands. Researchers at Morning Consult, a US tech research group working on behalf of the games company Online Casino, argue that TikTok is growing so fast in popularity that some influencers might even be able to charge nearly $1m per post by next year.

Loren Gray, a 17-year-old singer from Pennsylvania, is said to be the most marketable current TikToker, with researchers estimating she could charge as much as $197,000 (152,000) per post.

Gray has more than 38 million followers on TikTok which posts videos of between 15 and 60 seconds in length making her one of the most-followed accounts. Gray has used her popularity on the app to secure record deals with Virgin Records and Capitol Records. She posts daily on the platform and her posts have received over 2bn likes.

Last year, the US fast food chain Chipotle paid Gray to participate in a guac song dance-off. The hashtag challenge an official TikTok campaign in which a creator uses a specific hashtag for a sponsored video was called #GuacDance. The campaign centred on a song about guacamole from the childrens music artist Dr Jean, and went viral.

Further down the top 20 is Jiffpom, a Los Angeles-based Pomeranian dog with 20 million followers double his Instagram following who could earn $100,000 per post, the report adds.

The report predicts that in a years time, Aashika Bhatia, a 19-year-old Indian actress, will be the most popular on the platform, with 194 million followers. She currently has 14 million and is gaining tens of thousands per day. The Bollywood actress posts TikTok classic videos of her lip-syncing and joking around. The popularity of posters like Bhatia is explained by the simplicity of the format, says the report: easy video design means short video clips can be created in minutes; music, dance and slapstick humorous clips transcend language barriers, which means they can be viewed on every continent; and the videos automatically loop to the next on the Tiktok feed, making it an easy watch.

Morning Consult estimates that popular TikTok stars could be paid up to $0.005 per follower for sponsored posts, which means a star like Bhatia could charge $973,000 per post if she reached the 194 million mark.

TikTok, which is owned by the Beijing-based tech company ByteDance, was valued at $75bn in 2018 when Japans richest man Masayoshi Son – invested in it via his SoftBank venture fund. It claims to have about 800 million active users, which would make it more popular than Twitter and Snapchat combined, but trailing Facebook.

The company has been fined $5.7m by US authorities for illegally collecting childrens data. It has also been criticised for censoring videos that might upset the Chinese government, including mentions of Tiananmen Square or Tibetan independence.

The Snapchat founder, Evan Spiegel, said this week he was a big fan of TikTok and expected TikTok to surpass Instagram, which is owned by Facebook and said in 2018 it had passed the 1 billion active user mark.

Social media in its original construct is really about status: representing who you are, showing people that youre cool, getting likes and comments, those sorts of things, Spiegel said last month. TikTok instead celebrates talent over status, he said, describing it as a platform for people to make media to entertain other people.

Paying just under $1m to a TikTok influencer for a post may sound like an unbelievable amount of money for a company to spend on marketing, but James Whatley, strategy partner at the marketing agency Digitas UK, said it showed how brands were shifting their attention and spending away from traditional media like TV and billboard advertising to partnering with authentic influencers.


I can actually believe those numbers if you look at how much money has been thrown at Instagram, he said. [TikTok] is the hot new thing and tonnes of money is being thrown at it. The fastest way to get traction on TikTok is to get the number-one influencer to promote your stuff. Just this week TikTok and [computer game] Fortnite announced a partnership deal with a competition for a TikTok dance to be recreated on Fortnite.

Every year there is always a new platform and clients want to put 10% of their budget towards it. Last year it was Instagram stories, before that Snapchat. TikTok is the darling of 2020.

Whatley explained that influencers can spread a brand further than their already huge number of followers, which can be greater than the population of small countries. There are challenges on TikTok, for example you could pay an influencer to do a challenge but with a bottle of Diet Coke, he said. As soon as that person does it, all of their followers will see it and want to participate and recreate themselves, and then all their followers will do it also, and youve got yourself a viral sensation.

Paul Lee, the global head of technology research at consultancy firm Deloitte, said he expected only a handful of people would be able to make a lot of money out of TikTok, but he said those who did could really strike it big.

If you have 10 million followers its better than 5 million, obviously, Lee said. Its quite a benign site. Its happy, and of people doing fun videos. You go there to get uplifted, and it feels less commercial, which could actually make partnerships more valuable.

Endorsements are always valuable, but it can be shocking how one persons endorsement is worth lots more than other peoples. I dont think mine would be worth so much. To become an influencer your timing has to be right, your look has to be right and you have to be super lucky.

