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TikTok Wants to Takeover. Will it Succeed?

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TikTok has reshaped the Internet in under a three-year span, but if its parent company, ByteDance, has its way, the platform’s dominance is just getting started. This week I brought Stan founder Denisha Kuhlor back onto the show to discuss TikTok’s ambitious plans for total media domination.

 

In the past few months, TikTok has announced plans for several new features — each aimed at competing with current media giants such as Google, Spotify, and Ticketmaster. Features include extending video-length capacity to 10 minutes, the TikTok Music streaming service, better internal search capabilities, and a ticketing platform, among many others.

 

Recent history in Western culture is not kind to companies trying to be an all-in-one platform. Google and Facebook stumbles come to mind. To predict how TikTok might fare, Denisha and I hit the new features point-by-point, weighing TikTok’s advantages and disadvantages at breaking into each. Here’s our main talking points: 

 

[0:50] TikTok’s masterplan

[7:02] Prediction: 10-minute-long TikTok videos

[11:50] Prediction: TikTok music streaming service

[15:43] Prediction: Enhanced TikTok search

[22:00] Prediction: SoundOn music distribution

[25:42] Prediction: In-app ticketing 

[29:46] Are consumers creator or platform loyal?

[33:18] TikTok’s impact on creator economy 

[37:22] TikTok’s geopolitical issues

 

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | SoundCloud | Stitcher | Overcast | Amazon | Google Podcasts | Pocket Casts | RSS

 

Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co

 

Guests: Denisha Kuhlor, @denishakuhlor

 

 

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[00:00:00] Denisha Kuhlor: It has become this trend where we have more affinity to the platform and the platform’s ability to curate the content than some of these content creators themselves. And in a world where I think these content creators are so driven to following the algorithm and getting promoted by the algorithm, what they don’t realize is kind of the uniformity in content that is created.  

[00:00:30] Dan Runcie: Hey, welcome to The Trapital podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from executives in music, media, entertainment, and more, who are taking hip-hop culture to the next level. 

[00:00:50] Dan Runcie: All right. We’re joined again today by Denisha Kuhlor, who is the founder and CEO of Stan. And today we’re going to talk all about TikTok. And TikTok has been a topic I know you and I have talked about offline, we’ve both covered it and have our opinions on it, but I want to talk today about talk’s grand plan to try to take over everything. Just to name a few headlines from the past couple of months, TikTok is planning to extend into 10-minute long videos. It is launching its own music distribution service called SoundOn. It filed a trademark for its own streaming service called TikTok Music. They are enhancing their search function to identify key terms. They’re also adding in a text-to-image option as well so that people can start to do that. And it sounds like a lot, the company has grown quite a bit, so it’s understandable. But do we think that TikTok is going to be able to do all of these things? What’s your thought? 

[00:01:47] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. So TikTok’s been really interesting to watch these last few months and honestly, really from inception, my initial hunch is that it’s hard to do a lot of things well. And as TikTok grows and somewhat through replication and also a bit through innovation, I do think they’re going to struggle to really get to scale for all the new features that they want to launch. 

[00:02:11] Dan Runcie: Yeah. I think the tough thing with this, and it’s something that has been ingrained with big tech companies for a while is when the big social network grows and they have this huge following. TikTok now is the fastest to reach 1 billion monthly active users. We can see the trajectory of it potentially getting to be as big as Facebook is now. And Facebook, of course, is another company that has tried and is still trying to do every possible thing under the sun. But I think the part that’s important is there are a few examples when these companies have succeeded. Instagram copying Snapchat is of course the primary example that people often look back to, but more often than not, most of these attempts don’t actually work that well. And one of the reasons they don’t work as well is because they don’t necessarily solve a true need that the core users are looking for to be solved from that app. And I think that’s one of the important things about Instagram Story specifically because Instagram Stories copy Snapchat worked because Instagram already had a hub of influencers as its core users. And these core users wanted to be able to both post pictures, but they also didn’t want to feel the pressure of needing to have this polished picture that was on their feed all of the time. So their thought was, okay, if they could copy this feed that they see Snapchat’s doing, they already had the core users there and having something that’s more ephemeral. It can go away in 24 hours was perfect. It worked as good as you could probably expect it to. And honestly, it worked better than Snapchat because Instagram already had the home base of those core users whereas Snapchat, at the time, they had a bit of penetration from Gen Z, a bit of DJ Khaled here and there, but it just wasn’t to that same level. And I think when you look at a lot of the other attempts that Facebook has tried to copy from others and even Instagram as well with seeing with Reels, that’s the piece that I go back to. If these successes and these copycat attempts haven’t worked, it’s usually because there’s some type of disconnect between what the core users on that app are looking for and whether or not that new feature helps them do that.

