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The Rise, and Rise of TikTok – Part I

Like TikTok, Musical.ly was developed in China and was founded by Luyu Yang and Alex Zhu in 2014 at Shanghai, China. Their first web venture was actually an e-learning platform with 3-5-minute videos, but proved to be unviable.

But Zhu and Yang retained available funds to rebuild, focusing on the entertainment sector. They created a platform that incorporated videos and music and made it sharable via social network. They wanted to enable people shoot music videos to share with friends.

The Rise of the Musers

Musical.ly was started in China and the USA. The American market took immediate notice with American teenagers enjoying preparing videos of themselves lip-synching music. By July of 2015, Musical.ly had a large following and even surpassed Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, in the iOS trending list. The site’s users even called themselves, “musers.” By May 2016, Musical.ly claimed 70 million downloads by music-obsessed youths, not just lip-synchers who uploaded their videos, but also talented musicians uploaded videos with original songs. It also catered for non-musical acts, with a large group of youngsters uploading short comedy videos. Some of Musical.ly’s top talent were listed in the Top 20 Musical.ly Influencers. A significant innovation made in July 2016 by Muscial.ly, was the introduction of Live.ly. This introduced a live-streaming platform, with talented youngsters broadcasting live performances. Musical.ly‘s success was getting major music companies on board. They began in a small way by striking a deal in 2016, with Warner Music Group, licensing their music for use in Musical.ly streams, before making similar deals with other rights holders. Teenagers now uploaded short clips of themselves lip-synching copyrighted material legally.

TikTok Buys Musical.ly

In November of 2017, Bytedance purchased Musical.ly for an unknown sum, projected to be around 1 billion USD. TikTok viewed it as an opportunity to enter the teenage market in the US, which was now dominated by Musical.ly alone. They merged the users existing accounts from both apps, consolidating it all into a single app, and then dubbed it TikTok. The original Chinese version of TikTok, called Douyin, was retained as a separate app in China and given China’s population size, Douyin is still pretty huge with more than 300 million active users every month. TikTok continues the core business of Musical.ly with people still uploading and sharing 15-second videos, sound-tracked by music clips.

Top of the Charts

When the list of Top 20 Influencers on Musical.ly was compiled in 2019, Ariel Martin (@babyariel) ranked above everyone with a whopping 22.9 million fans. She is still performing with 29.3 million fans on the revamped TikTok (figures exclude videos on the Chinese Douyin app version), but had lost the #1 spot.

There is no doubt that TikTok continues to rise in popularity and is no longer just a lip-synching channel used by teenagers. While demographic is still young, its loyal fans stick with the network as they age, gradually enhancing the fanbase. TikTok’s purchase of Musicall.ly was a shrewd and very profitable business decision that enabled East meeting with the West.

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