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Data: How TikTok Dominated 2021

Yinchen Niu/Variety Intelligence Platform

The TikTok copycat attempts significantly ramped up in 2021. 

The rip-offs of the Bytedance-owned short-form video app began back in 2020, when Instagram’s Reels and Snapchat’s Spotlight launched in August and November of that year, respectively. More recently, YouTube rolled out its TikTok product, Shorts, in March of this year, and Facebook started testing Reels on its platform in August. Even Netflix and Reddit started displaying videos in their apps in TikTok-like feeds earlier in 2021. 

More recently, Twitter and Spotify confirmed they were each testing TikTok video feed-like products. 

But TikTok has stood its ground. It was the most downloaded social app globally in every quarter of 2021, including Q4 through Dec. 14, data provided exclusively to Variety Intelligence Platform by Sensor Tower shows.  

Sensor Tower earlier in December reported that TikTok was the most downloaded app of the App Store in 2021. But the data above gives a peak at just how far ahead the social video app has been throughout the year. 

Prior to December, TikTok was the most globally downloaded social app for every month of 2021 besides January, when Telegram ranked as the no. 1 app. 

Sensor Tower factored in iOS downloads of Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok that reported 600 million daily users in September 2020, into the global download totals of TikTok above.  

But TikTok has also been the no. 1 social app by U.S. downloads every month this year, including January and the first two weeks of December, according to Sensor Tower. This suggests that Douyin isn’t covering up for TikTok's U.S. user base getting significantly dinged by TikTok copycat attempts. 

Backing up Sensor Tower’s data that suggests that TikTok hasn’t been badly hurt by 2021 copycat attempts is the video app’s announcement that it hit 1 billion global monthly users in September, a figure up from nearly 689 million in July 2020. 

The recent growth of the video app is welcomed by Bytedance management, which less than a year and a half ago first felt the fear of going dark in the U.S. due to Donald Trump signing an executive order in aim of effectively banning TikTok. President Joe Biden in June revoked that executive order, though some believe the current administration could still force Bytedance to sell TikTok. 

It’s possible that TikTok’s significant move, announced in July, to expand the time limit of videos on its platform from 60 seconds to three minutes kept the Bytedance-owned platform’s number of app downloads steady as consumers became more aware of short-form video app alternatives like YouTube Shorts and Facebook Reels.   

TikTok also expanded the features available through its live-video functionality in July — including  allowing creators to schedule live events and go live with creators in other locations — and that could have helped the platform retain users in recent months.  

New TikTok product features have helped keep browsing the short-form video app a fresh experience, and they've likely made the app’s ad inventory more attractive. In 2021, the share of respondents surveyed by Kantar and exposed to TikTok ads was nearly two times the amount in the year prior.  

Creator-targeted monetization features will play a role in helping TikTok fend off copycat competition in 2022. 

In September, TikTok started testing an integration with Square that allows sellers to send users directly from TikTok videos to their Square Online stores. A month prior, TikTok and Shopify announced a partnership that allows users to buy products directly from select profiles for the first time. 

Some small businesses had reportedly already been seeing promising results from the Square integration in early November, and that’s a positive sign for creators looking to generate more revenue on TikTok in the coming months.