[00:04:23] Denisha Kuhlor: Totally. And I think it creates a culture even internally for these organizations of duplication versus innovation, right? So now you see these organizations going and seeking the desire to duplicate and get to market as quickly as possible, whereas before they had no choice but to be innovative. And to do that, I think they really had to listen to their users and the folks on the app. So it also just even changes, in a way, the culture of what the app is about because now folks are so used to see or expecting to see things that have already been done before, rather than excitement towards really where the platform could take things. 

[00:05:01] Dan Runcie: Yeah, it’s interesting because, on one hand, I do understand the aspect of copying what’s already successful. You see it’s there and you know that you have those users on your platform already. So why not make an attempt, why not use your resources, especially because of how much money these companies print on ads, then, yeah, you could take the chance with Google having its Google X or Facebook opening up its own VC firm or in many ways, treating all these new initiatives as its own VC firm. But to your point, you do lose the innovation and that’s exactly why these apps became relevant in the first place. They offered something newer. They did it in a truly unique way. And when you think about why TikTok has blown up, the genius of it is that For You page. They made it so frictionless to be able to stay entertained, to scroll. You don’t have to think about who to follow. You don’t need to do any of those things. And that is its biggest strength, but I think it also makes it very challenging to have any type of new feature that is harder or requires more user- input or more activity than the mindless scrolling that has worked in its favor up to this point.

[00:06:11] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, I completely agree. I feel like the For You page really was the magic and to, in some ways, see them stray away from that, or even improving that in other ways does feel a little unfortunate. Some of the features that you listed, while exciting, I think are just not necessary in the sense that so many other folks are out there doing it. But it will be interesting to see how it fits within maybe the grand scheme or the grand vision for TikTok users and creators. I mean, when it comes down to maybe offering a more seamless experience, then it gets a little bit more interesting. But how big of a problem is that right now for creators, especially when you think about, like, some of the plays towards distribution and features around that? The problems don’t seem prevalent enough to justify the investment. But maybe there’s a grand vision within all of that, in which it makes more sense. 

[00:07:02] Dan Runcie: So let’s break those down. Let’s go through each of ’em. Let’s start first with TikTok extending into 10-minute videos. I do feel like this is probably the least friction out of each of them, but what’s your thought on this expansion and clearly a move to compete more directly with YouTube? 

[00:07:18] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, I think this one is interesting because it really, in some ways, is probably the least painful in the sense that if content is compelling enough, you could argue that an individual is just going to keep watching, if the initial, you know, piece of content is compelling enough. What actually is, like, somewhat fascinating to me is that in some ways you could argue that TikTok took away or has hindered people’s ability to focus for that long of time. So going to like the corollary of now having 10-minute videos, I do think will be interesting ’cause it’s like a different habit, right? Even just focusing on something for 10 minutes versus like 6 seconds is a very different habit. So to see how or to see what type of users actually adapt to that, I think it will be interesting. I do think though there’ll probably be some niche communities that emerge as a result of that feature who do want to take deep dives much to content, right? There’s folks that like read casually about the music industry and then folks that like really, I think, deep dive, much as a testament to Trapital’s content. And so I do think, like, some interesting, like, subsections of the feature will rise. However, I think the bulk of the users aren’t even, like, able to watch a video for that long.

[00:08:33] Dan Runcie: I think that if it is extending the videos into that length, I agree with you. This is the least friction one. I think it does have the highest likelihood of success. But if I’m thinking about music videos specifically or something that ends up being at least that length, it changes the format to look like what the videos for the most successful YouTubers often look like and the science that goes behind that. I’m picturing what NBA YoungBoy does in the beginning of his videos or even someone like MrBeast. There’s some hook there that gives you some tease and that keeps you engaged, just to make sure that you end up watching the whole thing to see what it is. So I feel like if artists start creating music videos or start creating videos in general to be more like 10 minutes. And I think the format of how those videos look will be a lot different and everything will be how do we keep people engaged so that, okay, if we keep them for the first 15 seconds, how do you get them for the next 15 seconds and after that. Like, you can’t have these long buildups that I think you can have for certain types of videos on YouTube, just give the audience. But I think it will change things in that format. No different than when MTV blew up, there was a type of video vibe that people tried to go after. I think that if this is the route that TikTok is really trying to go. I think we may see videos lead more into that where, yeah, everyone does start creating videos where you may look like you’re trying to be a YouTuber. You’re trying to be a TikTok dancer, whatever it is. But I feel like that’s where it could head if it’s as successful as it could be. 