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Lip-syncing app Dubsmash

So in 2017, Dubsmash‘s three executives burned down the 30-person company and rebuilt something social from the ashes with the rest of the $15.4 million it’d raised from Lowercase Capital, Index Ventures and Raine. They ditched its Berlin headquarters and resettled in Brooklyn, closer to the one demographic still pushing Dubsmashes to the Instagram Explore page: African-American teenagers posting dances and lip-syncs to indie hip-hop songs on the rise.

Dubsmash stretched its funding to rehire a whole new team of 15. They spent a year coding a new version of Dubsmash centered around Following and Trending feeds, desperately trying to match the core features of Musically, which by then had been bought by China’s ByteDance. It’s got chat but still lacks the augmented reality filters, cut transitions and photo slideshows of TikTok. But Dubsmash has the critical remix option for soundtracking your clip with the audio of any other video that sets it apart from Instagram and Snapchat.

“We realized to build a great product, we needed a depth of expertise that we just didn’t have access to in Berlin,” Dubsmash co-founder and CEO Jonas Druppel tells me. “It was a risky move and we felt the weight of it acutely. But we also knew there was no other way forward, given the scale and pace of the other players in the market.”

Few social apps have ever pulled off a real comeback. Even Snapchat had only lost 5 million of its 191 million users before it started growing again. But in the case of Dubsmash, its biggest competitor was also its savior.

The pre-relaunch version of Dubsmash

In August 2018, ByteDance merged Musically into TikTok to form a micro-entertainment phenomenon. Instead of haphazardly sharing auto-biographical Stories shot with little forethought, people began storyboarding skits and practicing dances. The resulting videos were denser and more compelling than content on Snapchat and Instagram. The new Dubsmash, launched two months later, rode along with the surge of interest in short-form video like a Lilliputian in a giant’s shirt pocket. The momentum helped Dubsmash raise a secret round of funding last year to keep up the chase.

Now Dubsmash has 1 billion video views per month.

Dubsmash rebuilt its app and revived its usage

“The turnaround that we executed hasn’t been done in recent memory by a consumer app in such a competitive marketplace. Most of them fade to oblivion or shut down,” Dubsmash co-founder and president Suchit Dash tells me. “By moving the company to the United States, hiring a brand new all-star team and relaunching the product, we gave this company and product a second life. Through that journey, we obsessed only on one metric: retention.”

Now the app has pulled 27% of the U.S. short-form video market share by installs, second only to TikTok’s 59%, according to App Annie. Sensor Tower tells TechCrunch that TikTok has about 3X as many U.S. lifetime installs as Dubsmash, and 11X more between when Musically became TikTok in August 2018 and now. [Note: These statistics are based on polling methods and TechCrunch cannot confirm their exact accuracy.]

In terms of active users outside of TikTok, Dubsmash has 73% of the U.S. market, compared to just 23% on Triller, 3.6% on Firework and an embarrassing 0% on Facebook’s Lasso. And while Triller began surpassing Dubsmash in downloads per month in October, Dubsmash has 3X as many active users and saw 38% more first-time downloads in 2018 than 2019. Dubsmash now sees 30% retention after a month, and 30% of its daily users are creating content.

It’s that stellar rate of participation that’s brought Dubsmash back to life. It also attracted a previously unannounced round of $6.75 million in the spring of 2019, largely from existing investors. While TikTok’s superstars and huge visibility could be scaring some users away from shooting videos while a long-tail of recent downloaders watch passively, Dubsmash has managed to make people feel comfortable on camera.

“Dubsmash is ground zero for culture creation in America — it’s where the newest, most popular hip-hop and dance challenges on the internet originate,” Dash declares. “Members of the community are developing content that will make them the superstars of tomorrow.”

Being No. 2 might not be so bad, given how mobile video viewing is growing massively thanks to better cameras, bigger screens, faster networks and cheaper data. Right now, Dubsmash doesn’t make any money. It hopes to one day generate revenue while helping its creators earn a living too, perhaps through ad revenue shares, tipping, subscriptions, merchandise or offline meetups.

One advantage of not being TikTok is that the app feels less crowded by semi-pro creators and influencers. That gives users the vibe that they’re more likely to hit the Trending or Explore page on Dubsmash. The Trending page is dominated by hot new songs and flashy dances, even if they’re shot with a lower production quality that feels accessible.

