TikTok was launched initially as Douyin 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. The app was the most downloaded free iOS app over the first half of 2018. As of late September 2018, TikTok also became the most-downloaded free app on the Apple App Store in the US, and also ranked first on Google Play over October.
It’s not just in the world’s two biggest economies where TikTok has proven popular, however. Counting both Apple App Store and Google Play download stats, TikTok ranked third in the world as of November 2018. It has been in the global top four since at least June 2018.
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, which rolled back its own attempt to push flagship product WeChat to an international audience.
In November 2017 ByteDance acquired the popular (also China-based) Musical.ly app for a reported $1 billion, which similarly provided a short video-based social media service. TikTok was merged with Musical.ly app 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.
Will 2019 also be TikTok’s year? Read on to find out what we know so far about the short video app.
Table of Contents
Key TikTok Statistics
- TikTok is available in 150 markets, in 75 languages
- 500 million TikTok monthly active users globally, as of June 2018
- 800 million installs of TikTok as of October 2018 (not including Android users in China)
- 80 million US downloads of TikTok as of October 2018, with an active user count of 40 million
- According to Google Play Store download stats, TikTok was downloaded 9 million times over October 2018
- TikTok was downloaded 68 million times worldwide in October 2018 – making it the third most-downloaded app globally
- In H1 2018, TikTok was downloaded 104 times on the Apple App Store, more than any other app over the same period
- In late September 2018, TikTok accounted for 30% of App Store downloads of top-ranking apps (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat), rising to 42% a month later
- TikTok engagement levels were, however, significantly lower, at 29%, compared to 95% upwards for rival apps
- TikTok merged with Musical.ly in August 2018, which at the time had over 100 million monthly active users
- In China, Douyin (TikTok for the Chinese market), reported 400 million monthly active users, 50% of which were active daily
- Short video apps account for 9% of online time in China
- Douyin commands market penetration of 30% in China (June 2018)
- According to one analysis, around a third of Douyin users are aged 20-24, just over a quarter fall into the 25-29 bracket, and 20% are under 20; another shows 40% of users falling into the 25-30 bracket
- Around two thirds of Douyin users and content creators respectively are female
- 82% of Douyin users use the app to find funny videos, with talent (56%) and daily life (54.1%) the next most popular categories
- Most-followed TikTok account is German twins Lisa and Lena, with 31.5 million followers; most-followed Douyin account belongs to actor Chen He (50.7 million)
- TikTok users spend an average 52 minutes per day on the app
- Douyin users open the app four or five times a day, using it for around half an hour daily
- TikTok brought in $3.5 million in revenue over 2017, 42% of which came from the US, 39% from China (excluding Chinese Android users)
- Parent company ByteDance brought in $2.5 billion revenue in 2017
- ByteDance valued at $75 billion, making it the world’s most highly-valued privately-held startup
- Investors led by SoftBank invested $3 billion in ByteDance in October 2018
TikTok User Statistics
TikTok is available in over 150 markets around the world, in 75 languages. The latest available statistics show that there are 500 million TikTok users around the world (monthly active users). This was the case in the June 2018, so the figure is more than likely to be significantly higher by this point. It had been installed 800 million times by October 2018 (not including Android users in China).
By way of comparison, Instagram could boast 1 billion monthly active users at this point, with Instagram Stories registering 400 million daily users. These are also the latest available statistics.
According to data provided to CNBC by marketing intelligence firm Sensor Tower, TikTok was downloaded 104 million times on the Apple App Store over the first half of 2018. This makes it the most downloaded app on the platform over this period.
Most downloaded apps on Apple App Store, H1 2018
Source: CNBC/Sensor Tower
Going as far as the end of the second quarter of 2018, we can see a huge surge in downloads of TikTok (and the eventually absorbed Musical.ly). A slight slowdown occurs between Q1 and Q2 2018; though with over 50 million downloads in the latter, it’s not the most catastrophic of declines.
We must note that these figures occur before TikTok registered its top rank in terms of US iOS downloads in October 2018, and the Musical.ly merger, so the growth curve is likely to have robustly recovered after this blip.