[00:10:04] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, that’s actually really interesting in the sense that a lot of folks, like, point to their desire to use TikTok because it does feel like less polished, in a way more authentic. I was listening to a podcast where a TikToker says she makes more content on TikTok because she has to like, yeah, just be less prepared in a way or prepare herself to get on TikTok in the way you would for on Instagram. So I think if that does happen, it’ll probably have an effect they don’t want, which is a longer timeline to people creating and posting content. And like, just a harder barrier to entry because now folks will feel like, well, I don’t have all the things needed to start a TikTok or to really start posting on TikTok, which is really against, I think what the platform did in its early days. 

[00:10:50] Dan Runcie: Right. Yeah, you’re right. That whole instant, making it easy as possible is part of it. It almost brings me back to Vine to an extent. Maybe that’s a better comparison for what this looks like ’cause of course someone like a MrBeast or NBA YoungBoy, they have big teams at this point. But some would be able to take a Vine and having this whole narrative story in that 6-second, 7-second clip, maybe it’s getting a bit back to that. But even that takes time and there’s clearly a difference between that. And, you know, while Vine was popular, it didn’t blow up the way that TikTok has blown up. So I feel like you’re right. It may change the app in a way that users aren’t ready for. But we’ll see. I obviously know that this is kind of what happens when you’re trying to do everything. You’re going to risk having some type of frustration that comes from the core users. 

[00:11:37] Denisha Kuhlor: Exactly. Much to your point, I do think there will be a really active, like, community or communities around that in which like 10 minutes of content works really well and TikTok is just like an easy medium to do that 

[00:11:50] Dan Runcie: For sure. All right. The second one here, this one I will be interested to dive into. TikTok Music and TikTok filing this trademark. It clearly wants to launch its own music streaming service. We had heard rumors about ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, wanting to do this, but how do you see this one playing out?

[00:12:09] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, this one, I just kind of felt like, okay, like another music streaming service You know, one, I don’t think people realize or really think through just like how complex streaming services are as a business. I mean, thankfully, you know, a lot of platforms have kind of, pioneered some of the heavy lifting that came with making deals with labels and really like getting the content onto the platform. But that’s all still to be said that it’s a very unique and complex business model that’s driven on another party, right? And how another party feels about giving you access to your content? What does seem somewhat interesting about it is, in the same way that TikTok democratizes content creation and the barrier to entry to post, you could probably argue that it in a way, democratizes that for music, and so more artists are able to get more volume or traction as a result. And so I do think if they focus on maybe content from newer creators or newer musicians who don’t necessarily have some of that on the platform, that could be interesting, like in terms of a new streaming platform being able to get access to these independent artists at rates that could be favorable. I think that’s interesting, but I don’t know if that works at scale. And frankly, like, songs from independent artists, I don’t think, is enough to keep a consumer satiated. And there’s an even harder barrier to entry to have two streaming platforms at once. 

[00:13:35] Dan Runcie: Yeah, this is the one I’m probably the most skeptical of its success and for very similar reasons. Say what you want about Spotify. I know people have a number of issues about how that platform is operated and how it distributes its money. But the fact that it’s helped the music industry, A, get to this point, says something and just the type of deals it’s been able to negotiate to make it all work the way that it has that’s enabled all the other types of revenue-generating opportunities that have came from it. And then additionally, it’s hard to get to that point. Again, you may not agree with all the decisions that they make, but it is very hard to get to that point. And while I understand, from a strategic perspective, why TikTok may initially want to do this. Of course, if you have and you own the top of funnel that exists in the industry today, why wouldn’t you want to at least think about what it could be like to keep that attention on your platform? If your platform is where discovery is happening for both the new fans, for artists to get initial exposure, and for that, you know, the record labels are already seeing, I understand why you would want to think about keeping more of that in-house. But it is a lot tougher than they think for the reasons you mentioned. And also going back to the usability of the app streaming services are a type of consumer experience that requires much more active engagement. People don’t just scroll through Spotify and Apple Music. You’re going there actively to find something that you’re looking for. I mean, I don’t even know that many people that are actively relying on that discover weekly playlists to find anything. You’re still searching for the things that you want. Even if you’re looking for a playlist, it’s probably that’s much more catered toward the mood or genre that you have. So I think anything that requires that level of agency or action from the consumer side will always be a bit of a challenge for TikTok there. So yeah, I’m skeptical on the success of that one. Unless it tries to go more of the YouTube route of things, which ties back into the 10-minute video things that we talked about before. There’s some potential there, but even there, I think there’s still some question marks.

[00:15:41] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. I’m aligned with you there. 

[00:15:43] Dan Runcie: Yeah. The next one is TikTok Search. A lot of us had seen the viral tweet that someone had. I don’t Google I TikTok. And a lot of that spoke to how a lot of folks in Gen Z are looking for information and I get it, I’ve even done it myself, my wife and I were recently searching to buy a new mattress. And you know what? I didn’t want to go through a Google Search and just read some sponsored content about a mattress. I wanted to see a video of someone unboxing this thing to see what it looks like. 

