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TBI Weekly: Five reasons why TikTok is the one to watch

It has been a busy week for social media darling TikTok, which has become the video app of choice for hundreds of millions of users around the world during lockdown and has now secured the services of Disney+ chief Kevin Mayer to take it to new – unknown – heights. Here, TBI delves a little deeper to identify five TikTok takeaways worth noting.

Soaring valuation

It would be easy to start this rundown with the eyebrow-raising appointment of Mayer but an alternative insight into where TikTok is headed – at the moment, at least – lies in a report on its financials. Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that the social media app’s parent company ByteDance had seen its value soar to more than $100bn recently, as investors looked to cash in on its ability to attract both viewers and advertisers. According to insiders and not verified by the Chinese company, private transactions have pushed the value of the company up by more than a third since its major funding round two years ago. In a Covid-19 landscape where risk-aversity has soared, that appears to be some achievement and underlines belief in longer-term fundamentals.

Kevin Mayer

A Mayer coup

Someone who clearly believes in the growth narrative is Kevin Mayer, Disney’s head of direct-to-consumer and international team, who is stepping down to become COO of Chinese tech firm ByteDance and CEO of its most famous app, which allows users to create and upload short videos set to music. Mayer had overseen the launches of Disney+, ESPN+ and the integration of Hulu during his tenure at the Mouse House, so it perhaps came as a surprise to some that he would depart following the recent launch – and undeniable global success of – the Disney-branded streamer in particular. But rewind a couple of months and it was Disney that was trumpeting the appointment of Bob Chapek as a successor to Bob Iger as CEO – a position that many observers had expected Mayer to take. Still, his landing at TikTok provides further fuel to those who suggest the shortform mobile video service is set for yet more growth.

TikTok originals & linear TV

Commercial broadcasters have been feeling the pinch since Covid-19 hammered advertiser spending, so perhaps they’re glad to see TikTok moving into linear. Last week, the company unveiled its first TV ad campaign, titled ‘A Little Brighter Inside’. The idea was to put TikTok and its creators’ videos into the mainstream, highlighting the short-form content produced during lockdown by famous folk such as pop group Little Mix and The F Word’s Gordon Ramsay. Since then, the celeb creators have been providing insights into their lockdown routines via the app’s Live feature, providing various genre-based videos exploring cooking to well-being. It’s a nod at original content, though it remains to be seen if the app will start a more widespread commissioning strategy, akin to Snapchat Originals.

Building on brands

What is clearer, however, is that the TV ad play continues a trend of brand building by the app, which provided an exclusive live-stream from the red carpet of UK music award show The BRITs earlier this year, available alongside a similar offering via the UK’s Love Island network ITV2. With one eye on developing more such partnerships, it also emerged this week that TikTok had hired former NBCUniversal and Fremantle exec Dominic Burns for its operations across Europe. As revealed by TBI, Burns, who is based out of London, has been named senior manager for the mobile video platform’s growing EU content partnerships team. He will work to build strategic relationships for TikTok owner ByteDance across genres, including entertainment and sport, no doubt leveraging his experiences in roles including SVP of brand management & commercial at NBCU and before that, commercial director at Fremantle in the UK.

Not just TikTok

While reportage of Mayer’s arrival might have been largely focused on his appointment as CEO at TikTok, the deal will also see the Disney+ boss picking up a huge remit as COO of parent ByteDance. While TikTok takes most of the plaudits in the West – as well as considerable scrutiny from some US senators – the parent company is also behind apps including China-focused sibling Douyin and news service Toutiao. The latter is an AI-powered news service, using algorithms to deliver tailored feeds to users, and ByteDance has ambitions elsewhere too: it has been exploring e-commerce and gaming, while there are plans to hire tens of thousands of workers this year to advance its 1.5 billion monthly active users across its services.

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