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因为有这款来自中国的应用,美国中学生不再午休

Eamon Barrett 2019年06月30日

自从两年前上架以来,TikTok可以称得上鹤立鸡群,其下载次数已经超过9.5亿。

图片插图:Max-O-Matic

美国中学生午休时间喜欢干什么?答案是:刷抖音——的海外版Tiktok。美国青少年也跟中国孩子们一样,喜欢刷那些时长15秒到60秒不等的小视频——里面可能有他们的朋友正在对口型模仿碧昂丝唱歌。在放学回到家后,美国青少年们依然沉迷于TikTok里小哥哥们的滑板绝技或者小姐姐们的“社会摇”——这也算中国特色的文化输出了吧?

即便是在那些热门应用里,TikTok也可以称得上鹤立鸡群。自从两年前上架以来,它的下载次数已破9.5亿。其用户大多数是以娱乐为目的或是想让全世界看到自己唱歌跳舞或展示某些特殊技能的青少年。

TikTok在海外受欢迎的程度超过了很多人的想象,甚至已经成为了一款现象级应用。根据应用分析公司Sensor Tower的数据,今年1至3月,抖音的下载量达到全球第三名,甚至超过了Facebook和Instagram,仅次于WhatsApp和Facebook Messenger。

“TikTok上都是杂乱无章但却呈现病毒式传播的小视频,作者没有预算,产量也很低。” Sensor Tower公司的移动业务分析总监兰迪·尼尔森表示:“Instagram和YouTube等应用早已度过了成熟期,相比之下,TikTok则是一个‘狂野西部’。”

不过随着用户的增长,TikTok上的内容已经从粗枝滥造变得日益精细,它的视频编辑工具也越来越先进。重演喜剧电影的经典桥段和视频烹饪教程,只是TikTok上流行内容的一个缩影。

不过,小视频应用也是一个特别难做的生意,只要有新的、更好的创意出来,用户就会毫不犹豫地喜新厌旧。小视频应用也特别难赚到钱,到目前为止,真正实现盈利的小视频应用微乎其微。

推特(Twitter)在这方面显然是有发言权的。2012年,它以3000万美元收购了当时还很火爆的小视频应用Vine。Vine允许用户拍摄和分享6秒钟的小视频。在很短的一段时间内,Vine还算是挺火爆的。但这股热潮很快就凉了,推特也在2016年关闭了这项服务。

TikTok拒绝对此文发表评论。TikTok的母公司字节跳动是一家中国科技巨头,2012年由微软公司的前工程师张一鸣创立。字节跳动的第一个产品今日头条也广为中国网友熟悉。在新闻和娱乐领域做出几次尝试后,张一鸣于2016年在中国市场推出了抖音。一年后,字节跳动又推出了抖音的海外版,是为Tiktok。

TikTok并非是一夜走红的。在TikTok推出后,字节跳动以近10亿美元收购了由中资控股的小视频应用Musical.ly。当时这款应用在美国青少年中已经非常流行了,很多人用它来拍自己对口型假唱的小视频。很快,张一鸣将它整合进了TikTok中,TikTok的发展自此进入腾飞期。

TikTok的火红也吸引了Facebook的注意。去年,Facebook也发布了自家的热门小视频分享应用Lasso。但Sensor Tower公司的数据显示,截止到今年6月,Lasso的下载次数只有18.7万次。与此同时,Facebook旗下的Instagram也在产品中添加了类似TikTok的功能。比如去年,Instagram在“故事”中添加了音乐功能。从今年5月开始,Instagram允许用户在视频中添加歌词,这样观众就可以跟着一起唱了。

但这些都没有减缓TikTok的飞速增长。根据分析公司App Annie的数据,2019年第一季度,仅是美国的安卓手机用户,就在这款应用上总计花费了8500万个小时的时间,几乎是去年同期的5倍。

纪源资本(GGV Capital)的合伙人童士豪早年间曾经是Musical.ly的投资人和董事会成员,他表示:“字节跳动光是在人工智能领域里,就有数百名工程师,而且字节跳动的算法是很有名的,它非常擅长识别你喜欢什么,以及你喜欢与别人分享什么。”

TikTok的崛起也伴随着不少的争议。今年,TikTok已经两次因为其青少年用户的问题也监管机构产生龃龉。第一次是美国联邦贸易委员会指控Musical.ly非法收集青少年个人信息,这件事虽然发生在它与TikTok合并之前,但字节跳动还是支付了570万美元的和解费。在此次和解后,TikTok开始清理13岁以下的用户,这也是美国允许使用该应用程序的最低年龄。