[00:16:10] Denisha Kuhlor: Exactly. 

[00:16:10] Dan Runcie: And TikTok was the quickest place to do that, even quicker than YouTube. YouTube’s going to show me a mix of explainer videos and then also concept from the company. I just wanted to see some random person be like, oh, hey, here’s what I think about this bed. And here’s what I think about that bed. It was quick, it was easy. So I do think that that works, but I think there’s a few caution flags with it. A, I still think that even though TikTok was able to offer that, there’s still deeper search functionality that went into how Google got to be as good as it is, even going back thinking about 20 years ago about like why Google succeeded where Lycos and AltaVista and all those other go.com, .com era search engines didn’t work. So I don’t know if TikTok has all of that baked in to really go beyond just, you know, people like me looking for random purchases that they want to look through here or there or just want to look up a certain topic. And I also think the other bigger, more important pieces, the misinformation, and just being able to correct for that because that’s already been an issue on TikTok. And I think that could potentially continue if there isn’t some way to relegate what’s happening in search. So, high likelihood success, but still some trepidation. 

[00:17:23] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, this one is one I’m actually a little bit more excited about. I do think it’s really interesting, like in the sense of search, because it is something that we naturally do more. I first started to search on social media using Instagram. And I think they’ve even done a greater job of like adding more functionality to do that search, whether it’s by location and showing you things surrounding that location or even venues or event spaces. So I think that it’s a growing feature and a great feature. Like you said, the reviews, whether people sought them to be that way or just inherently more, right, they’re showing you video. Most times they’re talking through it and you can just consume and walk away with a more educated viewpoint for a time that’s favorable, right? A 30-second or 1-minute video can really give you a lot of feedback about whatever you’re searching. I think, honestly, this is where a TikTok should spend some time doubling down. I think we want to see more of that functionality from them playing around with maybe the highest use cases, whether that’s locations or certain venues, or even like festivals. As I think about it, like, I see so often on TikTok, like you can see a certain event from multiple vantage points and understanding what it’s like at a festival from someone in VIP versus general admission versus backstage, even, right? Like, Rolling Loud, you see, like, every single vantage point, even sometimes down to the artist manager with them. So I think, like, them doubling down on a few use cases that really highlight the immersiveness of search is something that excites me. And I think just naturally follows up on what the users are already doing on the platform. 

[00:19:02] Dan Runcie: That ties into the another announcement I saw from them about enhancing its ability to search for things locally, or being able to find things from that level because to your point if you are seeing multiple vantage points at Rolling Loud or at Coachella, you may want to meet up with someone that is there, or you might be able to see their vantage point. You might have times I’ve been to a music festival and it’s like, where are you? I’m at the main stage. But what part of the main stage, you know, they got this quarter over here, they got that quarter, but if someone could just do a quick, like, boom. And maybe that could be even easier than them trying to send me a FaceTime video or something like that, where there’s no service, but if they could at least post it up on TikTok or wherever, then it could be like, okay, I see your angle. I’ll be there. I’ll come see you in a minute.

[00:19:44] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, I think that’s great. And to that point, too, it kind of like puts on other users in terms of like, okay, wow, I didn’t enjoy my experience at like Rolling Loud ’cause I was GA. So maybe VIP is worth it to me or I should consider doing that. And so I actually think more artists should be embracing and recognizing that search feature. The only thing is too is because so many people are using it, you in real-time, right, seem to get updates. So like, Kizz Daniel who’s come under fire in Tanzania for not showing up to his performance. I already, like in my mind was like, well, Kizz Daniel was four hours late to his DC show. And how did I know that? Or DC or New York? I’m sorry, but how did I know that? Like, because I saw it on TikTok and so that’s like twice in a row. So how likely am I as a fan to justify the cost of a ticket in the event that he is going to be near me? So I think it’s like a good maybe transparency or accountability measure. But with that search, we maybe do sometimes need to recognize like, what do they say that like, people are most likely to post or leave reviews when they either have a really great experience or a really bad experience. And so sometimes you might not just get what the true experience is in the case of like a service-based search. 

[00:21:02] Dan Runcie: That’s true. That’s a really good point. And that goes back to the quality of the results and how they can find a way to measure that piece ’cause I think that’s the piece that ties back into why Google has been good at what it does over its competitors. So that TikToks can actually survive and not, you know, become someone else that may do video search even better. 

[00:21:23] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. And maybe, you know, to the extent they would consider this, like, there’s an opportunity for collaboration, right? Like Google’s done a great job of, you know, when you ask certain questions, they have a definitive answer, but they also pull like multiple sources. And so what if, like, on a Google search, you search a restaurant and you’re also seeing like TikToks in the area? I think the aggregation of that repository of information could be really great. And also a way for them to continue to like maintain their dominance in search. 

