44% of TikTok’s all-time downloads were in 2019, but app hasn’t figured out monetization

Despite the U.S. government’s concerns over TikTok, which most recently led to the U.S. Navy banning service members’ use of the app, TikTok had a stellar 2019 in terms of both downloads and revenue. According to new data from Sensor Tower, 44% of TikTok’s total 1.65 billion downloads to date, or 738+ million installs, took place in 2019 alone. And though TikTok is still just experimenting with different means of monetization, the app had its best year in terms of revenue, grossing $176.9 million in 2019 — or 71% of its all-time revenue of $247.6 million.

Apptopia had previously reported TikTok was generating $50 million per quarter.

The number of TikTok downloads in 2019 is up 13% from the 655 million installs the app saw in 2018, with the holiday quarter (Q4 2019) being TikTok’s best ever, with 219 million downloads, up 6% from TikTok’s previous best quarter, Q4 2018. TikTok was also the second-most downloaded (non-game) app worldwide across the Apple App Store and Google Play in 2019, according to Sensor Tower data.

However, App Annie’s recent “State of Mobile” report put it in fourth place, behind Messenger, Facebook and WhatsApp — not just behind WhatsApp, as Sensor Tower does.

Regardless, the increase in TikTok downloads in 2019 is largely tied to the app’s traction in India. Though the app was briefly banned in the country earlier in the year, that market still accounted for 44% (or 323 million) of 2019’s total downloads. That’s a 27% increase from 2018.

TikTok’s home country, China, is TikTok’s biggest revenue driver, with iOS consumer spend of $122.9 million, or 69% of the total and more than triple what U.S. users spent in the app ($36 million). The U.K. was the third-largest contributor in terms of revenue, with users spending $4.2 million in 2019.

These numbers, however, are minuscule in comparison with the billions upon billions earned by Facebook on an annual basis, or even the low-digit billions earned by smaller social apps like Twitter. To be fair, TikTok remains in an experimental phase with regards to revenue. In 2019, it ran a variety of ad formats, including brand takeovers, in-feed native video, hashtag challenges and lens filters. It even dabbled in social commerce.

Meanwhile, only a handful of creators have been able to earn money in live streams through tipping — another area that deserves to see expansion in the months ahead if TikTok aims to take on YouTube as a home for creator talent.

When it comes to monetization, TikTok is challenged because it doesn’t have as much personal information about its users, compared with a network like Facebook and its rich user profile data. That means advertisers can’t target ads based on user interests and demographics in the same way. Because of this, brands will sometimes forgo working with TikTok itself to deal directly with its influencer stars, instead.

What TikTok lacks in revenue, it makes up for in user engagement. According to App Annie, time spent in the app was up 210% year-over-year in 2019, to reach a total 68 billion hours. TikTok clearly has users’ attention, but now it will need to figure out how to capitalize on those eyeballs and actually make money.

Reached for comment, TikTok confirmed it doesn’t share its own stats on installs or revenue, so third-party estimates are the only way to track the app’s growth for now.

Plex’s secret weapon: cross-media integrations

Plex’s expansion beyond a home media organizer to becoming a centralized platform for all your media, gives the company a distinct advantage. By tying all media together under one roof — streaming music, podcasts, web shows and video of all sorts — Plex is able to add interesting and unique features around personalization and recommendations.

We’re only beginning to see some of the results of these sorts of integrations now.

To start, Plex today is leveraging its TIDAL music partnership to highlight which songs appear in a TV show, episode or movie they’re watching. Currently, this works for library content only, but Plex told TechCrunch at CES this week that the feature soon will work for AVOD [ad-supported video on demand] content as well shows and movies recorded to their cloud DVR via a digital antenna.

In the months ahead, Plex will begin to roll out more cross-media integrations, it says.

Gillmor Gang: Old Friends

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Sunday, December 22, 2019. Most likely the last show of 2019, an analysis of 2020 in streaming media, the primaries and the influence of old and new tech.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

Liner Notes

Live chat stream

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook

Wotch is building a creator-friendly video platform

The team at Wotch has created a new social video platform — but wait, don’t roll your eyes quite yet.

