This week, we provide an overview of the Bytedance app ecosystem. While we’ve already taken a closer look at quite a few of their offerings both in China and abroad, this is our first attempt to thoroughly recap most—if not all—of their products.

In focus / ByteDance #8

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TechNode’s ByteDance newsletter, one of the first in-depth looks in English at the now-giant upstart startup, was published from March 13 to Oct. 23, 2019.

As usual, we follow up with the most important news updates on the world’s most valuable startup.

The Bytedance ecosystem

Charting Bytedance’s 13 (and counting) apps

According to its English-language website, Bytedance has exactly 13 apps worldwide. The reality is a little more complex, however.

TikTok and Douyin are the international and Chinese versions, respectively, of Bytedance’s hottest app. Their features vary, and each app has different privacy policies in accordance with local regulations. Vigo and Huoshan, similarly, are the global and domestic versions of another short-video offering.

Tomato Novel, which we’ve previously covered, hasn’t been officially acknowledged as a Bytedance creation. Chinese media reports uncovered a link between the app’s Bundle ID and the company.

Finally, some Bytedance hits like FaceU and TikTok were acquired or merged with apps from other startups. In other words, their successes weren’t entirely self-made.

App categories worldwide

While Bytedance’s offerings skew heavily toward content and entertainment, with overlap between the video, news, and social categories, there are some notable exceptions. They include relatively new entries in the field of youth education, as well as new productivity and reading apps launched within the last year or so.

The joke app Pipixia, launched in June 2018, replaced Neihan Duanzi, which was shut down due to official censure over vulgar content.

Monthly active users (MAU) in China

Active user numbers change quickly for up-and-coming apps, yet this summary of MAU from December 2018* gives a rough idea of how Bytedance’s offerings are doing among its domestic audience. Short-video apps again dominate the list, although the number of active users may be less crucial for an educational service platform like Gogokid compared to Pipixia, which is completely free.

*Based on figures released by research firm Questmobile

Monetization (chart)

Many of Bytedance’s apps are free, and most have options for in-app purchases on China’s Apple App Store. In addition to those listed, relatively new launches like Tomato Novel are not only entirely free to use, but also offer cash incentives in return for user activity, as we previously reported.

The upbeat

Highlights from recent headlines

Legal dispute with Tencent

  • TechNode: “Bytedance is fighting back against a recent court injunction which banned content related to Tencent’s mobile title ‘Honour of Kings’ from the company’s Jinri Toutiao content aggregator app, according to a statement released on the platform.”

This is the first time that Bytedance has publicly addressed any of the six lawsuits filed against it in May by Tencent. Although the court’s decision is not final and has not yet been followed by Bytedance, it does put the owner of Douyin in a disadvantageous position. As the most popular mobile title in China, “Honour of Kings” brings massive amounts of traffic to Jinri Toutiao; even a brief ban on related content could potentially cause sizeable losses.

  • TechNode: “Tencent has recently filed a lawsuit against a user for live-streaming its PC title “League of Legends” on Bytedance’s Xigua Video without authorization, media outlet BiaNews reported.”

While the defendant in this case isn’t Bytedance or any of its subsidiaries, the fact that Tencent did not sue users on other live-streaming platforms and only requested that the accused pay RMB 1 in damages suggest that Bytedance is the actual target. Since the start of 2019, Tencent has filed five lawsuits against Xigua Video, requesting that the platform to stop live-streaming three of Tencent’s most popular titles and remove related gameplay videos.

  • TechWeb: Tencent has filed six more lawsuits against Bytedance, demanding the company to delete all gameplay videos of “Honour of Kings” from six specified accounts on Jinri Toutiao and Douyin and pay RMB 10.8 million in damages.

Tencent has become increasingly litigious against Bytedance as they’ve advanced into the gaming market, acquiring a gaming company in March and reportedly forming a team of 100 people to develop serious games—as opposed to mini games and casual games. With Bytedance intent on grabbing a larger share of the gaming pie, the legal disputes between the two companies will likely further escalate.

Strategic changes

  • 36Kr: Bytedance has shifted the leadership at Douyin and Jinri Toutiao to boost growth, naming the co-founder of Musical.ly to lead Douyin and TikTok and an algorithm expert to lead the content aggregator platform.

The appointment of Musical.ly co-founder Zhu Jun could help Bytedance better target the overseas market, where the company will step up marketing and monetization with TikTok. Putting a technical expert in charge could also help algorithm-driven Jinri Toutiao find new avenues of growth.

  • Bloomberg: Bytedance has recently hired former Facebook executive Blake Chandlee as the vice president of global business solutions for TikTok.

With a decade of experience in building teams and scaling businesses, Chandlee could potentially speed up TikTok’s advertising rollout, which currently lags behind its sister app Douyin. The hire of Chandlee and a number of other executives from YouTube highlights Bytedance’s focus on markets outside China.

The numbers

  • TechNode: “Short-video app Douyin and its international version TikTok have brought in a total of $9 million worldwide through in-app sales of virtual coins, not including revenue from China’s third-party Android stores, according to mobile app intelligence firm Sensor Tower.”

Although the earnings from virtual coins is still minuscule compared to advertising revenue, its year-on-year growth of over 500% is definitely a good sign for Bytedance. However, the spending from the 120 million Indian users remains worryingly low, at just $45,000 in May.

Bailey Hu

Bailey Hu is based in China’s hardware capital, Shenzhen. Her interests include local maker culture, grassroots innovation and how tech shapes society, as well as vice versa.

Tony Xu

Tony Xu is Shanghai-based tech reporter. Connect with him via e-mail: tony.xu@technode.com