[00:21:55] Dan Runcie: Let’s take a quick break to hear a word from this week’s sponsor. 

[00:22:00] Dan Runcie: Definitely. So the next one, this one’s interesting, music distribution. TikTok recently launched SoundOn, which is a service that in many ways is set to compete with a lot of the music distributors. And I think similarly, it could be seen as its opportunity to capture its top of funnel attention as well. You already have the artists, why not make it easier for artists to use your platform, to distribute the music that they have? What are your thoughts on this one? 

[00:22:31] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, and this isn’t personal, but I’m just not really excited by music distribution. Nowadays, like in a lot of ways we’re listening to a song on a streaming platform is a commodity, right? Like listening to Drake on Apple Music sounds the same as, like, Spotify. I feel that way with music distribution, like, as a consumer, the consumers have no idea, right? They just know they go to their streaming platform and the song is there. The reverse engineering of how it got there and the back end is really not of much interest to them. On the artist side or for them to do this, I think it requires a really deeper investment in artist education. And so I’m curious to see, you know, especially as they double down on creator programs and things of that nature how willing they are to invest both on a content and community side, but also a capital side, in artist education to incentivize users to distribute through that platform. When you think about switching costs in terms of getting set up on a new platform and just probably some of the like new things you have to adjust to by doing it. I feel very underwhelmed hearing about this, and I’m really curious to see how it goes. 

[00:23:39] Dan Runcie: I think you called it right in the beginning. Music distribution is a tough business. It is purely a commodity at this point. And I think you can win a few ways. You win by trying to achieve massive scale with it, which Distrokid clearly has just given everything else. But if you don’t have that scale, you try to find something unique to position yourself with. I think we’ve seen that a bit with United Masters, but even that’s a bit of a unique business model because, A, they’ve done a bunch of partnerships with different platforms and companies in sports and entertainment to try to use that as a way both to attract artists and give them an opportunity. But it’s also attached to an ad agency with translation, which essentially can, you know, offset any costs or anything like that if there are already losses that come through with the business. So that part of it is unique there. But then even with some of the other services, I think a lot of them have adapted their business models over time because that customer service piece is so timely. It’s so expensive. And yeah, when you have an artist that maybe generated less than $20,000 a year, and they’re calling your service every other week because they’re trying to feed their supporters and making sure that every one of their fans can get their music. How do you justify that cost when you want to be able to support the fans? But the economics of it don’t make sense if you’re also trying to compete with Distrokid where it costs very little money to be able to use their service on a regular basis. And the same could be said about TuneCore and the others. So it’s a tough business to enter. 

[00:25:16] Denisha Kuhlor: And I think, you know, artists and management teams don’t really have any particular affiliation to, you know, to like any platform. Maybe there are things that they like about certain platforms or that keep them there. But when you talk to artists and management teams, it’s kind of just this is what we use, it works, it gets the job done. And it’s not an area of the business as long as things are working, they’re going to particularly spend a lot of time overly evaluating. 

[00:25:42] Dan Runcie: Right. The next piece of this and the next thing that TikTok’s been trying to do is ticketing. And while this is less of a big initiative the way they have it right now, it’s an integration with a Ticketmaster who, of course, owns most of the medium size to large venues from a ticketing operation, given their relationship with Live Nation. I have to imagine that TikTok’s ultimate stream would actually be trying to do what we just saw from Spotify to try to launch its own ticketing service. But even that has plenty of issues and challenges there, but what’s your take on at least this first step of the Ticketmaster integration for TikTok and where it could go from here?

[00:26:23] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. On the ticketing side, it’s interesting. And just like having a background in venture and tech and startups, like, I’ve seen a lot of folks try to solve ticketing in many areas, right? The curation that comes with ticketing, ticketing from all over the world and in different currencies, and just a better user experience overall. I will say while I don’t think I’m, like, particularly mad at TikTok’s, like, foray into ticketing, I do think it’s a missed opportunity to probably focus on like events that have organically grown through the platform. And something that’s like so interesting is I think you’ve seen more and more promoters or even event producers, like really like leverage TikTok to create those events and grow their followings in their community. And that’s not what TikTok’s ticketing platform is really targeted with as evidenced by, you know, a partnership with Ticketmaster. And so while I feel like it’s somewhere in the direction, I do think it could be a bit more directionally accurate by focusing on, kind of the, yeah, the smaller organic events that just naturally have grown through TikTok and like TikTok partnering with those events to help users produce more content and like, it can truly be mutually beneficial in a way that I think some of those event organizers would welcome. And so while I could understand why they went for the validity and reputation that comes with a bigger brand, such as Ticketmaster, I think they could have got more bang for their buck with a smaller, more targeted partnership with folks that already found interesting use cases to grow ticketing for the respective events.

