The Chinese-owned video-sharing site helps promote songs like “Old Town Road.”
Video-sharing app TikTok, which consumers use to post their own takes on viral dance challenges and memes, helped propel Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, where it has remained for five weeks in a row. But just as the music industry is embracing the service as a valuable promotional vehicle, some of its most important licensing deals are expiring -- and labels and publishers are trying to negotiate new ones that will generate more revenue.
Most digital services arrange their licensing deals with major labels to ensure they don't all end at the same time. But until recently, TikTok used deals that were grandfathered in when it acquired the startup Musical.ly in late 2017, and they have expired, according to industry sources. The company is now using music under short-term deal extensions, which puts TikTok's Chinese parent company ByteDance in the unusual position of renegotiating with all the major labels at about the same time.
TikTok, which launched in 2016 in China as Douyin and then under its current name in Japan and South Korea the next year, might best be described as YouTube meets Short-Attention-Span Theater of the Absurd. Consumers use it to create and share short videos, from makeup tutorials to dance routines. Like YouTube, it's not billed as a music service, but music has emerged as a key feature: Many of the most popular videos involve singing, lip-syncing or dancing to popular songs. The app has been downloaded more than 1 billion times -- and over 100 million times in the United States -- according to analytics company Sensor Tower, though it presumably doesn't have that many active users.