Dubsmash tries to stoke that sense of opportunity by making Explore about discovering accounts and all the content they’ve made rather than specific videos. While popular clips might have tens of thousands of views rather than the hundred-thousand or multi-million counts on TikTok’s top content, there’s enough visibility to make shooting Dubsmashes worth it.

TikTok has already taken notice. Shown in a leak of its moderation guidelines from Netzpolitik, the company’s policy is to downrank the visibility of any video referencing or including a watermark from direct competitors, including Dubsmash, Triller, Lasso, Snapchat and WhatsApp. That keeps Dubsmash videos, which you can save to your camera roll, from going viral on TikTok and luring users away.

TikTok’s content moderation guidelines show it downranks content featuring the watermarks of competitors like Dubsmash

TikTok also continues to aggressively buy users via ads on competing apps like Facebook thanks to the billions in funding raked in by its parent ByteDance. In contrast, Dash says Dubsmash has never spent a dollar on user acquisition, influencer marketing or any other source of growth. That makes it achieving even half to a third of as many installs as TikTok in the U.S. an impressive fete.

Why would creators choose Dubsmash over TikTok? Dash clinically explains that it’s a “decoupled audio and video platform that enables producers and tastemakers to upload fresh, original tracks that are utilized by creators and influencers alike,” but that it’s also about “its role as a welcoming home for a community that’s underrepresented on social platforms.”

If Dubsmash keeps growing, though, it will encounter the inevitable content moderation problems that come with scale. It’s already doing a solid job of requiring users to sign up with their birth date to watch or post videos, and it blocks those under 13. Only users who follow each other can chat.

Any piece of content that’s flagged by users is hidden from the network until it passes a review by its human moderation team that works around the clock, and it does proactive takedowns too. However, brigading and malicious takedown reports could be used by trolls to silence their enemies. Dubsmash is working off of a common sense model of what’s allowed rather than firm guidelines, which will be tough to keep consistent at scale.

“Being a social media app in 2020 means you need to take greater responsibility for the well-being of the community,” says Dash. “We decided upon relaunch to take a strict perspective. Our goal is to be intentional and proactive early, and invest in safety and healthy growth rather than growth at all costs. This may not be the most popular approach amongst the market, but we believe this is the most effective way to build a social platform.”

Dubsmash proves that short-form video is so compelling to teens that the market can sustain multiple apps. That will have to be the case, given Instagram is preparing to release its TikTok clone, Reels, and Vine’s co-founder Dom Hofmann just launched his successor, Byte. The breakdown could look like:

  • TikTok: A slightly longer-form combo of comedy, dance and absurdity
  • Dubsmash: Mid-length dance and music videos with a diverse community
  • Byte: Super short-form comedy featuring slightly older ex-Vine stars
  • Triller: Mid-length life blogging clips from Hollywood celebrities
  • Instagram Reels: International influencers making videos for a mainstream audience

Perhaps we’ll eventually see consolidation in the market, with giants like TikTok and Instagram acquiring smaller players to grow their content network effect with more fodder for remixes. But fragmentation could breed creativity. Different tools and audiences beg for different types of videos. Make something special, and there’s an app out there to enter you into pop culture cannon.

For more on the short-form video wars and the future of micro-entertainment, read:

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TikTok, the fast-growing user-generated video app from China’s ByteDance, has been building a new music streaming service to compete against the likes of Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. And today it’s announcing a deal that helps pave the way for a global launch of it. It has inked a licensing deal with Merlin, the global agency that represents tens of thousands of independent music labels and hundreds of thousands of artists, for music from those labels to be used legally on the TikTok platform anywhere that the app is available.

The news is significant because this is the first major music licensing deal announced by TikTok as part of its wider efforts in the music industry. Notably, it’s not the first: I’ve confirmed TikTok has actually secured other major labels but has been restricted from going public on the details.

The Merlin deal is therefore a template of what TikTok is likely signing with others: it includes both its mainstay short-form videos — where music plays a key role (the app, before it was acquired by ByteDance, was even called “Musically”) — as well as new music streaming services.

Specifically, a source close to TikTok has confirmed to TechCrunch that the licensing deal covers its upcoming music subscription service Resso.