[00:27:54] Dan Runcie: Yeah. I feel like there’s a bit of a balance there because I hear you and I do think that it ideally would be, yeah, great for them to double down on the creative uses of the, especially some of the more emerging artists that are using this platform to bring folks together, right? Almost similar to what you may see people trying to do, whether it’s seeing things virtually in Twitch or bringing those types of audiences in real life to particular things. I think that’s really cool and unique. I do feel that for TikTok though, specifically with what we’re seeing them do on the music side, in the back of my mind I always wonder, okay, if it weren’t for Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion and some of these other major artists that are using the platform, what percentage of their impact is making up the overall pie of TikTok Music? Just thinking about that, they had that pie chart from a few years back about the genres and how hip-hop was over-indexed and how Megan Thee Stallion was the most popular artist. So if you’re trying to cater to the biggest artist on your platform, you know, Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat are definitely at the Ticketmaster level of what they’re doing. So if they are going to have an event, could you have something that keeps them in, right, because I think that the more organic things that we’ve seen likely are more of a direct competition to what we see from Eventbrite, let’s say, which I think is much more in that sweet spot of everything from like a birthday party up until you get to like, you know, a small club concert or event, right? But then obviously Ticketmaster is everything else. So yeah, it’s like, my heart wants to be like, oh yeah, stay with the types of cool events you’ve had. But also just thinking about how YouTube leaned into its biggest customers and like, if you’re TikTok then yeah, it’s the Megs, it’s the Dojas, and ones like that. 

[00:29:38] Denisha Kuhlor: That is interesting and I think a good corollary. Maybe it does, like, trickle down on more of like a hybrid approach. Yeah, that’s interesting. 

[00:29:46] Dan Runcie: I do think this taps back into something that you had mentioned before just about the platform itself and as this platform continues to grow, where does the loyalty sit for the consumer, right, whether it’s with the artist or with the platform. 

[00:30:03] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. I think this is such a big thing, right, and that comes with building a fan base or even just like your notoriety on TikTok. You see the changes that were made to Instagram and kind of everybody from the Kardashians, right, calling them out. And I think it has become this trend where we have more affinity to the platform and the platform’s ability to curate the content than some of these content creators themselves. And in a world where I think these content creators are so driven to following the algorithm and getting promoted by the algorithm, what they don’t realize is kind of the uniformity in content that is created. Even when it comes down to, like, some of the events or experiences or those types of videos, sometimes, like if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. And I think that’s why there’s other creators, whether it’s, like, more comedian-focused or other topics that really excel because it forces them to kind of have to do something different, even if they do have to be relatable. And so unfortunately I think that, you know, artists who are employing TikTok and kind of using this, especially as they build their name and their brand, need to think a lot about like, okay, I have X amount of followers on TikTok, but the barrier to entry to get someone to follow you on TikTok looks very different compared to other platforms. And then taking that a step further, it’s like, what does that mean? Because while people might like you, how willing are they to migrate to another platform? They ultimately have that ultimate affinity and loyalty, in my opinion, to TikTok. 

[00:31:38] Dan Runcie: I couldn’t agree more, and it makes me think about how I use these apps today. For instance, we’re recording this now August 26th, and this is a few hours after DJ Khaled released his album and Jay-Z had his four-minute-long verse on GOD DID. And I’ve seen everyone from ESPN’s account to all of the hip-hop blogs and everyone else posting about this. And of course, you get it. And it’s all these memes you see about people posting, okay, what Hov did on this track and they’re getting photos of LeBron’s best games or LeBron’s game six against the Boston Celtics and things like that. But I bring that up because speaks to the uniformity of how all of these platforms or all these accounts on these platforms end up doing the same types of things because they know it works and they know what is effective. And it comes to the point now, when I’m scrolling through Instagram, I don’t really know who the account is that is there that’s posting something that I see unless it’s something that’s super specific to that person, right? Like if a friend is posting something from, you know, one of their kids starting in kindergarten, then it’s like, okay, I know that that only comes from you. But if someone’s posting something that’s happening in media or something, that’s happening in the news, you have to, like, look at that account at the top to really know who it is. And I think that’s something they probably got from TikTok more so that, unless you’re really looking to see where that account’s coming from, it’s a bit hidden now, right? Like that’s part of, I know some of the frustration people had had, whether it’s with Google searches or how social media was sharing links and they made all the links look the same, whether it’s something from The Wall Street Journal or your friend’s blog, right? And it kind of goes back to that point. 

