TikTok is big, like really big. But your kids likely knew this already.

The Chinese short-music video app has taken the world by storm, being downloaded more than 1.2 billion times across Android and iOS.

The massively popular app, particularly among people under 30, allows users to upload sketches and lip-syncing music videos with tunes and sound effects from TikTok’s mammoth library.

Also unique about the app is that people can perform split-screen “duet” videos with people they like. It works like this: People make a track of themselves lip-syncing to music and send it to a celeb or a friend to complete to other part of the song.

Celebrities including Cardi B, Jimmy Fallon, Rita Ora, Awkwafina and Tony Hawk regularly post on the app to connect with younger audiences. But TikTok also makes it incredibly easy for everyday users to make a name for themselves.

Randy Nelson, head of mobile insights at apps analytics site Sensor Tracker, said TikTok is “really a place that encourages performing and empower users to become performers.”

In a phone interview with CTVNews.ca, Nelson said users don’t need to a lot of time to make videos that appear to be slick and quasi-professional.

“There is that aspiration out there to become the next big YouTube star,” he said, explaining how YouTubers such as Liza Koshy, PewDiePie, Lilly Singh and Phillip DeFrancco are as popular in some circles as TV and movie stars.


Making it easy to become famous

Those YouTube celebs devoted high levels of time, energy and even money to achieve their fame. But you don’t need those things to make it big on TikTok.

“Now, the barrier for entry [is lower] on something like TikTok to create something that goes viral,” Nelson said. “So it’s a lot more appealing to people.”

Nelson said if users have the chops, the app is “tailor-made to promoting the next Internet star.”

TikTok offers a bunch of features using image-capturing technology and other artificial intelligence filters, which helps create intuitive special effects such as rain, jump cuts, slow-motion, hair dying, 3D stickers and props.

“What we’ve really seen is the overall virality of the app,” Nelson said. “There’s a lot of room for experimentation and expression on this platform.”

According to the company, TikTok boasts well over 500 million active monthly users across 150 countries even though it’s a late-comer to the social game, launching less than three years ago.

Nelson said that according to Sensor Tracker’s own data, the app has been installed at least 1.2 billion times -- which doesn’t even include Android phones in China.

To put those numbers in context, short-video-app competitor Snapchat reportedly has 188 million daily users, while Facebook-owned Instagram surpassed one billion monthly users last June, at which time it had 400 million active users overall.

Although TikTok originally blew up across Asia, it’s now available in 34 languages including French, Punjabi, Spanish, Indonesian, Turkish, German and English.


Behind the popularity surge

Developer ByteDance launched the app in China in 2016, under the name Douyin -- which literally means “vibrating sound” in Mandarin. It was later dubbed TikTok when it was introduced overseas.

Since then, the app has exploded in popularity and became one of the world’s most downloaded. Some analysts attribute that boom to TikTok merging with competitor Musical.ly in last August.

The app’s popularity can be attributed to the overall trend of users viewing and sharing shorter-length videos.

“[TikTok’s] incorporation of music is having an impact on where other social media apps, like your Instagrams, Snapchats and Facebooks are looking to go,” Nelson said. “It’s incredibly reliant on licensed music.”

Users can make videos private, seen only by their friends on the app, or publically available to all. Like other major social apps, people can interact on TikTok through comments, private messages or simple reactions.

The app has incredibly loyal users, with average users spending about 52 minutes on the app daily, according to a report published by venture capital company Kleiner Perkins.

Monetizing traffic on the app is still primarily done through on-screen advertisements. And the long amounts of time users spend on the app will likely mean big bucks for advertisers down the road.

Nelson said TikTok is still quite a ways from being a direct one-to-one competitor with Instagram or Snapchat, “but the trajectory of this app is still on the path to getting to that point.”

“It’s hard to predict, but the indications are that [short videos are] definitely a direction that social media is heading,” Nelson said.

“Internet and social media are such creative wellsprings of ideas that there’s so much left to do with short video that, we don’t see it losing its luster anytime soon.”