In 2019, TikTok was downloaded over 738 million times, making it one of the leading apps on Google Play and the App Store worldwide. Its user numbers started skyrocketing in mid-2018, when parent company ByteDance acquired popular lip-syncing app Musical.ly, migrated all accounts to TikTok, and successfully relaunched its new product for the overseas market. Since then, user figures have soared up and surpassed 200 million monthly active users on Android and iOS devices combined in December 2019.
This immense popularity mirrors one of the most significant technological trends of the past decade, the shift from desktop to mobile. It also reflects recent changes in internet user behavior. Mobile users are spending an increasing amount of time with video and entertainment apps, with video content on social media platforms accounting for the biggest rise in viewer demand. Whether it is professionally produced or user-generated – online video content is proving vastly popular with social media consumers, and it is, therefore, expanding across established platforms like Instagram and serving as a springboard medium for newcomer applications like TikTok.
But who are the millions of users flocking to TikTok and spending over 300 million U.S. dollars on the short video app? In 2019, the majority of TikTok’s user base was located in the Asia-Pacific region and North America. What makes the app a global phenomenon, however, is its age demographic. TikTok is particularly popular with young audiences and primarily used by members of Generation Z. In early 2020, over 37 percent of TikTok users in the United States were teenagers, a generation of heavy smartphone users constantly in touch with trending content. By following, commenting, and liking other people’s videos, TikTokers have created a new ecosystem of online video content and even produced their own net of teen celebrities. Loren Gray, for example, the world’s most-followed TikTok creator/influencer, had 34 million followers on the app in 2019, and this internet fame also kickstarted a real-world music career.
While young account holders are avidly lip-syncing, dancing, and taking part in viral challenges in the hope of becoming TikTok famous, the level of exposure in this new social network has already sparked parental concerns around the globe. The app’s multi-billion-dollar parent company ByteDance has also faced significant criticism over the years for removing politically sensitive content from the platform and allegedly transferring international user data back to China. In an effort to counter these accusations, TikTok was separated entirely from ByteDance’s Chinese operations in 2019. It is now being run on a different server to Douyin, TikTok’s predecessor, and popular domestic equivalent, which attracted over 440 million daily active users in January 2020. Whether this distancing will prevent further investigations into TikTok remains to be seen, just like the app’s longevity.