TikTok download volume on Apple App Store, Q1 2017-Q2 2018 (including Musical.ly)
Source: CNBC/Sensor Tower
The August 2018 merger with Musical.ly provided a substantial boost to active users of the platform. 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%.
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
In China, Douyin’s monthly active user count stood 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.
According to Miaozhen data published by WalktheChat, Douyin overtook Kuaishou in Q1 2018 to become the most popular short video app in the country (notably they show a lower total, however, than the officially reported one above).
Douyin vs. other short video apps in China, daily active users
The same study puts Douyin’s level of market penetration at 30%, as of June 2018, compared with Kuaishou’s 25%.
Of course, as we already know, it’s not just in its home market that TikTok/Douyin has achieved the status of social media mainstay.
According to App Annie figures looking at Apple App Store and Google Play download statistics, cited in eMarketer, TikTok ranked second in the US in October and November 2018. Leading up to this point, it had gradually been climbing the charts. In total, the app had been downloaded and installed 80 million times in the US, with an active user count of 40 million (according to Apptopia).
The rankings published in eMarketer show that, globally speaking, it ranked third – a position it had previously occupied in June. Since then, it had been registering fourth place consistently, before climbing back into the top three. TikTok was downloaded over 68 million times worldwide in October 2018.
Global and US TikTok download rank
Source: eMarketer/App Annie
If we look only at Apple App Store figures, TikTok ranked number one in terms of downloads in the US in October 2018 (6 million); it moved into top spot as of September 29th 2018. According to Sensor Tower data, the number of downloads was increasing in this market, further cementing this top status. As side note here, Apptopia reports that 80% of TikTok sessions are on an Android device (this does not necessarily tarry with other reports).
TikTok US iOS downloads versus other popular apps
Source: TechCrunch/Sensor Tower
As of September 29th 2018, if we consider only downloads of TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, TikTok could lay claim to 30% of App Store downloads. By the end of the month, this proportion had increased to 42%.
Looking to Google Play stats, TikTok registered over 9 million downloads in the US over October, putting it comfortably in first place with nearly 1.5 million more downloads than Facebook Messenger, and nearly three times as many as third-placed Snapchat.
US TikTok Google Play downloads, October 2018
Taking a step back to take a wider view, Google Trends data shows a notably high level of TikTok usage in Southeast Asia.
TikTok global downloads
Source: The low down/Google Trends
Looking at a range of Southeast and East Asian markets, we can see that TikTok enjoys a high Google Play rank – especially if we narrow the analysis to video player apps.
These stats date back to March 2018, notably before TikTok was banned in Indonesia (see TikTok controversies below). These markets are noted for having young populations, meaning a large prospective user base for TikTok.
TikTok rank across Southeast Asian markets
Source: The low down/Google Trends
A more recent collation from App Annie (published by Tech in Asia) of TikTok’s Google Play download rank in Asia shows it outstripping Instagram across Asia, with the exception of pre-ban Indonesia. In five of these markets it claims the top spot.
TikTok app rank in Asian markets
Source: Tech in Asia
Notably, 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.
Data obtained by App Ape Lab shows that the highest concentration of TikTok usage occurs among teenage (or younger) users, followed by those in their 20s. This data (source unknown) does not show a strict downward curve with increasing age, with 40-somethings outstripping 30-somethings. Interestingly, this particular dataset shows a higher preponderance of male than female users (as of March 2018).
TikTok users by age and gender
Source: Ape App Lab
According to Jiguang data published by digital agency WalktheChat, Chinese users of Douyin are relatively spread out over the country. A relatively small percentage of users live in ‘tier 1’ cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzen, etc), though these cities only represent a limited proportion of China’s huge population.
In overall terms, however, the biggest percentages of users come from so-called tier 2 cities (Nanjing, Chonqing, Dalian, etc) and tier 4 cities (smaller cities – by Chinese standards at least), which both lay claim to just over a third of users.
Where do Douyin users live in China?
Breaking it down by individual city, the most populous cities top the list, of course, with Beijing leading Shanghai.
Top Chinese cities for Douyin usage
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 a different data set and do not quite tarry with those above. It should also be noted that the tier system is nonofficial, with more than one version being used.
