Authoritative numbers on social-video app TikTok can be hard to find. We’ve seen it reported that the app could be bigger than Instagram on account of having 1.2 billion active users, for example. Yet the 1.2bn figure is actually for lifetime installs of the app, and it’s just an estimate – from research firm SensorTower in June – rather than an official figure.
There *is* an official active-users figure for parent company Bytedance’s suite of mobile apps – one billion active users, but that includes news app Toutiao and other properties, not just TikTok and the Chinese version Douyin. For now, official TikTok stats tend to be regional: it had 120 million active users in India in June, for example.
For some good anecdotal data on TikTok’s current surge, though, try The Atlantic’s article about last week’s VidCon conference. Traditionally dominated by YouTubers, journalist Taylor Lorenz reported that “this year, the platform everyone is talking about isn’t YouTube – it’s TikTok”. From a standing-room-only keynote with general manager Vanessa Pappas to a party so over-subscribed that even TikTok stars with hundreds of thousands of followers were left outside, the app took the event by storm. “VidCon is the first time TikTok has asserted its dominance in the wider creator culture,” as Lorenz put it.
There’s some good detail on why TikTok is currently having a big moment with teenagers: for example, the perception that its stars are more relatable than the biggest YouTubers who – Animal Farm-style – are often now indistinguishable from traditional celebrities in the way they’re protected from direct contact with fans. There’s also a reminder that TikTok spent more than $1bn globally on advertising last year, to drive more and more installs of its app to fuel its cultural moment.
It’s all interesting, although the positivity around TikTok at VidCon doesn’t drown out the important challenges that the company faces. First: music licensing, and how the (undeniably-powerful) promotional impact of TikTok can meld with structured deals with labels and publishers. Second: privacy and safety issues, with regulators already on TikTok’s case about how it deals with the large number of children using its platform. The company’s success in juicing the growth of its app only makes both of these challenges more pressing.