We live in a funny world as far as video is concerned these days.
On a recent dog walk, I strolled past a couple of kids in their late teens dancing in front of an iPhone standing atop a tripod. I can’t be sure, but I think they were performing a routine for TikTok.
How times have changed, eh? At that age and time of the day, I’d probably have been attempting to sink my fifth Scrumpy Jack at the pub with the most lenient door policy.
These two? They were far more interested in creating a 15-second looped video of themselves lip syncing to <insert current tinny pop viral song here>.
They were enjoying themselves, though. And this wasn’t an empty field, either; to them, this was normal – they didn’t care about who was watching. To TikTok’s 800 million active users, it’s equally normal.
But, what does it hold for the future of video? And what on earth is Byte?
It all started (and ended, briefly) with Vine
In 2017, Twitter announced that it would be shutting down Vine, a six-second video-looping social media app.
This upset lots of people. Vine had spent the previous four years becoming a little creative hub for memes. It had given amateur filmmakers an outlet for their quirky mini-movies.
Clearly, that audience wasn’t enough for Twitter. They proceeded with the shutdown, which led to a flood of Vine compilations being uploaded to YouTube.
Then, TikTok entered the fray.
How did TikTok get so big?
TikTok was once known as Musical.ly (yeah, what a mouthful, right?) and launched, conveniently, during 2017. The same year as Vine’s demise.
Developed by Chinese firm, ByteDance, TikTok was spookily similar to Vine. Although, it offered users up to 15 seconds of recording time and a bit more creative control.
It silently took off – big time. Popular among the younger generation, TikTok videos began to surface in regular media and on other social media feeds.
Then, during lockdown, an American comedian by the name of Sarah Cooper began using TikTok to publish videos of herself lip syncing to Donald Trump.
Her Twitter account now has 1.9 million followers and has been blocked by the president. She’s the most contemporary of influencers who, arguably, wouldn’t have reached the same level of fame without the power, reach and ease of a platform like TikTok.
TikTok has, for many people, replaced the gif. It’s the new meme. And I bet, someone has asked you if you’ve ‘done your own TikTok video yet’.
I haven’t, just to be clear.
Are things now looking shaky for TikTok?
India recently banned TikTok completely, and other nations are considering following suit. This is due to the app’s potential exposure to the Chinese government. That’s a topic I’ll certainly avoid dipping into on a marketing blog.
Regardless, TikTok’s future suddenly looks rather uncertain. Trump has also hinted at a possible ban in the States. Although, I guess that’s of little surprise when you consider how the app has consistently battled against him both with Cooper-led mocking and rally pranks.
The fact we’re even talking about a Twitter ban by the world’s most powerful nations is testament to how influential the world of short-form video has become.
So, what’s Byte?
Byte is the brainchild of a former Vine co-founder. Announced in 2018, the new app is now available for download, but falls some way short of TikTok’s huge audience.
Regardless, it could be a good alternative for the thousands of TikTok creators who have been unnerved by the ban rumours.
After its first week of launch, Byte achieved 1.3 million downloads. However, it has struggled to pick up much momentum since then. This is in part due to the continued, meteoric rise of TikTok during the COVID-19 lockdown period.
Byte’s development team is continuing unabated, though. They’ve recently increased the filming time limit from six to eight seconds, and new music tools have created a user experience that’s far more aligned with TikTok’s.
Functionally, they’re basically the same app. They let you create short, looped videos during which you can pretend to be a famous singer, movie star or – yes – political figure.
The one big difference which currently stands between the two is TikTok’s recent expansion of their ad platform, which is now available to all businesses. Byte, at the time of writing, doesn’t have any form of advertising.
Conclusion: what does this mean for the future of video?
The trouble with Byte and TikTok is that they feel like flashes in the pan. And I fully appreciate how daft that might sound, given TikTok’s incredible rise to fame.
But it’s an opinion I stand by. If we look at YouTube, which now has around three billion active users, it’s longevity is made possible because it’s technically a search engine – one of the world’s largest, in fact. There’s no limit to video lengths, either, and no narrow feature set which demands you make a certain style of video.
By comparison, TikTok and Byte capture the fleeting attention of the world because they’re so different. Influencers like Sarah Cooper simply fuel that fire, but it’s one that’s likely to burn out pretty quickly.
The key to any sustained success for micro video platforms like these two is something I noted earlier, and which drives success on the internet for content publishers.
Yep, we’re back to those ads.
The other reason YouTube is so successful and won’t be disappearing any time soon is because it’s funded almost solely by advertising revenue. There’s so much of it coming in that YouTube will happily share the proceeds with creators. Thus, building a vibrant, high-quality platform on which you’ll find content that competes handsomely with anything regular TV can throw at you.
Byte and TikTok? You’re probably not going to sit down for a binge session on either platform, are you? And, for advertisers, that’s a problem.
So, back to that couple in the field. I genuinely love the fact they felt no inhibitions about expressing themselves in full view of what is largely a baby boomer-filled neighbourhood that’s probably unaware of TikTok (even if they’ve unwittingly seen some of its output themselves).
Those two teenagers are the now – they’re not the future. What they were doing in that field will, in my opinion, be a fleeting moment in time that’ll be replaced by the next form of byte-sized content (excuse the pun).
But, I think that’s pretty exciting. What’s next?