A couple of months ago, I mentioned on our blog that dark clouds were on the horizon for TikTok because of lingering concerns over the app’s security. Those dark clouds are here. On July 31, President Trump said he planned to ban the app in the United States because the U.S. government is concerned that TikTok poses a national security risk. TikTok’s detractors say that the popular app, owned by China-based Bytedance, could have personal data from its American users fall into the hands of the Communist Chinese government – a form of foreign espionage. But just as the issue reaching a crisis point, on August 2, Microsoft confirmed a rumor that it intends to buy the U.S. operations of TikTok. President Trump gave Microsoft and TikTok until September 15 to work out a deal, which would pave the way for TikTok to have a future in the United States. The drama is intriguing especially to the many businesses that have a presence on TikTok either through organic content or advertising. In addition, TikTok stakeholders are asking: What does Microsoft get out of buying TikTok and taking on the headaches of securing user data? Here are two reasons why:
1 TikTok Gives Microsoft a Social Media Card to Play Against Big Tech
Google has YouTube. Facebook has Instagram (and many other cash cows). But Microsoft lacks a go-to social app on which to build an advertising business. And this is a major drawback especially in 2020 as social media usage surges. Facebook’s recent quarterly earnings announcement underscored this reality: with people turning online for safer ways to pass the time during the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook’s monthly average users across all its apps has risen to 3 billion. Microsoft is missing out on a consumer-focused social app. True, Microsoft owns LinkedIn, but LinkedIn is not a business-to-consumer ad powerhouse. TikTok gives Microsoft an instant platform.
Granted, TikTok is still in the early stages of earning revenue from advertising and in-app purchases. And the app shows promise as well as challenges. According to the Financial Times, one 24-hour TikTok campaign ran by Guess logged a CTR of 16% compared to a 4% average. Kroger, which ran a #TransformUrDorm challenge, attracted close to 477 million views across hundreds of videos over the course of approximately one week. But in November 2019, The Verge said TikTok ads were the Wild West. Self-serve ads on the platform deliver CPM of $10 (compared negatively to Instagram’s $8).
TikTok has plenty of room to grow, and Microsoft sees the potential. If TikTok were fully developed as an advertising powerhouse, it’s possible the U.S. assets would have been too expensive to buy – so now is the right time to make a deal.
It’s all about Gen Z
Microsoft has been trying to build a presence with the surging Gen Z population for the past few years, and with good reason: Gen Z is set to overtake Millennials as the largest age cohort in the United States. Thus far, Microsoft has relied on gaming to connect with Gen Z, as witnessed by its development of Xbox, a Gen Z favorite. TikTok gives Microsoft another powerful way to connect with Gen Z: 60 percent of TikTok users are Gen Zers. TikTok also gives Microsoft a way to cross-promote Gen Z friendly products such as Xbox. As The Verge notes:
Microsoft could take advantage of that direct access to TikTok users with ads for Surface, Xbox, and other products, or even as another base for its game-streaming ambitions. Google is planning to leverage YouTube to integrate its Stadia streaming service, and TikTok would give Microsoft a response with xCloud game streaming. Microsoft had been planning to use Mixer for Xbox game streaming, but the service never gained enough traction, and the company was forced to strike a deal with Facebook for xCloud integration instead. It’s not hard to imagine watching a Call of Duty video on TikTok and then being able to click and instantly play the game as it streams to your phone via Microsoft’s xCloud service.
Microsoft, in addition, could reap the benefits of revenue gained when businesses tap into TikTok to advertise to Gen Z, as well – something that businesses might be reluctant to do while TikTok’s future remains in limbo.
In addition to giving Microsoft and TikTok a deadline of September 15 to work out a deal, President Trump has said the U.S. government should get a financial cut of the transaction, which complicates an already tricky process. Microsoft is taking on a risk with this political hot potato, to be sure. The company has put its reputation on the line by stating that it will “ensure that all private data of TikTok’s American users is transferred to and remains in the United States.” But there is also potentially strong reward for Microsoft. With an American owner, TikTok may become a more attractive place for American businesses to build their brands with advertising and other forms of activity that would enrich Microsoft’s bottom line.
Meanwhile, as if to underline TikTok’s importance, Instagram launched on August 5 a feature, Instagram Reels, that competes directly with TikTok. Instagram Reels benefits from Instagram’s cachet and Facebook’s muscle. The pressure is on for Microsoft to land the TikTok deal.
To learn more about TikTok, check out this treasure trove of statistics.
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