Resso was long-rumoured and eventually spotted in the wild at the end of last year when ByteDance tested the app in India and Indonesia. ByteDance owns the Resso trademark, so it’s a good bet that it will make its way to other markets soon. (Possibly with features that differentiate this later entrant from others in the market? Recall ByteDance acquired an AI-based music startup called Jukedeck last year.)

“Independent artists and labels are such a crucial part of music creation and consumption on TikTok,” said Ole Obermann, global head of music for TikTok, in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with Merlin to bring their family of labels to the TikTok community. The breadth and diversity of the catalogue presents our users with an even larger canvas from which to create, while giving independent artists the opportunity to connect with TikTok’s diverse community.”

Music is a fundamental part of the TikTok experience, and this deal covers everything that’s there today — videos created by TikTok users, sponsored videos created for marketing — as well as whatever is coming up around the corner.

A music streaming app, which TikTok has reportedly been gearing up to launch for some time, is one way that the company could help generate revenue. Despite being one of the most popular apps of 2019, monetisation has largely eluded the company up to now.

One reason why monetising may happen is because of the lack of deals at the other end of the chain. As of December, TikTok reportedly had yet to sign any deals with the “majors” — Sony Music, Warner Music and Universal Music. From what we understand, Merlin is the first big deal of its kind announced by the company, but others are already in place.

In any case, the company is ramping up its bigger music operation.

Obermann, who was hired away from Warner Music last year, in turn hired another former Warner colleague, Tracy Gardner, who now leads label licensing for the company. And just yesterday, the company opened an office in Los Angeles, the heart of the music industry.

The move to bring more licensed music usage to TikTok (and other ByteDance apps) is significant for other reasons, too.

On one hand, it’s about labels trying to evolve with the times, collecting revenues wherever audiences happen to be, whether that is in short-form user-generated video, in advertising that runs alongside that or in a new music service capitalising on the new vogue for streamed media.

“This partnership with TikTok is very significant for us,” said Jeremy Sirota, CEO, Merlin, in a statement. “We are seeing a new generation of music services and a new era of music-related consumption, much of it driven by the global demand for independent music. Merlin members are increasingly using TikTok for their marketing campaigns, and today’s partnership ensures that they and their artists can also build new and incremental revenue streams.”

Times are changing in the music industry. Sirota himself only joined Merlin earlier this month, after working on music efforts at Facebook for the last couple of years (and before that at Warner Music, like TikTok’s two key executives).

On the other hand, the deal is significant also because it underscores how TikTok is increasingly working to legitimise itself in the wider tech and media marketplace.

While ByteDance’s acquisition of TikTok continues to face regulatory scrutiny, the company has been working on ways to assert its independence from China’s control, which has included many clarifications about where its content is hosted (not China! it says) and even a search for a new U.S.-based CEO. On another front, more licensing deals should also help the company with the many legal and PR issues that have been hanging over it concerning how it pays out when music is used in its popular app.

Updated with clarification that Obermann works for TikTok, not ByteDance, and the news that there are other music deals in place that have yet to be announced.

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Im a true cynic, but in a world that feels increasingly grim, its good to have someone to admire

Im a true cynic who has never believed in role models. Im wary of the Inspiring Woman Industrial Complex and its exhortations for us to Lean In or Eat, Pray and Love. Heroism is a label I would bestow lightly, if ever, knowing how the milkshake duck quacks for us all, eventually.

And yet there is something about the chaos and awfulness of 2019 that has softened me up for inspiration. You could be forgiven for almost flinching at breaking news alerts at this point our politics is so woefully scandal-ridden, our leaders are so comically terrible. Traits we were raised to believe were wrong lying, cruelty, greed are embraced wholeheartedly by leaders like Donald Trump. In many parts of Australia, we end the year shrouded in smoke and ash.

So in Gotham-esque times, Ive found myself looking for heroes. Not people I worship or believe are without fault, but people who have helped push back against the tide of hopelessness and despair; people bringing courage, excellence, compassion, defiance and, in some cases, just pure joy into the world.

Heres a very incomplete list of some who made my year tell me yours in the comments.

Volunteer firefighters

Australias unprecedented and seemingly intractable bushfire crisis has taken a heavy toll in lives and homes, buried cities in smoke and ignited anger over our lack of action on climate change. What is usually our happiest time of year has been marked by tragedy, dread and mounting anxiety.

Every day of this emergency, though, thousands of firefighters primarily volunteers have acted with selflessness and bravery. Everything that was already burning was burning even more, everywhere you looked was burning, was how the captain of the RFS brigade in the NSW town of Balmoral described the horror around his team on Friday. The firefighters that were here, they were not only were they fighting for their own lives, they were fighting for this community.