[00:33:18] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. And it probably has like real implications for the creator economy now that we’re talking about it, like, I think, you know, living in New York, I see, I like casually probably see a few TikTok creators a month and maybe even sometimes I follow them. But you know, what’s interesting? Like, rather than noting, other than noting to myself, like, oh, I follow them on TikTok, kind of the like je nais se quois or like the magic of like, oh my God, like I’m seeing this person in real life feels like it’s disappeared a bit to me in a way that used to exist with YouTube or some of these other platforms where it felt like a weird, like breaking of the screen. But now that everybody’s behind the screen and as a result, even some of the content they’re showing is so accessible. I do think it probably, like, leads to this dynamic of where we’re just like, okay, let’s just see interesting things. The people creating said interesting things are no more interesting in some ways than like you or they just did a great job at doing this. And I see that with, there’s a lot of debate and, like, discourse around some of the lifestyle blogs or, you know, like people showing their lifestyle, like waking up in the morning, like obviously, you had to set the camera up before to do that. But a lot of folks in the comments argue like this is just a type of content. Like, it’s a type of cinematography that people like to view and people like to see. And so as a result, these people are continuing to make these videos, but if that’s just a type of content that people like to see, TikTok is simply going to provide that content all the time, regardless of really any affiliation to one creator, which makes it a lot tougher on these creators, I think, to build these networks and conversely artists.

[00:34:55] Dan Runcie: Right, and this brings me back to the whole issues that people have with Web 2.0 to begin with and why they wanted to be able to solve some of this with Web 3.0. It’s because the platforms commoditize your content, and then in return, they’re the ones that hold the power. 

[00:35:10] Denisha Kuhlor: You know, I think though folks have to be honest. In some ways, it’s what the user likes or what the, yeah, the users do like this because if not, you know, we’re long past exclusives being standard in the industry, but if not the exclusives would’ve worked. Like having, you know, Chance the Rapper’s album on Apple Music for two weeks, that would work. But the industry shied away from that because ultimately consumers cared more about choice and the ability to choose and experience and be exposed to all types of artists. And so I do think it’s a dangerous game because it doesn’t recognize like that’s why malls exist, right? Like, you go and you want to go to multiple stores. And so I do think sometimes while I understand and recognize and very much like honor the need to, you know, differentiate and be able to have your core audience and provide to those things, I think we’d be remiss if we also didn’t realize, like, natural human behavior comes from choice and like the brevity of choice. And so that’s sometimes the interesting thing between Web 2.0 and even Web 3.0 and with crypto, for me, because ultimately, like, the barrier to entry is so high, right, to get someone, a true fan to download an artist NFT because that insinuates their true fans. And I think a lot of artists have actually had to face the music in some ways with realizing their perceived fan base isn’t as big as they thought and the mechanism to realize that has been some of these drops.

[00:36:40] Dan Runcie: Well said, well said. The engagement piece and what you need to have a true fan is harder than people think, so, yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Well, we’re getting to the tail end, but before we close things out, we have to talk about the elephant in the room for TikTok, and that is its geopolitical standing and all of the things that it wants to do while, whether or not they will be successful, a lot of it depends on the company’s viability in the US and whether or not it’s current status, especially given the fact that the Chinese government does have this data and there are unknown questions about what that means, what it can do with this data, how do you see this piece it?

[00:37:22] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, I think it’s tricky in some ways, because, you know, as consumers, we’re now kind of privy to the implications of tech and big data. And even just being on our phones, being on our phones in general, what I will say is and a lot of the like research indicates that true, like avid TikTok users are just, like, hooked in a way where they don’t or they might say to you they don’t care. Now how much is that true, I guess we’ll find out. But I do think it’s concerning because maybe to some extent, we don’t even fully realize everything and all the factors that are at play here, right? Like, you’re just giving that summary, I’m like, whoa. But as a user coming on every day, you’re not thinking about that. And so often with big data and some of these platforms, in a way, you don’t realize just the implications it had until it was too late, right? Until we’re now talking about the ramifications of a platform existing in that way. And so I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how, seriously consumers want to take it and beyond consumers, like the US, the US in general. I mean, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that some of the data is concerning, right, learning about some of the data TikTok has access to is concerning. But ultimately like as more and more people post and the ecosystem grows larger and there’s now 10-minute videos and your favorite artists are on there and they have a streaming platform and all these things in this ecosystem, it starts to get hard to really stray away. And so I think that’s going to be a challenge because it feels like it almost has to be a collective push for folks to disintermediate from the platform. But I’m really curious your thoughts on this, too.