Shift in Douyin users’ geographical base
In terms of age groups, we find the highest preponderance of users fall into the 20-24 age group (around a third), followed by 25-29, accounting for a little over a quarter. One in five users is yet to reach to their 20th birthday.
Age of Chinese Douyin users
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 since 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, drawing level in February 2018 (the end point of this analysis)
Changing age demographics of Douyin Users in China
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 analysis of TikTok users, we find a far greater proportion of female users of Douyin in China: around two thirds.
Gender breakdown of Chinese Douyin users
In terms of who publishes content on Douyin, we see 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 accounting for the difference.
Douyin content publisher demographics
If we break down content posters in a different way, we see that regular users account for just shy of 50% of content posted. Internet celebrities post another third, with offline celebrities and brands (a piffling 4%) posting the rest.
Who publishes content on Douyin?
According to Tencent Market Insight, cited by Sean Wang on Medium, 82% of TikTok/Douyin users are 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 necessary for self-reported data.
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 – something which might be of note to brands or other users trying to gain traction on the platform.
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.
The accolade of most-popular user – or users we should say – on TikTok goes to Germany’s Lisa and Lena, with 31.5 million followers as of mid-October 2018. The twins (also big on Instagram) are known for their lip-synced clips, and even released a single of their own in July 2017. They’re followed by Loren Gray (29.4 million) and Baby Ariel (29.1 million).
Not even Lisa and Lena can compete with top Douyin user, actor Chen He, however – who boasts a huge 50.7 million followers. He is followed by Dilraba Dilmurat (46.7 million) and Liu Erdou (43.9 million)
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.
TikTok Usage Statistics
According to venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, TikTok users spend 52 minutes per day using the app.
AppTopia reports, however, 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 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.
TikTok engagement vs. other social apps
The takeover and subsequent merging of Musical.ly and TikTok seems to have had a significant effect on the 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 would nearly quadruple this total.
TikTok daily sessions
Apptopia also look at user retention. Here, TikTok fares well compared to social media averages, with 10% of downloaders continuing to use the app 30 days after downloading. The social media average is 4%. This also compares well to Snapchat – a direct rival in the short video clips market through its Stories function.
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
Ape App Lap report that TikTok users log into the app 43 times a day – averaging out at around three times per waking hour. This compares with an average of 16 Twitter logins per day.
According to their figures, just over 40% of users open the app 21-50 times per day, with close to 30% more opening it 51 times or more.
(the y-axis in the below graph shows percentage of users, the x-axis is times the app is opened).
TikTok daily open rate
Source: Ape App Lab
Less dramatic figures relating to Douyin in China report four or five opens per day, with around half an hour per day spent on the app (these figures date back to Q3 2017).
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. 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 published 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, Tik Tok contains a digital wellbeing component which warns users when they’ve been using the app for over two hours.
TikTok Revenue Statistics
TikTok does not feature paid advertising at this stage, and is free-to-use. It does, however, feature in-app purchases, such as emojis and digital gifts. As of October 2018, these were bringing in $3.5 million per month. This represents a 275% increase over October 2017 revenue.
TikTok monthly revenue
Source: Sensor Tower
Around 42% of this revenue – 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/Douyin as of the end of October 2018.
These figures, of course, are relatively insignificant – and the question of how TikTok will come to make any money remains unanswered as of yet.
Chinese revenue is further strengthened by a key difference between Douyin and TikTok, which is the former includes paid advertising. Short-form video is a growth area in China in terms of revenue. 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 result in revenue of $4.8 billion and $8.2 roughly.
ByteDance is reported have brought in $2.5 billion of revenue in total over 2017, and was reported to be targeting $7.2 billion over 2018. It is yet to turn a profit.
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.
ByteDance funding rounds
ByteDance’s huge valuation came on the back of a funding round which saw investors led by SoftBank invest $3 billion. This is the only funding round reported by Crunchbase to date.
TikTok seems to be one of those apps that separates the old from the young. Perhaps a recent spate of explainer articles will have done something to bridge the gap, but certainly many older users will have been left scratching their heads at the rise of this mysterious app.
Short clips set to background music, however, very much seem to be the order of the day among younger generations, with TikTok at the fore.
As we’ve seen with Snapchat, 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.
The other challenge, as with all highly-valued startups, 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.