Who owns TikTok? Meet the people behind the global social media giant facing a ban in the US by Trump

With President Trump announcing a ban on the popular app, here's a look at what went into its making and how it emerged as the No. 1 social media video platform

                            Who owns TikTok? Meet the people behind the global social media giant facing a ban in the US by Trump
(Getty Images)

Call it ridiculous, entertaining or cringey – the fact is nobody can ignore TikTok, the widely popular short-form video platform. However, it might soon become history in the US. As we had previously reported, President Donald Trump is set to ban TikTok in the country through executive action as early as Saturday, August 1. But how did it become so popular and most importantly, how did it start?

The evolution

Interestingly, this wasn’t the name of the app which is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese tech company. Headquartered in Beijing, ByteDance is run by CEO Zhang Yiming, who founded the company in 2012 and is relatively unknown outside China coming from a software engineering background, according to Business Insider. The report states, Since 2012, ByteDance has expanded as an umbrella for several popular Chinese social apps and is now worth $75 billion. Zhang was named in the 2013 China 30 Under 30 list by Forbes.  In 2018, he was included in Fortune magazine's 40 Under 40 list.

Around September 2016, the company launched a short-video app in China called Douyin. The concept wasn’t new in China's market, but Douyin's popularity skyrocketed. In about a year, Douyin had 100 million users and 1 billion video views each day, states the report. A year later, Douyin expanded outside of China to select international markets under a new name — TikTok. The platform quickly rose to the top of the charts in various Asian markets. However, another short-video app was creating a buzz in the US — Musical.ly. Its focus was 15-second lip-syncing music videos. It was created in 2014 by Alex Zhu and Louis Yang. And by 2015, according to Business Insider, held the No. 1 spot in the App Store and never left the charts. From Musical.ly, a new generation of stars was created, including Jacob Sartorius.

Chantel Jeffries performs onstage during the TikTok US launch celebration at NeueHouse Hollywood on August 1, 2018, in Los Angeles, California (Getty Images)

In 2017, ByteDance purchased Musical.ly, for an estimated value of $1 billion, according to Business Insider. Initially, they were functioning as two different entities, but it 2018 ByteDance announced they are shutting Musical.ly and merging it with TikTok. According to the report, Zhu said, “Combining musical.ly and TikTok is a natural fit given the shared mission of both experiences — to create a community where everyone can be a creator.”
The report further states, since the merger, TikTok's popularity in the US has only grown and reached its peak in December 2018 with 6 million installs, according to app analytics tracker Sensor Tower. Since June 2020, Kevin Mayer is CEO of TikTok and COO of parent company ByteDance. Previously he was chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International. According to a report in Global News, this move to hire a US CEO was an attempt to distance itself from its Chinese ownership.

A platform for popularity

The app gave rise to a lot of social media stars as well as boosted the careers of various artistes. A report published in Teen Vogue last year states,  it made Lil Nas X’s – the alias of Montero Hill – song 'Old Town Road' wildly popular after he uploaded it on the app. It started out as a meme that went viral and eventually, country music legend, Billy Ray Cyrus, found his way on to a remix of the song. According to the story, 'Old Town Road' then became the longest-running number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and held steady for 19 weeks, dethroning Mariah Carey, before Billie Eilish dethroned him. It went on to be remixed several times with features by BTS, Young Thug, and Mason Ramsey.

Lil Nas X (Getty Images)

Talking about how the platform helped people discover new songs and made them immensely popular, Drea Okeke, better known as Drea Knowsbest on TikTok said, "I found out about [Doja Cat] through TikTok.” ‘Moo (B*tch I’m a Cow)’ singer’s song went viral from TikTok users' covers. She explains that when there’s a trend or challenge, people are doing the same thing to a particular song and so when one hears that song on TikTok, they want to go and listen to the full song. 

The current scenario

The platform eventually produced new stars like Charli D’Amelio, Chase Hudson, Zach King, Loren Gray, Baby Ariel, Lisa, and Lena. But, now the latest reports say US President Donald Trump will put a complete ban on it. Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, Trump said: "As far as TikTok is concerned, we're banning them from the United States."

President Donald Trump (Getty Images)

As of June 2020, the app was banned in India — another country where it was immensely popular and had produced a lot of social media stars. And due to this ban, according to a Forbes report, TikTok owner ByteDance now faces losses of as much as $6 billion, as hundreds of millions of users are cut off. Earlier there were reports that Microsoft Corp. is exploring an acquisition of TikTok's operations in the US. According to Bloomberg, people familiar with the matter said a deal would give the software company a popular social-media service and relieve US government pressure on the Chinese owner of the video-sharing app.

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