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TikTok App Nears 80 Million U.S. Downloads After Phasing Out Musical.ly, Lands Jimmy Fallon as Fan

A little over three months ago, short-form social video app Musical.ly was shut down — and millions of users were forced to switch to TikTok, a similar app from Chinese internet giant Bytedance, which acquired Musical.ly last year.

Since then, TikTok has been gaining momentum in the U.S. and across the globe. The app, which lets users create and share 15-second videos, has been downloaded and installed nearly 80 million times in the U.S. — including a record 3.8 million first-time downloads in October — and has about 795 million total installs to date (not including Android uses in China), per research firm Sensor Tower.

TikTok currently ranks as the No. 1 free app in Apple’s App Store in the U.S. and has topped the charts in other countries in recent weeks. Global downloads of TikTok for the month of October 2018 exceeded 68 million, a year-over-year increase of 395%; that included about 6 million in the U.S., per Sensor Tower. (The firm’s estimates to date include downloads of Musical.ly.)

In addition, researcher Apptopia estimates TikTok had around 40 million U.S. active users for the month of October, up 31.5% in the three-month span after the Musical.ly changeover.

Now, TikTok is hoping to ride a new wave of interest in the app in America after capturing the eye of Jimmy Fallon. And it’s hoping other celebs join in as enthusiast ambassadors for the app.

Earlier this month, the late-night host used TikTok to kick off a new “challenges” segment on NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” His first one — the #tumbleweedchallenge — asked viewers to submit videos on TikTok showing themselves rolling around on the floor like a tumbleweed. (Writers suggested various challenges, but “tumbleweed” was Fallon’s own idea.) In less than a week, that generated over 8,000 submissions and more than 10.4 million engagements, marking the biggest spike TikTok has even seen from a single challenge stunt, according to the company.

On his Nov. 15 show, Fallon called out a new challenge, the #sharpiechallenge, where you try to flip and catch a Sharpie marker with the same hand, uncap it, and draw a mustache on your face as fast as possible. The challenge is to acknowledge the “No-Shave November” cancer-awareness campaign, and “Tonight Show” expanded it beyond TikTok to include videos posted to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

“Tonight Show’s” challenge series came to life after Fallon had been playing around with TikTok. “Jimmy said, ‘This is an amazing platform — how to do we integrate it into the show?'” said Julie Harrison-Harney, director of digital for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

“We’re looking for things that really engage people, and TikTok is a place where you can let your creativity shine,” Harrison-Harney said. “It has that short-form, mobile energy.” The show’s digital team also felt TikTok had more depth and breadth compared with Musical.ly, which started out as an app for lip-syncing selfie videos.

“The Tonight Show” doesn’t have a business relationship with Bytedance for TikTok. Indeed, for now, the app doesn’t include advertising or have any monetization capabilities to generate revenue off its growing user base.

The first step “is getting an active and broad audience – it’s still very early on,” said Stefan Heinrich, TikTok’s head of global marketing.

TikTok isn’t sharing numbers on how many active users it has. At one point, Musical.ly claimed to have over 100 million active monthly users. Worldwide, Bytedance has claimed TikTok has 500 million active monthly users; Apptopia pegs TikTok MAUs at 130 million globally for October 2018, up 30% since August.

The app still trails the bigger user bases of Facebook’s Instagram and Snapchat, which both feature short-form video as a core use case. And in the U.S., Facebook has launched a standalone TikTok-like app called Lasso, which the company describes as making it “easy for anyone to create and share short videos with fun filters and effects.”

In any case, industry data clearly indicates TikTok usage has been on the rise. The company attributes that to the app’s wider appeal with features for creating a range of short videos.

“We’re seen a really great influx of new forms of content from all over the U.S., and all over the world, with humor, dance, food, and everyday moments,” Heinrich said. “It’s a new behavior that really caught fire, and got on the radar of people like Jimmy Fallon.”

This week, TikTok is launching a new marketing campaign with the tagline: “#ImaDoMe,” geared around its message of “make every second count.” The ads are slated to run on digital, social and cinema channels.

“We’re living in a world where on social media, it’s about showing your perfect self – not your real self,” said Heinrich, who previously led the launch of YouTube Red (now called YouTube Premium) at Google. “What I love about TikTok is that people show their real side.”

TikTok provides sophisticated editing and creation tools for producing fun and interesting short-form videos, including AR facial filters, recording timers, and the ability to add stickers and music, said Harrison-Harney.

“It really fills the void that Vine left. It’s vertical, 15-second video and it’s really funny,” she said. “The tech is incredibly impressive.”

“The Tonight Show” has positioned itself as an early adopter of new apps and services. The NBC show claims to be the most-followed late-night show on digital, with over 41 million followers/subscribers across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s the No. 1 most-viewed late-night show on YouTube year-to-date with over 2 billion total views on the official channel, ahead of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” (both with 1.4 billion views year-to-date), according to Social Blade.

Here’s Fallon introducing the #SharpieChallenge on Nov. 15:

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