“Obviously, we’re very used to someone creating a new internet video-sharing platform,” said co-CEO Scott Willson. “It must be very irritating for everyone to hear that.”

And yet Willson and his co-founder/co-CEO James Sadler have attempted it anyway, and they’re competing today as part of the Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin. They’re only 22 years old, but Sadler said they’ve been working together for the past few years, with past projects including the development of e-learning platforms.

They were inspired to create Wotch because of YouTube’s recent problems around issues like demonetization, where many YouTubers lost the ability to monetize their videos through advertising, and other controversies like an attempted overhaul of its verification system.

Willson said YouTube has been “leaving out creators in terms of communications,” and as the controversies grew, the pair thought, “There has to be a better way of doing this.”

The key, Sadler added, is giving video creators a bigger say in the process: “We’re very hands-on with these creators. We’re not just sending them an automated email.”

In fact, they’re giving creators an opportunity to buy equity in Wotch to get a stake in the company’s success. They’re also appointing a creator board that will be consulted on company policy.

Wotch creators will be able to make money by selling subscriptions, merchandise and ads — not the standard pre-roll or mid-roll ads (which Willson described as “irritants”), but instead partnerships where they incorporate brand products and messages in their videos.

Asked whether this might create the same tension between advertisers and creators that YouTube has been struggling with, Willson argued, “What it comes down to is correctly matching advertisers with creators.” Some advertisers don’t mind working with video-makers who are “pushing the boundaries” — they just need to know what they’re getting into.

Sadler also said that Wotch will be providing creators with more data about their viewers, like identifying their most loyal fans, their most engaged fans and their first “wotchers.”

And the site will take a different approach to content moderation, using technologies like video frame analysis to identify “risky” content, as well as relying more on community moderation. Sadler said it will be a “consensus” approach, rather than the “dictatorship” of other platforms.

“We’re rewarding users for helping to cleanse these platforms,” he added.

Wotch isn’t identifying any of the big creators who he says have signed on, but Sadler told me that the company is largely focused on emerging markets and has already recruited 25 of the top creators in Brazil (where YouTube has an enormous audience, to sometimes detrimental effect) and throughout South America. Those creators won’t be posting on Wotch alone, but they will be creating exclusive videos for the service.

Sadler said it’s those creators who will draw the viewers: “Consumers are loyal to the creators and not the platforms.” And once they’re drawn in, they’ll also experience “a more social platform — see the things your friends are ‘wotching,’ see the things that your favorite creators are ‘wotching.'”

The startup has raised funding from Dominic Smales, the CEO of influencer marketing company Gleam Futures; Bidstack co-founder Simon Mitchell; and Melody VR founder and COO Steve Hancock. Smales is also leading the creator board.

While a beta version of Wotch is already live, Sadler and Willson plan to launch a revamped version of the service early next year. You can get an early preview of the changes by using the promotional code “TECHCRUNCH.”

How the founder of Pocketwatch sees the future of children’s entertainment

When Chris Williams founded entertainment platform Pocketwatch in 2017, he was certain that no one had yet found the right way to work with the generation of children’s talent finding its audience on platforms like YouTube.

Convinced that packaging creators under one umbrella and leveraging the expanding reach of even more media platforms could reshape the way children’s content was produced, the former Maker Studios and Disney executive launched his company to offer emerging social media talent more avenues to create entertainment that resonates with young audiences.

On the back of the breakout success of Ryan’s World, a YouTube channel which counted 33.6 billion views and more than 22 million subscribers as of early November, it appears that Williams was on the right track. As he looks out at the children’s media landscape today, Williams says he sees the same forces at work that compelled him to create the business in the first place. If anything, he says, the trends are only accelerating.

The first is the exodus of children from traditional linear viewing platforms to on-demand entertainment. The rise of subscription streaming services, including Disney+, HBO Max and Apple Plus — combined with the continued demand for new children’s programming on Netflix — is creating a bigger market for children’s programming.

“If you’re a subscription-based service, what kids’ content does for you is it prevents churn,” says Williams.

