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Jinri Toutiao’s short-video app Douyin caters to needs of young urbanites
Douyin, a short-video app featuring 15 seconds of musical clips, also known as Tic Tok, has unexpectedly become a hit in China’s first-tier cities, thanks to the rise of the country’s millennials. The app was launched by Beijing-based tech unicorn ByteDance in 2016, which also owns news aggregator Jinri Toutiao.

Literally meaning “vibrato” in Chinese, the rising star targets what it calls “high-end” users--which refer to those aged between 15 and 30 and working as white-collar or attending school in top-tier cities.

Many years ago, Weibo, China’s popular microblogging platform, became an instant success by targeting the same group of users. It’s obvious that the content is one of the key differentiators between Douyin and the “traditional” social media platforms.

Weibo is known to be the debut stage for the country’s first generation of key opinion leaders (KOL). They were good at composing long articles or short pieces accompanied by pics or motion graphs.

Written pieces and pics prevailed on social media platforms until the year 2016, when live streaming apps rose into prominence in China. And when observers remained amazed by the heat of Internet celebrities who got famous by sometimes doing shows of their mundane everyday lives, short-video sharing gained momentum in 2017 with the rise of Douyin.

When Douyin went online in October 2016, the market for short-video sharing apps was deemed to be saturated, with Kuaishou dominating the market and over 100 other good-enough short-video apps emerging. Douyin must do something different to ensure its survival.

Zhang Nan, the general manager of Douyin platform, recalled the app’s design team had downloaded all of the over 100 short-video apps onto cell phones to experience and evaluate.

“They have one common weakness - their contents are mostly not good enough,” said Zhang, noting videos shared by the platforms could be better made with high-quality content, and the platforms should instruct their users to do that.

“Mobile Internet has become all-pervasive. With a consumption upgrade, young users in first or second-tier cities are demanding ‘really good things’, while short videos shared on social media platforms at the time have failed to bring the group good surprises.”

Having eyes on the niche market in big cities, the short-video app featuring algorithm-based feeds has recently changed its slogan to “record the good life”, in competition with a Tencent-backed video app Kuaishou. The latter’s advertising tagline is “everyone’s story deserves to be recorded,” with its user base mainly made of young people working and living in smaller cities.

Between the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018’s lunar new year, Douyin clips began to be produced or spread by millennials (generally referring to those born between 1982 and 2000) in big Chinese cities. And with the new short-video app gaining popularity, the country’s new generation of KOLs have evolved from writers into people who do stunts or dance to hit lyrics in funny or sexy ways.

Douyin has definitely tapped into some “golden rules” for the business. It is the first to feature 15-second musical clips. According to theories of engineering psychology, 15 seconds are the longest duration one’s attention could be highly focused, Hu Jianbo, a psychologist with the First Affiliated Hospital of Medical School of Zhejiang University, was quoted as saying in an interview.

“It takes exactly 15 seconds for surfers to form an impression and then decide to replay the video or go on to the next clip,” Hu said, adding that for urbanites with only fragmented time to spare, the app is a good choice to kill time.

The music applied by Douyin app tends to be the refrain part of the most popular songs lately. And through some editing tools, users are surprised to find out they could make impressive videos with ease. On the other side, through the combination of sound, light, interactivity, and feedbacks, browsers could be easily stimulated.

Douyin has signed agreements with a multitude of Internet celebrities now. It has assumed the role of multiple-channel network, which refers to platforms using multiple channels to produce content. The so-called grassroots hotshots, for example the young beginners who have got limited resources would love to sign the agreements. According to industry insiders, the emerging stars could at least earn 100,000 yuan from the deal per month.

Liu Chang’s startup company MCN has specialized in producing 3-5 minutes of short videos since 2011. Weibo, and short-video platforms like and used to be top choices for the company. However, by the end of 2017, when Liu planned to do promotion for several contracted dancers through the platforms, he found things had changed.

The growth of the platforms have slowed down. Without enough funding, young artists could hardly gain fans, Liu told, a blog website focusing on Internet technology-related business. Then, he found Douyin was gaining momentum.

MCN’s dancing team was made of five young boys all born after the year 1995 who signed exclusive contracts with Douyin, and now they have earned over six million fans on the platform.

“This is quite a good platform on which young people would have much bigger chance to make themselves stars,” Liu said.

At the beginning of 2017, Douyin failed to attract many video-making professionals while from the October of that year, large groups of independent entertainers or companies began to rush in.

The app had topped the iOS download charts for non-game apps for the first quarter of 2018, reported TechNode, citing a report from Sensor Tower, a US-based market research company.


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