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Should ‘TikTok Music’ Trademark Filing Make Spotify & Apple Music Nervous?

Bytedance's filing covers a range of potential uses for the app, from playing music to user comments and livestreaming "interactive media programming."

What does a new trademark filing tell us about TikTok’s music strategy?

In May — but spotted by Business Insider on Thursday — ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, filed a trademark application for a smartphone app named “TikTok Music.” The filing covers a range of possible uses for TikTok Music, including allowing listeners “to purchase, play, share, download music, songs, albums, lyrics, [and] quotes,” to “create, recommend, [and] share his/her playlists,” to “take, edit and upload photographs as the cover of playlists,” and to “comment on music, songs, and albums.”

In addition, the filing indicates that TikTok Music could incorporate “live stream[ing] audio and video interactive media programming in the field of entertainment, fashion, sports, and current events” as well as karaoke.

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The suggestion, of course, is that ByteDance is planning a TikTok spinoff that could more directly rival Spotify beyond just competing for consumers’ attention, but for their streaming subscriptions as well. And while trademark applications are not guarantees a product will launch, they are still good indicators of what a company is planning — since the filings are legal, verified statements that there is at least an intent to use a trademark for the products and services listed in the application.

The social features are of particular interest in the “TikTok Music” filing, which include more commonplace features like creating and sharing playlists and others like commenting on music that are not widely available on Spotify, Apple Music or other leading services. Seeing as TikTok’s popularity has grown as a result of Generation Z’s preference for more active, social experiences with content, according to MIDiA research — or perhaps the app has helped shaped that preference itself — it’s hard to imagine a new TikTok Music app not leaning into that same kind of engagement. This could mean serious competition tomorrow for today’s leading streamers, which have built their success on a more top-down approach to listening with editorially curated playlists. (On Spotify, for example, 16–24-year-olds make up only 25% of its weekly active users, according to MIDiA.)

ByteDance, of course, already has a streaming app — Resso — which has been much-hyped, since launching in India, Indonesia, and Brazil. In 2019, Barry McCarthy, who was then Spotify’s CFO, praised Resso for its “really clever social features” and Techcrunch reports that the app has been downloaded more than 180 million times to date.

Naturally, this still lags behind TikTok — which is available pretty much everywhere in the world and earned nearly as many downloads in the first few months of 2022 after reportedly crossing the 1 billion monthly-active-user threshold last year. Those users have shown a voracious appetite for music and helped hundreds of songs gain commercial momentum. But when tracks — or snippets of tracks — pick up steam on TikTok, appearing in hundreds of thousands of videos, users often leave the app to stream the music on their preferred streaming service.

If ByteDance continues to expand its streaming offerings, it’s easy to imagine how users could toggle between different Bytedance-owned apps — enjoying short-form videos on one and full songs on the other — rather than jumping over to competitors like Spotify or Apple Music. That could make things easier for consumers, and a lot harder for those other streamers.