Emarketer, the well-regarded source of much digital research data, has released data showing that in-app purchases (typically for virtual goods) in mobile apps are growing as a revenue source, and that advertising, due to Covid is shrinking. The mobile app economy has been dominated by in-app purchases since the advent of the smartphone, particularly due to the presence of extensive in-app purchases items in mobile gaming apps. In non-gaming apps there is rising revenue driven by content subscriptions.
Sensor Tower, a well-known data analytics firm in the mobile app arena, according to eMarketer, estimated that global app revenues from in-app purchases rose by 23.4% year-over-year in the first half of 2020 and $36.6 billion came from within games, an increase of more than 20% YOY.
It is has been observed in the recent past that increasingly hybrid monetization models are becoming popular. Such models are a combination of in-app purchases and advertising, which are especially prevalent in mobile gaming. Many game developers and game publishers are buying cost-per-install based advertising to acquire their users by advertising on mobile game apps similar to their own.
I believe that the advertising revenue model will continue to increase for mobile games, in part due to the big demand for mobile advertising inventory by those advertisers wanting to convey their messages to consumers across mobile platforms. But for the short-term it appears that the growth of advertising in mobile apps is slowing.
According to AppsFlyer, a mobile analytics company, the share of games using a hybrid model dropped 8% between Q2 2019 and Q2 2020. For casual and midcore games the revenue coming from advertising fell 30% YOY. As eMarketer said, “In absolute terms, ad revenues did well in these hybrid games, rising by 47%, but IAP revenues jumped by 130%.” According to AppsFlyer “Users were far more engaged with games during lockdown, and along with the effects of our ‘new normal,’ users have become less tolerant of ads,” said Shani Rosenfelder, Head of Content and Mobile Insights at AppsFlyer.
Speaking about subscription revenue, eMarketer quoted Ted Krantz, CEO of App Annie, another mobile analytics firm, asking a big question: “How many subscriptions will a particular consumer actually,” pay for.
It has been widely reported that ByteDance, the Beijing-based digital entertainment and information company, had impressive 2019 revenue and earnings. ByteDance had revenue of $17 billion in 2019, up from $7.4 billion in 2018. In the first half of 2019 ByteDance is reported to have had revenue equal to or exceeding the whole year of 2018. According to the same reports, ByteDance’s profit was $3 billion for 2019. It is also reported that they have over $6 billion in cash available for investment and growth initiatives. As a privately held company, ByteDance does not officially release their financial data and I was not able to get a comment from ByteDance regarding their financials.
ByteDance has been reported to have a valuation over $100 billion and as high as $180 billion. ByteDance has announced that they have over 60,000 employees in 126 cities.
TikTok is reported to have over 800 million daily active users which compares to 1.73 billion daily active users for Facebook, who reported that number this year.
ByteDance has a number of core products that use artificial intelligence to choose content that will be shared with readers whether it is in their news and information content product, Toutiao, or their entertainment apps, particularly Douyin and TikTok. Douyin is a mobile app launched in China by ByteDance in 2016 focused on consumer-generated short videos.
Much of the revenue for ByteDance comes from advertising and in-app purchases, both areas with a lot of room for growth, plus ByteDance’s user numbers continue to grow rapidly. ByteDance was founded in 2012. ByteDance has raised money from funds like Softbank, KKR KKR, Sequoia, General Atlantic, Hillhouse Capital Group, Coatue, SIG Asia Investment, and Source Code Capital. Knowledgeable sources have indicated to me that there are also some influential Internet-related investors from around the world, invested in ByteDance, some at a very early valuation. This will be a company that will be closely watched for an IPO or other liquidity event.
Every few years a new “bright shiny object” appears on the digital scene. Sometimes these companies go on to be huge (Amazon AMZN, Google, Facebook, etc.) and other times they fail massively – Excite.com, Go.com/Infoseek, Vine, Friendster, etc. Other companies may not be the “bright shiny object” of their early years, but they are still gaining momentum and traction, such as Snap. Even MySpace, a company that most people probably assumed was shut down and written off entirely, is still alive with about 4% of American social media users reporting they are currently using Myspace in a quantitative study I conducted with 2,400 Americans in June of last year.
Which flavor of “bright shiny object” is TikTok? Short-term or long-term?
TikTok has received a lot of attention in the U.S. and around the world recently, including the announcement of the new CEO of TikTok (and COO of parent company Byte Dance), Kevin Mayer, the head of Disney DIS’s Direct to Consumer services and International (including Disney+). Mayer was previously the planning and M&A guru at Disney. Forbes writers Dawn Chmielewski and Abram Brown reported in detail the search by Byte Dance for a CEO of TikTok and the hiring of Mayer.
So the question is now: is TikTok more like Vine (short 6 second video serviced owned by Twitter TWTR and shut down) or more like YouTube, owned by Google GOOGL, which reportedly has revenue over $15B a year – mostly advertising – and over 125M monthly unique users in the U.S. alone.
While some analysts look at TikTok as competition for the social networks – Facebook, Instagram, and Snap, there are many reasons to think of TikTok as more of a competitor to YouTube. TikTok is not about sharing what you did today or where you went (though there is some great travel content on TikTok), but more about creating and sharing content, such as songs, dances, ideas, challenges – all presented in short video form. Unlike Vine, which limited users to six seconds, a TikTok can be as long as 60 seconds, with a function that combines four videos of 15 seconds each. Furthermore, you can upload to TikTok longer videos shot outside of the Tik Tok app.