That’s drawing attention from new, ad-supported streaming providers like the Roku Channel, PlutoTV and SamsungTV Plus, which are also thirsty for children’s storytelling. Williams says he sees fertile ground for new programming among the ad-based, video-on-demand services. “Kids and family content tends to be the most highly engaging that creates consumption in homes. That creates a lot of opportunities for advertisers.”

The Roku Channel and Viacom’s PlutoTV service show that there’s still demand for ad-supported, on-demand alternatives that are more curated than just YouTube. It’s a potential opportunity for more startups, as well as an opportunity for studios looking to pitch their talent and programming.

“When we’ve launched a new 24-7 video channel and AVOD library and omni services… [we] know that content is surrounded by other premium content,” says Williams.

For all of the opportunities these new platforms bring, Williams says YouTube isn’t going anywhere as one of the dominant new forces in children’s entertainment,  despite its many, many woes. In fact, one of Williams’ new initiatives at Pocketwatch is predicated on changes that YouTube is seemingly making in terms of the programming that it promotes with its algorithms.

Apple Music dives deeper into concert streaming with Billie Eilish

As music streaming apps struggle to differentiate, Apple is making concert video a more central part of its strategy with tonight’s big Billie Eilish show at its HQ’s Steve Jobs Theater. The Apple Music Awards concert will be streaming live and then on-demand to Apple Music’s 60 million subscribers. Apple would like to do more of these streamed concerts in the near future.

You can stream Apple’s Billie Eilish concert here

Beyond the concert streaming, Apple is looking to strengthen its perception as an ally to art and artists. Given Apple Music is just a tiny fraction of the iPhone maker’s massive revenues, it can look overly corporate and capitalistic compared to music-only competitors like Spotify that some see as more aligned with the success of musicians.

To grow its subscriber count amongst serious listeners and earn points with creators, Apple Music can’t look like it’s just designed to sell more Apple hardware. So tonight Apple is hoping to show its respect for artists, handing out its first Apple Music Awards. Billie Eilish has won artist of the year and Songwriter Of The Year (with her brother Finneas), while Lizzo is taking home Breakthrough Artist Of The Year. Additionally, based on Apple Music streaming counts, Eilish’s ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” has won Album Of The Year, and Lil Was X’s ‘Old Town Road’ is the Song Of The Year.

The award statues themselves are specially-crafted Apple artifacts, featuring overwrought design like you see in those WWDC videos of robots making gadgets. They start with a single 12-inch disc of nanometer-level flat silicon wafer — the same kind used to power Apple’s iPhones. Copper layers are patterned with ultraviolet lithography to etch connections between the billions of transistors on the wafer. It’s then sliced into hundreds of individual chips and lined up during the months-long process to create a reflective trophy suspended between glass and anodized aluminum. In what’s sure to become a kooky collector’s item, each award is packaged with its own special Apple spirit level and mounting screws for classy installation.

The hope seems to be that both the winners and their fellow artists will come away with the perception that Apple truly cares about music. That, plus Apple Music’s scale, could help convince them to share more links to their songs on the streaming service and feature their profile there ahead of their presences on competing listening apps.

On the concert front, Apple started holding its yearly Apple Music Festival, formerly the iTunes Festival, back in 2007. But after a blow-out 10th year where Apple streamed shows from Britney Spears, Elton John, and Chance the Rapper, it discontinued the event in 2017. Apple Music launched a dedicated Music Videos tab last year, but has done less recently with concert streaming other than a few events with Tyler, The Creator and Shawn Mendes. These concert videos can be tough to find inside Apple Music.

Yet this represents a massive opportunity for Apple. Across music streaming services, catalogs are becoming more uniform, everyone is copying each other’s personalized playlists and discovery mechanisms, and many are embracing radio and podcasts. Meanwhile, paying for exclusive music or whole artists has fallen out of fashion compared to a few years ago. Fragmenting the music catalog is hostile towards listeners, can be harmful for artists who lose out on mass distribution, and it can engender backlash from artists fans’ who don’t want to pay for multiple redundant streaming services.