There are necessary political debates going on about how sustainable the current volunteer model is but in the meantime we are awed and grateful.

Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe (right) celebrates scoring her sides first goal of a July 2019 game with team-mate Alex Morgan. Photograph: John Walton/PA

The Pose said it all: arms outstretched and smiling face turned to the sun, both basking in her own success, taking up as much space as she could and inviting the world in for an embrace. Megan Rapinoe, the co-captain of the US womens football team, was one of the biggest sporting stars of the year. She led her team to victory at the World Cup and was named the tournaments top scorer and best player. But she transcended the game and gave even non-soccer fans a jolt of hope with her fearless advocacy leading her teams campaign for equal pay, refusing to sing the national anthem in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, and being unapologetically, joyfully open about her sexuality, posing nude with her partner, Sue Bird.

She became a Twitter target of the president when she stated matter-of-factly, Im not going to the fucking White House in the event of a World Cup victory. Instead, her team got a parade in New York City, where she partied hard, basked in her success and used her speech to plea for a better world. This is my charge to everyone, she said. We have to be better. We have to love more. Hate less.

TikTok teens

Most social media platforms have long been colonised by brands, Nazis and your older relatives sharing political disinformation, but TikTok has not only been a shelter from the storm, its been one of the most fun corners of the internet. The low-fi, high energy short video-making app is a geyser of creativity, nihilist humour, dancing and politics, driven primarily by teenagers displaying astonishing wit (and incredible moves).

Feroza Aziz, a 17-year-old Muslim American from New Jersey, became one of the biggest TikTok stars of the year with a short make-up tutorial that quickly segued into a PSA about the imprisonment of millions of Uyghurs in China.

A still from Feroza Azizs Tiktok make-up tutorial. Photograph: Tiktok

For the Walk a Mile challenge, users attempted to wear household objects loaves of bread, pencils, chairs as shoes while prancing around their houses. While Australia burned, and Scott Morrison slipped out of the country to Hawaii, teens took their revenge by roasting our absent leader. As an adult you can sometimes feel like an awkward chaperone at a high school party on the app uninvolved and uninvited but you always leave thinking the kids are all right.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

In 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shook up American politics when, at just 28, the political novice challenged her local Democratic congressman with an insurgent, grassroots campaign. She promised to deliver for the working class and communities of colour and won.

In 2019, she underscored how she pulled off that victory with her relentless work ethic, passion for social justice and deftness at politics in the internet age. Most notably, she has transformed usually staid congressional committees into a spectator sport. She filleted Mark Zuckerberg during his recent appearance, exposing the hollowness of Facebooks claim to act in the interests of democracy or its users privacy.

Play Video

‘So you won’t take down lies?’: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez challenges Facebook CEO video

Politics is tough on women, especially women of colour, but AOC hasnt shrunk or changed herself she is unyielding about her values and about who she is (the Instagram makeup tutorials are a delight). In the process, she is changing the game. Her confidence is infectious, too. One of my favourite onscreen moments this year was AOC in her tiny New York apartment, geeing herself up before a debate in the Netflix documentary about her campaign.

I need to take up space. I can do this, she tells herself.

Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X channels Little Richard and Prince at the MTV awards. Photograph: Getty/Rex Shutterstock

There were plenty of pop-cultural thrills in 2019: watching Jennifer Lopez pull off an all-time comeback in Hustlers (and shaking her perfect butt), watching Lizzo bring relentless energy and joy to every music awards show (and shaking her perfect butt), the Little Women trailer (butts very much obscured by civil war-era fashions, but perfect nonetheless).

Up there has been the Lil Nas X ascendancy. This year the teen rapper rose from obscurity at least outside social media to dropping the hip-hop country mash-up Old Town Road, which sat atop the singles charts for a record-breaking 19 weeks. Gay, funny, deft at social media, dazzling on a red carpet, Montero Lamar Hills (his real name) success story has been described as akin to A Star is Born, but starring a teen in Atlanta with a dream and a SoundCloud account. Old Town Road is not my favourite song of the year, but its catchy and fun and silly and impossible not to sing along with. It also seems to hotwire the happiness receptors in the brains of small children show me a club on this planet that goes harder than an elementary school hosting Lil Nas X.

Complex (@Complex)

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