TikTok在当时的一份声明中说:“我们的首要任务,是为所有用户创造一种安全舒适的体验。”

今年4月,印度高等法院又因涉嫌传播色情、增加青少年风险为由“封杀”了TikTok。TikTok立即向法院承诺将解决这些问题,于是两周后,印度又解除了对TikTok的禁令。

字节跳动并非一家上市公司,所以它并未披露关于TikTok的财务细节。但由于它的业务还在拓展阶段,可以肯定TikTok必然是亏钱的。

与很多其他的APP一样,TikTok也卖广告。但它也在越来越多地尝试其他赚钱方法。

比如说,企业可以给TikTok付钱,赞助所谓的“标签挑战”活动。用户会被鼓励分享带有赞助商广告标签的视频。Guess Jeans是第一家尝试这种推广方法的美国企业。标签会要求用户拍摄一段显示自己“一夜暴富”的小视频,在TikTok的视频编辑工具的帮助下,用户的衣服从破衣烂衫迅速变成了整洁的牛仔裤。然后这些视频会被打上“穿着我的牛仔裤”(InMyDenim)的标签分享出去。

截止到今天,打有“#InMyDenim”标签的视频,已经被网友观看了3770万次。

另外,要想与其他社交媒体抢夺广告收入,TikTok还是有很多工作要做的。App Annie公司的数据显示,除中国外,TikTok在海外每月只有1.5亿名活跃用户,这表明许多人下载了TikTok之后并不经常使用它。相比之下,Facebook (包括Instagram和WhatsApp)则拥有24亿名月活跃用户。数字营销公司Ignite Visibility的首席执行官约翰·林肯也表示,目前TikTok的广告实力仍然非常有限。

另一点与Facebook不同的是,TikTok无法根据特定用户的兴趣来投放广告,因为TikTok的用户并不会过多分享自己的个人信息。

与此同时,还有越来越多的营销人员绕过了TikTok的销售团队,直接与TikTok上的网红做生意。有些网红会通过使用某品牌的产品或者分享某个特定标签来赚钱,而TikTok则分享不到这笔收入。

奥斯汀·斯普林兹是TikTok上的一名网红,今年23岁,来自于亚利桑那州的坦佩市。他在TikTok上拥有240多万名粉丝。他不愿透露自己赚了多少钱,但表示,在TikTok上发视频,已经成了他们这些网红的全职工作。

他表示:“我们差不多每天都这么做,从早上起床开始,到晚上睡觉为止。”

毕竟,他们能否成功挣到钱,取决于几百万青少年喜不喜欢他们,这一点对于TikTok 也是一样。(财富中文网)

本文另一版本登载于《财富》杂志2019年7月刊,标题为《TikTok的狂欢》。

译者:朴成奎

During lunchtime at middle schools across the U.S., adolescents stare at 15- to 60-second clips of their friends lip-¬synching to Beyoncé on the video-sharing app TikTok. At home, it’s more of the same: Tap on TikTok, scroll through a feed of clips featuring shimmies to Shakira or skateboard stunts, and then pick one to watch.

Even in the annals of viral apps, TikTok is a standout. Since debuting two years ago, it has been downloaded 950 million times—mostly by teens seeking snippets of entertainment or looking to share their own rapping, dancing, or magic skills with the world.

TikTok is so popular in fact that, by one measure, it ranks among a who’s who of tech. During the first three months of this year, it was the third most downloaded app worldwide, ahead of Facebook and Instagram, and just behind WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, according to app analytics firm Sensor Tower.

“TikTok’s all about these scrappy viral videos shot with no budget and low production,” says Randy Nelson, head of mobile insights at Sensor Tower. “Unlike on Instagram or YouTube, which are far beyond their maturation point, TikTok’s a Wild West.”

Still, with the growth, TikTok is quickly morphing from its roots in amateurish lip-synching clips to a destination for more elaborate videos cut with increasingly sophisticated editing tools. Reenactments of movie comedy scenes and cooking tutorials are just some of what’s popular on the app.

But video apps are a particularly fickle business, as users inevitably flock to the next big thing. They’re also notoriously difficult to make money from—so much so that few, if any, have ever turned a profit.

