TikTok Fights Off Copycat Competition, Data Suggests 

Yinchen Niu/Variety Intelligence Platform

Copying Snapchat’s Stories feature was once the go-to play in Silicon Valley, but nowadays, imitating TikTok imitating is more in vogue. 

And TikTok competitors came to the U.S., with Instagram’s Reels and Snapchat’s Spotlight launching in August and November 2020, respectively. YouTube rolled out its TikTok answer, Shorts, in March of this year, while Facebook started testing Reels on its platform earlier in August. Even Netflix and Reddit started displaying videos in their apps in TikTok-like feeds this year.  

But these copycatting attempts haven’t dented TikTok, data Sensor Tower provided exclusively to Variety Intelligence Platform suggests.  

Sensor Tower numbers show that in May, June and July, TikTok has been the most downloaded social app globally, attracting 208.9 million downloads across the App Store and Google Play during that time frame.  

Global downloads of Instagram and Snapchat, which have had their TikTok competitors running longest of the companies mentioned above, reached 147.7 million and 84.9 million from May to July, respectively. 

Downloads of TikTok did noticeably drop 19% from May to June after jumping 35% from April to May. The May downloads could have been driven in part by certain consumers downloading the app to use its video creation tools (like the signature TikTok text-to-speech tool) for videos uploaded to YouTube Shorts, which announced its $100 million fund that month. 

Meanwhile, downloads of Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest in June were also down from May, albeit to a lesser extent. Download drops of all these apps could have been fueled by big states reopening further and consumers spending more time outdoors. For example, capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements in New York and California were lifted on June 15. 

Nonetheless, Sensor Tower also reported in July that TikTok was the first non-Facebook app to reach 3 billion downloads globally across the App Store and Google Play.  

But it’s not just during the May-July period that TikTok has outreached its major social competitors by app downloads. Save for January 2021 when it came in second to messaging app Telegram, TikTok has been the most downloaded social app globally in every month since January 2020, including last month through Aug. 19.  

Moreover, the number of times users globally have used TikTok have grown particularly well in the most recent full quarter, Apptopia estimates. Apptopia estimates that the number of TikTok sessions in Q2 2021 was up 16% from Q1, a quarter-over-quarter increase higher than that of social competitors Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.  

Apptopia counts a session any time a user opens an app. One user can log multiple sessions, though the app must be fully loaded to be counted as a session.  

TikTok did see its global sessions metric decrease in Q3 2020 significantly more than all its social competitors, but that may have had to do more with India banning the app at the end of June 2020 than Instagram Reels launching in August 2020. RedSeer Management Consulting estimates TikTok had 167 million users in India before the app was banned in the country.  

Trump signing an executive order in August 2020 to effectively ban TikTok within 45 days could have also contributed to decreased U.S. TikTok sessions in Q3 2020.  

But global TikTok sessions in Q2 2021 were almost on par to what they were in Q1 2020 despite the app still being banned in India and the availability of Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, and Snapchat Spotlight.  

It’s possible TikTok’s significant move, which was announced in July, to expand the time limit of videos on its platform from 60 seconds to three minutes keeps the Bytedance-owned platform’s number of app sessions on an upward trajectory.  

TikTok seems confident its recent product tweaks will work. Bloomberg in June reported that TikTok is planning on charging over $1.4 million and $1.8 million for a homepage takeover in Q3 and Q4 of this year, respectively.  

Those prices are a significant increase over what TikTok has previously charged, though the company feels comfortable justifying the new prices because of its app’s growing customer base, per Bloomberg. 

Social platforms that step up their monetary incentives most aggressively will be best positioned to challenge TikTok as the Bytedance-owned platform tries harder to monetize its user base.  

YouTube was smart to announce its $100 million creator fund shortly after launching in the U.S. in March, but that’s likely not a generous enough sum. TikTok last July announced that its creator fund will reach over $2 billion globally within three years, for example.  

Even conservatively assuming the fund only did reach $2 billion within three years, that would still mean TikTok was committing about $667 million to its creator fund annually if the company spent on the fund evenly every year.  

TikTok copycats should be aware of the risk involved in easing up on funding creators. Snap in Q2 reported that U.S. time spent on Spotlight was up over 60% from Q1, but CNBC in August reported certain creators have stopped using Spotlight after Snap lessened Spotlight payouts from $1 million per day to “millions” per month.