TikTok hasn’t been banned in the US, but some of the noises coming out of the White House have been distinctly menacing in recent days.
What’s more, this week the US House of Representatives voted to bar federal employees from downloading TikTok to their government-issued devices, as part of a wider defence policy bill – complete with politician Ken Buck describing the app as a “serious national security threat”.
How is TikTok responding? Well, yesterday it briefed news site Axios on its plans to add 10,000 jobs in the US over the next three years, having already grown from 500 staff there at the start of 2020 to nearly 1,400 now.
“It’s supporting the tremendous growth in the country and follows our strategy of building out teams where we have users,” said spokesperson Josh Gartner. Axios noted that TikTok has also hired more than 35 lobbyists to press its case that it is operating independently from its Chinese parent company ByteDance.
Is that enough? A separate report from tech site The Information suggested that there may be a bigger change coming.
“A small group of ByteDance’s US investors is discussing with the company’s top management the possibility of joining forces to buy a majority stake in TikTok,” it claimed. “The talks appear to be preliminary, and the idea is just one possible scenario ByteDance is examining as it explores ways of dealing with a possible US ban or forced divestiture of the app.”
(Question: which entities within the music industry might be willing and able to take a stake in TikTok, if and when it separates from ByteDance? It’s not that far-fetched to wonder whether Spotify, Access Industries, Universal Music, SiriusXM / Liberty Media etc might be tempted to get involved. We wonder if the question will come up during earnings calls in the coming month…)
The US may be the most high-profile market where TikTok’s independence is such a talking point, but the conversation is rumbling around the world. India, obviously, where it remains banned, but now it’s also on a “final warning” from neighbouring Pakistan’s telecoms regulator too after complaints about “immoral, obscene and vulgar content”.
It’s no idle threat: while delivering its warning to TikTok, the PTA regulator announced that it was blocking livestreaming video app Bigo with immediate effect, for the same reason.
Meanwhile, in the UK TikTok’s head of policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Theo Bertram, has been telling the BBC that “the suggestion that we are in any way under the thumb of the Chinese government is completely and utterly false”.
We don’t write many Music Ally leads about the world’s geopolitical tensions, but in TikTok’s case, the app’s very future really is tied to matters that are out of its direct control – from border skirmishes in India to trade-deal tub-thumping in the US.
Life (and business) goes on for TikTok in the meantime, though, including its ongoing deepening of its partnerships with the music industry. The latest example of that will happen in the UK this coming weekend (24-26 July) with TikTok’s first ‘Music Takeover Weekend’.
It’ll see Ellie Goulding, Anne-Marie and Mr Eazi taking part in livestreams and sharing playlists of their favourite songs on the app’s ‘Discover’ and ‘Sounds’ pages.
The livestreams will be chat rather than performance, which at least ensures TikTok’s overworked policy and comms teams can swerve a new row over livestreamed-music licensing.