Streaming concert videos, which typically aren’t available beyond shaky camera phone footage, feel additive to the music ecosystem. If platforms are willing to pay to shoot and produce the videos, they can be powerful differentiators. And if the recorded shows look unique from the typical tours, as with the tree-covered stage for tonight’s Billie Eilish show at Apple headquarters, they keep fans glued to their screens. Video viewing can lead users to develop more affinity for whichever company is broadcasting the shows compared to multi-tasking while they merely listen to a generic app.

Apple is already ahead of competitors like Spotify that do very little on the concert video front. Streaming more shows like tonight’s could help it better rival YouTube Music, which integrates traditional music streaming with a broad array of rarities, music videos, and streamed concerts like Coachella. Apple is also fortunate to have a global retail and office footprint that could help it throw and record more shows with fewer logistical headaches.

To date, Apple Music has leaned on its pre-installations on the company’s phones, tablets, and computers plus its free trial system to drive growth. But if it can spot holes in the industry’s content offering, leverage its deep pockets to invest in premium video, and prove to artists that it cares, Apple Music could build a brand separate from and with more street cred than Apple itself.

YouTube warns creators of subscriber count declines amid purge of closed accounts

YouTube is warning creators they may see their subscriber numbers decline this week as the result of a purge that will remove closed accounts from YouTube metrics. Closed accounts could refer to those that were willingly shut down by users or those that YouTube shut down for policy violations — like spam or abuse, for example.

The company informed creators of the possible loss of subscribers via a message on its Help site community forum, Twitter feed, as well as through a notification on YouTube Creator Studio, its dashboard for channel management.

It explains that a purge like this is routine and a part of YouTube’s ongoing efforts to ensure the site stays free from spam and abuse. But while the removals may lead to a creator’s subscriber numbers dropping, YouTube says this shouldn’t have an impact on a channel’s watch time.

Creators who are affected by the purge will see the changes to subscriber accounts appear in their YouTube Analytics for December 3 through December 4. To view the exact numbers of closed accounts that are removed from a channel, creators have to click on the “See more” menu in YouTube Analytics, then select “Closed Accounts” from “Subscription Source.”

Purges like this are not popular with most creators because subscriber numbers determine whether or not they become eligible for certain monetization tools, like channel memberships or merch shelf, for instance. It’s also a factor as to whether creators can join the YouTube Partner Program (YPP). For smaller creators just nearing the 1,000-subscriber threshold for entry into YPP, even a small drop in subscriber counts can impact their ability to monetize.

For that reason, many smaller creators are asking fans to double-check to ensure they’re still subscribed as they believe purges like this remove legitimate accounts from their fan base, not just spam and closed accounts.

According to social media posts from creators, the impacts of the purge seem to vary wildly by channel. Some only report losing a few subscribers, others say they lost thousands.

This isn’t the first time YouTube has purged subscribers. Last December, it warned creators it would be removing a significant number of spam accounts over a two-day period, which would lead to large declines in subscriber numbers.

Inside StockX’s authentication center

Joshua Luber runs a sneaker empire valued at more than $1 billion, but he thinks they’re just now scratching the surface. The consumer marketplace recently expanded to include a fifth category (collectibles). “It’s an evolution of eBay that works similar to the stock market,” Luber states, “but at the core, it’s around the concept of true market price.” 

We visited StockX’s 15,000-square-foot facility in Detroit to get a peek into their authentication process, and sat down with Luber to chat about humble beginnings, business expansion and sneakers.

Tinder’s interactive video series ‘Swipe Night’ is going international next year

Tinder’s big experiment with interactive content — the recently launched in-app series called Swipe Night — was a success. According to Tinder parent company Match during its Q3 earnings this week, “millions” of Tinder users tuned into to watch the show’s episodes during its run in October, and this drove double-digit increases in both matches and messages. As a result, Match confirmed its plans to launch Tinder’s new show outside the U.S. in early 2020. 

Swipe Night’s launch was something of a departure for the dating app, whose primary focus has been on connecting users for dating and other more casual affairs.

The new series presented users with something else to do in the Tinder app beyond just swiping on potential matches. Instead, you swiped on a story.

Presented in a “choose-your-own-adventure” style format that’s been popularized by Netflix, YouTube, and others, Swipe Night asked users to make decisions to advance a narrative that followed a group of friends in an “apocalyptic adventure.”

