Between court injunctions, last-minute handshaking, and a US government forcefully accelerating the fiasco between TikTok’s parent company Bytedance and Tencent — Bytedance’s primary owners — it’s hard to stay on top of the most heated situation in the social media and marketing industry of 2020. Harder yet, in fact, to forecast where the drama will be heading next.
There are, however, three key indicators to help guide decision-makers and content creators in the space. Though it seems as if Tiktok will remain in the space after all, the state of their ownership and the heavy external disruptions to the brand’s fortunes has opened up opportunities for other companies — especially the established giants of social media — to carve out stronger positions in the short-form video business and the younger demographics drawn to them.
Here are the key facts to consider.
One — The Oracle Partnership is Troubled
Bytedance has officially announced that Oracle will be its “trusted technology partner” for the continuation of Tiktok in the American market. What that actually constitutes is not yet solidified, but it is expected that, other than Bytedance’s divestment from Tencent Holdings, Oracle’s main role will be to act as a watchdog for Bytedance’s deployment of user data acquisition technologies and networking solutions.
Nominally, that fits well within Oracle’s wheelhouse. But the tech giant’s modern history has proven less than stellar for the demands expected of the space. Their fanfare-laden launch of Oracle-branded cloud services in 2016, meant to be a full-fledged attempt to challenge Amazon’s AWS supremacy, has since floundered and scaled back to the company’s core of business applications and databases, leaving them unfamiliar with the demands and practices of the consumer market.
Compounding that is the nature of Oracle’s security practices too, particularly relevant to their raison d’etre as a technology partner in the first place — a three-month cycle of updates, per security experts, versus the minimum once-monthly cycle of their peers in software security, set in particular by fellow Tiktok bidder Microsoft. If such a practice is continued, that leaves the platform potentially more vulnerable for longer than it would have been through other options and partners.
But the biggest vulnerability to the Oracle partnership may not be technological in nature. CEO Larry Ellison’s close partnership with the Trump administration is no secret — but the political and legal ramifications of that relationship in a hotly contested election year is in itself a potential liability, depending on the results in November.
Two — Competitors Smell Blood
Instagram’s Reels has extended its short-video format limits from 15 seconds to 30–40 seconds, while courting Tiktok-affiliated content creators. Snapchat, long floundering to stay relevant after its initially heady start, has changed its user interface to mirror Tiktok’s scrolling discoverability mechanics. Facebook’s video deployment is, of course, no surprise to anybody — though as the platform has long since lost its luster with younger demographics, it is expected to struggle more in the development of its niche.
But don’t just watch out for the usual giants — there’s barracudas amid these sharks too. Before Tiktok, there was the once immensely popular and influential Vine, the birthplace of a thousand video-based memes. Its acquisition and eventual shutdown by Twitter might have doomed the platform, but apparently not co-founder Dom Hofmann’s ambitions. He is now behind the Byte project, launched recently in January 2020, with plans to roll out a creator compensation program to further strengthen its position among influencers and community creators. With a 780,000 iOS downloads foothold right at launch, it seems off to a very promising start, as is its partnership with former Vine creators and current Tiktok collaborators.
Three — Threat of Escalation
There is still an outside possibility of Tiktok totally vanishing overnight and leaving a giant power vacuum, regardless of the Oracle deal. And the circumstances of it doing so will spell extremely troubled waters for the entire industry, especially for companies like Instagram that rely heavily on their international market.
The recent changes to China’s rules on technology exports now cover algorithms like the ones utilized by Tiktok. This potentially makes divestment from Tencent impossible, or at least exorbitant. More importantly, it means that Tiktok’s geopolitical woes will now be shared across the board — something that’s already happening as the US Government’s inquiries now include Tencent affiliated companies other than Tiktok and WeChat.
As Tencent Gaming involves many of the esports world’s biggest titles and developers, all of whom collect user data to one extent or another, the threat of geopolitical escalation involves a lot more than a few meme videos played to pop music.