TikTok, whose mobile app is free, is owned by Byte Dance of China. Byte Dance is a private company with many reports that it is worth $100B and beyond. Byte Dance runs a similar service to TikTok in China, Douyin, which was launched in 2017.
TikTok was launched outside of China in 2018 and merged with Musical.ly, another company owned by Byte Dance, that year. Douyin and TikTok when translated from Mandarin mean: “shaking sound” and “vibrating sound” respectively.
TikTok was the most downloaded, mobile, non-game app worldwide in January and February of this year. There are over 800M worldwide users. In China there are 400M users which doubled in one year. About half of all smartphone owners in China are using TikTok. Byte Dance is also growing TikTok in India where they have over 120M users. Southeast Asia is another growing area for TikTok.
In the U.S. TikTok is reported to have 60M monthly users, who spend on average 45 minutes a day on the app. A majority of U.S. users of TikTok are female (57%). Over 40% percent of TikTok users are between 16 and 24 years old. Roughly 50% of TikTok’s global audience is under the age of 34. While only 9% of US internet users say they have used TikTok, 49% of teenagers say they have used the app. Another demographic strength for TikTok are the large number of families, siblings, and co-workers that collaborate on TikTok dances, challenges, lip syncs, etc. When you watch TikTok you see many multi-generational users.
Though privately-owned, it was reported that TikTok grossed over $175M in revenue in 2019. TikTok revenue comes from in-app purchases (virtual goods and subscriptions), sponsorships and advertising. All of these areas are likely to grow for TikTok as the platform grows in numbers of users and as TikTok gears up their revenue sales teams.
Tiktok has hired many top Facebook executives and others from Snapchat, YouTube and other companies, before the hiring of Mayer. It is expected that TikTok will continue to pursue some of the top talent at the successful social media and digital video companies. TikTok has a large office in Los Angeles (the largest presence outside of China) and their European efforts are headquartered in London.
Vine failed for many reasons, including that six seconds was too short a time for some people to express their creativity. Furthermore, Vine was bought by Twitter where it withered. It was not a good brand fit with Twitter or demographic fit. TikTok is the main business of Byte Dance outside of China and will not have the problems Vine had at Twitter. Also, the TikTok app has a lot of strong functionality that did not exist for Vine, such as powerful viral tools, easy video recording and editing, mobile first, a great recommendation algorithm and strong social features.
TikTok is also more than just dances and Vine-like antics. They also have people giving short video advice on health, exercise, the stock market, travel, DIY (do-it-yourself), and even politics. Naturally these categories will reach young people, as well as a more mature audience.
I spoke to a number of 20-30 year olds in the media world and most of them said they used TikTok. Numerous people I spoke to said that TikTok is more like a short/mobile first version of YouTube. I think TikTok is going to challenge YouTube more than than TikTok will challenge Instagram or Facebook.
I think TikTok will be grow substantially, and quite possibly, will have the longevity of YouTube, which is 15 years old this year. Vine, in comparison, lasted 5 years. My projection of strong, future growth for TikTok in the U.S. is supported by the high evaluation score that TikTok receives from its users – a 4.7 score out of a 5-point scale.
If you doubt the appeal of TikTok, take a few minutes and explore the videos on the app. And don’t miss this one – “The Five Stages of TikTok” on TikTok which you can search for on TikTok or you can watch it on YouTube:
Sadly, we won’t be watching or attending any sports games for awhile (quite awhile?), but luckily your phone will help you with your “sports fix”. New mobile sports games will be coming out from Nifty Games this year. Nifty Games is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
NFL has announced that they have signed a deal with Nifty games to publish a head-to-head football title called NFL Clash that is set to debut later this year. This is in addition to the Nifty NBA Clash game that is currently in development and planned for release this year as well.
NFL Clash game logo
In an interview with me, Jon Middleton said, “The competitive nature of clash-style games are a lock and key fit for mobile sports games. We will be bringing NBA and NFL Clash games to sports fans around the globe, as they compete head to head with teams comprised of their favorite pro athletes.”
Jon also talked about the early founding of Nifty Games, (It) “was founded out of a love of sports – and sports games. I grew up playing sports, watching a ton of sports on TV and my co-founder, Pete Wanat and I have been in way too many fantasy baseball and football leagues together over the years.” Clearly, Jon is a real sports fanboy!
Jon also spoke about how sports games have evolved over the years and he seems worried that the blockbuster console sports games are too real. As he said “as the games market has grown and become mass market entertainment, the sports game market has actually reduced and is laser focused on simulation and realism. While this has led to some of the greatest games of all time with the Madden, 2K and FIFA franchises, the need to improve fidelity and test the limits of gaming consoles also exposed a massive opportunity in the fastest growing and now largest videogame sector…Mobile.”
Long-term Jon sees Nifty games producing more head to head mobile quick-session sports games. As we progress, we’ll stay focused on delivering fun, authentic sports games to fans around the world with their favorite players, teams and leagues as partners. The long term goal is to build the largest competitive community of sports fans on the planet. We’re excited about the future, with mobile gaming we’ve got access to most every sports fan, of every sport, everywhere.”
Nifty also announced that they have closed a $12 million Series A fundraising round led by March Capital Partners. Defy Partners, aXiomatic Gaming, Vulcan Capital, Courtside Ventures, Transcend Fund, Century Game and OneTeam Ventures also participated in the round. Nifty Games closed a $3 million seed round late in 2018.