- Short-form video app TikTok just announced it would open a studio for creators.
- TikTok, which is owned by the China-based company ByteDance, also recently opened an office in Los Angeles and i for a US CEO.
- Building up US operations may be a sign that TikTok might be looking to take on social media giants Instagram and YouTube.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Short video app TikTok announced on Wednesday that it would open a content creation studio this summer. With a new office in Los Angeles, more than 400 US employees, and a rumored search for a US-based CEO, the company seems poised to offer tough competition to other social media companies in North America, particularly Instagram and YouTube.
TikTok, which allows users to share audio and pair it with different videos, has become a place where memes start and grow, and one politician is even betting it can get him elected to congress. It evolved from the video-sharing app Musical.ly, where users lip-synced along to 15-second audio tracks. China’s ByteDance bought Musical.ly in 2017 and folded it into TikTok. ByteDance is considered the most valuable private company in the world, worth an estimated $75 billion. TikTok has only existed in the US since the summer of 2018, but it’s already taking on older, more established social media companies.
A creation space is the next step to getting competitive.
Adding a content creation studio is TikTok’s next step is competing with Instagram and YouTube for professional-quality videos and creators that can become influencers. YouTube first introduced “YouTube Spaces” in 2013 as fully equipped studios for YouTubers with a certain number of subscribers. Today, YouTube offers spaces in Berlin, London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo for creators with at least 10,000 subscribers, and also hosts pop-ups in other cities. The studios are professionally decked out, with thousands of square feet of stage space, green rooms, make-up rooms, screening rooms, and equipment-filled editing suites.
Instagram’s specific aesthetic has led to market in making studios and pop-ups.
Instagram’s highly curated, messy-on-purpose-yet-glamorous aesthetic, often used by influencers, has led to an entire industry of studios that cater to their look. Some like Village Studio, have nearly become franchises, operating multiple spaces that influencers can rent out and use to produce content for social media.
Instagram’s TV service, IGTV, also has an in-house production studio in LA, and even offers on-site editors to help creators make content.
Becoming ‘partners’ with creators
Instagram and YouTube both have programs designed to find creators who are trending, or have potential to gain large followers, and the platforms will then mentor them to help them grow. YouTubers must apply to the YouTube Partner Program to earn money on the platform, and be assigned “Partner Managers” to work with and help grow their channels, along with gaining access to YouTube Spaces.
At Instagram, talent scouts like Justin Antony find creators, or “managed partners” that they believe have the potential to be stars. Along with the studio space, these creators get guidance on engagement and sponsored content. Seventeen-year-old Eitan Bernath makes cooking videos and posts on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. He told Business Insider that Instagram was frequently in contact with him as a creator, and will discuss things like new features, and how he uses the platform.
TikTok also refers to a “Creator Program” on its website, and describes a model similar to Instagram’s and YouTube’s, where creators are assigned a community manager. Another teenage creator, Skylar Krupa, told Business Insider that TikTok “isn’t very close” with creators. He said a TikTok representative reached out to him when he reached about 50,000 followers on the platform, and said something along the lines of “we love smaller creators that are doing this for fun,” and asked what would make the experience better. But that was the only experience he’s had talking to the company, Krupa said.
TikTok may be trying to downplay its connection to China to grow its US presence.
TikTok has also been plagued by security concerns and over reports of censorship at the request of the Chinese government. Several senators have asked for investigations into TikTok as a national security risk, and the Army and Navy have both barred TikTok from government phones. These concerns don’t seem to have hurt the company: it was the second-most-downloaded app in the Apple App Store and Google Play store in 2019, surpassed only by Facebook-owned WhatsApp. TikTok has 1.65 billion downloads to date, according to SensorTower. It might also be closing in on Instagram and Snapchat in numbers of active users, though TikTok hasn’t disclosed those numbers. Instagram reached 1 billion monthly active users in 2018, while Snapchat has over 300 million.
TikTok has been closing in on these company in other ways, too. In 2019, the company opened an office in Mountain View, California, just minutes away from Instagram-owner Facebook’s headquarters. The office that TikTok moved into was formerly occupied by WhatsApp, another Facebook company.
CNBC reported that TikTok poached more than two dozen Facebook employees, along with workers from Snapchat, Hulu, and Google, which owns YouTube. Facebook and TikTok both appear aware of their growing competition. A November report revealed that Facebook spent six months in 2016 trying to buy Musical.ly before it was sold to ByteDance.
In leaked audio published by The Verge in October, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described the company’s plans to compete with TikTok: “So yeah. I mean, TikTok is doing well … we’re trying to first see if we can get it to work in countries where TikTok is not already big before we go and compete with TikTok in countries where they are big.”
TikTok isn’t Instagram or YouTube, it’s something different altogether. Influencers like Bernath emphasize how much faster they can grow their followings on TikTok, although it’s still the “wild west” in terms of what those numbers mean to advertisers. Still, Instagram and YouTube might have to watch their backs with TikTok coming up behind them.