[00:39:00] Dan Runcie: Yeah. So the first attempt of this was in fall 2020. So it was around two years ago at this point, when Trump had tried to shut down TikTok. That didn’t work for a number of reasons. There were a number of things going on in the world that the attention just wasn’t there. And I don’t think that the argument was made in a concise and effective way that could have necessarily gotten the job done. And TikTok had other challenges at the time, Kevin Mayer had his short term and then he had left shortly after. So there were a number of issues there. This though, I think that even though you’re starting to hear some senators say certain things about it, I think things will be pretty mum, I would guess, until the 2022 midterm elections coming up just ’cause think from a strategic perspective, they want to keep momentum on things that they can confirm can get votes. So while I think I’ve probably heard more of the concern, if I’m being honest, coming from democratic senators, their biggest concern right now is okay, how can we continue to try to celebrate Joe Biden’s victory so that they can not lose seat coming up with this election, I feel like. And because of that, like, we kind of see how this whole thing plays out. I do think though that we could be facing a potential situation where it’s almost like the Facebook thing where people know that this is an issue, but it’s not going to happen proactively. It happens reactively. It’s going to be like, when shit hits the fan and then people are going to be like, oh shit, now we need to do something. 

[00:40:27] Denisha Kuhlor: Exactly. Exactly. Out of curiosity, how do you think TikTok, and I’m sure it’ll vary, right, but how do you think TikTok is going to be used with the upcoming election cycle? 

[00:40:37] Dan Runcie: Oh, good question. I don’t see it impacting 2022 as much, but I could see it playing a factor more so in 2024 because I just think that even though there’s plenty at stake coming up with this election, the presidential elections always get more in place. I do think that, especially as this group of voters does tend to grow and as more and more older people do get on TikTok, a lot of the same types of activities and nefarious behavior that we saw on Facebook here is going to make its way onto. TikTok. The bigger challenge is though, I think, it’s even tougher to navigate all those things. I mean, we even saw that there was misinformation back in 2020 when you had a lot of the Black Lives Matter uprisings and people, they were censoring certain things related to those hashtags. So I do think that those things are going to cause big problems. I think the difference though, and this is part of it is that when these issues happen for Facebook, it’s one thing if you have mark Zuckerberg coming to Congress and it can kind of be this thing where he could be media training, he can kind of have these like, you know, haha moments where it’s like, Senator, we sell ads, that’s how we make money. That doesn’t exactly work with the Chinese government in the same way ’cause I don’t think that that type of congressional hearing would necessarily work in the same way. So it would have to be some type of, you know, harder crackdown that happens with it. So, yeah, it’s tough. I feel like we’re not going to see anything actually happen until shit does hit the fan. And unfortunately, that could be the 2024 presidential election in the US, but maybe it could be something sooner. 

[00:42:19] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, no, we’ll definitely have to see how it plays out. I also think we could potentially see, like, new candidates that come to the result from easily being able to build followings on a platform like TikTok. So I’m curious to see what, like, TikTok- native candidates emerge as well. 

[00:42:36] Dan Runcie: Right, like kind of like how Obama was the Facebook champion in 2000. 

[00:42:41] Denisha Kuhlor: Exactly. 

[00:42:43] Dan Runcie: Yeah. It’s funny, right? Because I feel like, you know, back then it was like, oh, look at all the great things that Facebook could do with 2008. And just, I think given some of the political leanings at the time, but then 2016 in many ways was a very opposite case with it. So I do feel like we’re a bit more jaded and cynical of the powers of social media than we were then. But there is always a candidate that rises up with these things, that does these things, right? Like, I don’t know, thinking back to the days of candidates that are just entering a different thing or new platform, whether it’s Bill Clinton going on the Arsenio Hall Show playing his saxophone or something like that. Like, who’s going to be that on TikTok? I don’t know. I don’t follow any politicians on TikTok. I’m sure they have accounts, but I’m sure they’ll probably be doing that. And who knows? They’ll probably have a debate on Hot Ones for all I know. 

[00:43:35] Denisha Kuhlor: It’s definitely going to be interesting. 

[00:43:37] Dan Runcie: Yeah, for sure. All right. Well, this was great. We covered a bunch in this, so we’ll definitely have to revisit this topic at some point. And we’ll see how TikTok succeeds over this for the next few months. I think we both have our internal scorecards ready, but we’ll definitely have to touch base on this again at some point. 

[00:43:54] Denisha Kuhlor: Agree. Thanks so much for having me.

[00:43:56] Dan Runcie: For sure. Thank you.

[00:43:58] Dan Runcie: If you enjoyed this podcast, go ahead and share it with a friend. Copy the link, text it to a friend, post it in your group chat, post it in your Slack groups, wherever you and your people talk, spread the word. That’s how Trapital continues to grow and continues to reach the right people. And while you’re at it, if you use Apple podcast, go ahead, rate the podcast. Give it a high rating and leave a review. Tell people why you liked the podcast. That helps more people discover the show. Thank you in advance. Talk to you next week.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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