Twitter, for example, learned the hard way, after jumping on the video bandwagon in 2012 by paying $30 million for Vine, a then-hot app that let users shoot and share six-second clips. For a short period of time, Vine flourished. But the fad quickly passed, prompting Twitter to shutter the service in 2016.

TikTok, which declined to comment for this article, is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese tech conglomerate founded in 2012 by former Microsoft engineer Zhang Yiming. The company’s first product provided users with a personalized list of news headlines. After a few more forays into news and entertainment, Zhang introduced Douyin, a video-sharing app for the Chinese market, in 2016. A year later, ByteDance created an equivalent video app for overseas users under the brand name TikTok.

It was hardly an overnight success. But then ByteDance paid nearly $1 billion for Chinese-owned Musical.ly, which had gained impressive traction among U.S. teens who used it to share short videos of themselves lip-synching. Zhang soon folded it into TikTok, which then started to take off.

Facebook is clearly paying attention. Last year, it introduced its own rival video-sharing app, Lasso. But the wannabe-TikTok has been downloaded just 187,000 times as of June, according to Sensor Tower. Meanwhile, Facebook-owned Instagram is also adding TikTok-like features. Last year, for instance, Instagram incorporated music into Stories, its ephemeral feed of photos and videos, while in May it started letting users append song lyrics to their videos so viewers could sing along.

But none of that has slowed TikTok’s rapid growth. In the first quarter, on Android phones alone, U.S. users spent 85 million hours in the app, nearly five times as many hours as were spent during the same period last year, according to analytics firm App Annie.

“ByteDance has hundreds of engineers in A.I. alone and is known for its algorithms, which are just really good at figuring out what you like and sharing with you other stuff it thinks you’ll like,” says Hans Tung, a managing partner at investment firm GGV Capital who was an early backer and board member of Musical.ly.

TikTok’s rise has come with controversy. Twice this year, it ran afoul of regulators over its young users. In February, ByteDance paid $5.7 million to settle allegations by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that Musical.ly, before merging into TikTok, had illegally collected data about minors. Following the settlement, TikTok started purging users under 13, the minimum age for using the app in the U.S.

“It’s our priority to create a safe and welcoming experience for all of our users,” TikTok said in a statement at the time.

Then, in April, India’s high court banned TikTok over concerns that it had helped spread pornography and put minors at risk. Judges lifted the ban two weeks later, after TikTok assured the court it would address the issues.

ByteDance, which is privately owned, doesn’t disclose financial details about TikTok. But because its business is still a work in progress, TikTok is almost certainly a money loser.

Like many other apps, TikTok sells ads. But it’s also increasingly experimenting with other ways to generate revenue.

Companies can pay TikTok to run sponsored “hashtag challenges,” in which users are encouraged to share videos using a hashtag affiliated with the advertiser. Guess Jeans was the first U.S. company to give it a try. The label asked users to shoot “rags to riches” videos showing people instantly changing—with the help of TikTok’s editing tools—from scruffy sweats into dapper denim, and then to share the clips with an “InMyDenim” hashtag.

To date, videos with “#InMyDenim” have been viewed 37.7 million times.

Nevertheless, TikTok still has a lot of work to do if it wants to compete against the social media giants for ad dollars. Excluding China, TikTok has only 150 million monthly active users worldwide, according to App Annie, indicating that many people who have downloaded TikTok’s app don’t use it. Facebook, in contrast, has 2.4 billion monthly users across its family of apps, which includes Instagram and ¬WhatsApp. And right now, ¬TikTok has very limited advertising abilities, says John Lincoln, CEO of digital marketing firm Ignite Visibility.

Unlike Facebook, TikTok can’t target ads to particular users based on their interests. TikTok’s users simply don’t share as much personal information about themselves.

Increasingly, marketers are bypassing TikTok’s sales team to cut deals directly with TikTok influencers. These social media tastemakers earn money by using the brand’s products or sharing a particular hashtag—but TikTok doesn’t share in the revenue.

Austin Sprinz, a 23-year-old from Tempe, Ariz., who has over 2.4 million followers on TikTok, says he and his brother have been approached for such deals. He declines to say how much money they’ve earned, but posting TikTok videos is their full-time job.

“We pretty much do it every day, from when we wake up to when we go to bed,” says Sprinz.

In the end, their success depends on millions of flighty teens. And so does TikTok’s.

A version of this article appears in the July 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “TikTok Is on a Tear.”

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