Swipe Night ChoiceThe moral and practical choices you made during Swipe Night would then be shown on your profile as a conversation starter, or as just another signal as to whether or not a match was right for you. After all, they say that the best relationships come from those who share common values, not necessarily common interests. And Swipe Night helped to uncover aspects to someone’s personality that a profile would not — like whether you’d cover for a friend who cheated, or tell your other friend who was the one being cheated on?

The 5-minute long episodes ran every Sunday night in October from 6 PM to midnight.

Though early reports on Tinder’s plans had somewhat dramatically described Swipe Night as Tinder’s launch into streaming video, it’s more accurate to call Swipe Night an engagement booster for an app that many people often find themselves needing a break from. Specifically, it could help Tinder to address issues around declines in open rates or sessions per user — metrics that often hide behind what otherwise looks like steady growth. (Tinder, for example, added another 437,000 subscribers in the quarter, leading to 5.7 million average subscribers in Q3).

Ahead of earnings, there were already signs that Swipe Night was succeeding in its efforts to boost engagement.

Tinder said in late October that matches on its app jumped 26% compared to a typical Sunday night, and messages increased 12%.

On Tinder’s earnings call with investors, Match presented some updated metrics. The company said Swipe Night led to a 20% to 25% increase in “likes” and a 30% increase in matches. And the elevated conversation levels that resulted from user participation continued for days after each episode aired. Also importantly, the series helped boost female engagement in the app.

“This really extended our appeal and resonated with Gen Z users,” said Match CEO Mandy Ginsberg. “This effort demonstrates the kind of creativity and team we have a tender and the kind of that we’re willing to make.”

Swipe Night

The company says it will make Season 1 of Swipe Night (a hint there’s more to come) available soon as an on-demand experience, and will roll out the product to international markets early next year.

Swipe Night isn’t the only video product Match Group has in the works. In other Match-owned dating apps, Plenty of Fish and Twoo, the company is starting to test live streaming broadcasts. But these are created by the app’s users, not as a polished, professional product from the company itself.

Match had reported better-than-expected earnings for the third quarter, with earnings of 51 cents per share — above analysts’ expectations for earnings of 42 cents per share. Match’s revenue was $541 million, in line with Wall St.’s expectations.

But its fourth-quarter guidance came in lower than expectations ($545M-$555M, below the projected $559.3M), sending the stock dropping. Match said it would have to take on about $10 million in expenses related to it being spun out from parent company IAC.

 

 

Amazon’s Prime Video app disappears from the App Store [Updated]

In what we understand was a “technical issue”, the Amazon Prime Video app disappeared from the Apple App Store, making it unavailable for new downloads or updates to users both on iOS and Apple TV. Twitter users began to tweet to Amazon for help about the problem on Friday morning, to which Amazon’s support channels have yet to reply.

[Update: we’ve learned the issue is technical in nature, but we have no further information as to the details of the problem. The app should be back shortly.]

[Update 2: Amazon has now offered a comment on the disappearance.

“Earlier today, there was a technical glitch that impacted the Prime Video app on iOS and tvOS devices,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “The issue has been resolved, and the Prime Video app is now once again available in the App Store.”

Earlier post continues below:

The app’s disappearance was earlier reported by AppleInsider, iMore and others.

The most likely reason for the app’s removal is a technical one — an issue with the update could have caused it to be temporarily pulled, perhaps.

What’s not likely is that Amazon Prime Video is gone for good.

The company just released an X-Ray upgrade to the app across platforms, including iOS, allowing users to get more information about what they’re streaming, including Amazon’s run of Thursday Night Football games.

Nor is it likely that Apple has for some reason booted out Prime Video, given the anti-competitive nature of such a move (Apple TV+ is soon to launch), at a time when the tech giants are under increased regulatory scrutiny.

The issue isn’t only impacting users in the U.S., nor is it limited to iPhone, as Apple TV is also affected.

According to data from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower, the app was removed today in all regions except Australia, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar and Saudi Arabia.

Amazon has not responded publicly to users asking for help.

TechCrunch has also reached out to Amazon for comment and will update when we hear back.