By Samantha Murphy Kelly, CNN Business
On the eve of a high-profile TikTok hearing this week, the company shared that it now has more than 150 million US monthly active users. But after the heated, hours-long hearing, filled with lawmakers telling TikTok’s CEO the app should be banned, some may now be wondering where all those users will go next if the social network disappears.
The answer: probably other big American tech platforms.
Many of the largest US social media companies have spent years copying TikTok’s features, which would make a shift away from the platform easier for its creators and users. Instagram, for example, introduced its own short-form video tool in 2020 called Reels. Snapchat has Spotlight, YouTube has Shorts and even Spotify has a TikTok-like video feed with recommended music and other content.
“Obviously, if a ban is approved and enforced, the content, user count and engagement, and likely ad dollars for Snap, Instagram, and YouTube will increase,” said Ali Mogharabi, an analyst at financial services firm Morningstar, in a recent investor’s note.
In other words, Washington’s efforts to crack down on TikTok over national security concerns could ultimately benefit some of the same American tech companies that Washington has scrutinized for other reasons, including their market dominance and impact on teens.
Even if a ban does not happen, it could still benefit these companies. “This uncertainty could push some TikTok content creators to focus more on, and possibly begin, pushing their audiences to other social network platforms,” Mogharabi said.
At least one company is already seeing a boost. Snap’s stock rose in the days leading up to TikTok’s appearance before Congress amid renewed talks among federal officials of a TikTok ban.
At the hearing on Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Chew was grilled by lawmakers who expressed deep skepticism about his company’s attempts to protect US user data and ease concerns about its ties to China. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in Beijing and subject to Chinese data request laws that could require it to hand over user data to the government.
Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, opened Thursday’s hearing by telling Shou: “Your platform should be banned.” As the hearing was taking place, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he supports legislation that would effectively ban TikTok and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said TikTok should be “ended one way or another.”
If that happens, Lian Jye Su, an analyst with ABI Search, believes users will follow their favorite TikTok influencers and content creators wherever they go.
“Most users will flock to where the content creators go next,” Su said. “Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube Shorts stand to benefit the most as content creators will still prefer places where they can monetize their content.”
Smaller platforms have the opportunity to gain ground, too, Su said. Short-form video platform Triller, which reportedly has over 450 million users, is actively courting popular content creators from TikTok with cash bonuses, partnerships and other incentives to switch platforms. Meanwhile, Dubsmach — a Reddit-owned short video platform — and Clash, which allows people to create 21-second looping videos, are other platforms that could be increasingly appealing to creators.
For now, talk of a TikTok ban may still be premature. The Biden administration has threatened to ban TikTok from the United States unless the app’s Chinese owners agree to spin off their share of the social media platform.
“I strongly doubt this app will go dark,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi told CNN during a primetime special about TikTok on Thursday. He said a sale is most likely.
If the app is sold, that could complicate matters for some US tech platforms.
“For Snap, which has a weaker network effect than Meta, a possibly more trusted US TikTok may make it more difficult to attract users away from or keep them from migrating to TikTok,” Moghaharbi wrote in the investor’s note.
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