February 5, 2020

Can Byte Chew Its Way into the Short-Form Video Arena?

On Friday, January 24, yet another short-form video social media app, Byte, was launched by one of the founders of the now defunct social network, Vine. While Byte has nothing to do with ByteDance—the Chinese parent company of TikTok—the name seems to throw some shade in that direction. And perhaps shade is warranted: Vine was the first to experiment with a social network based on short-form video, but they missed out on the recent explosion in ephemeral video content.

So what is Byte all about?
Vine’s 6-second looping videos planted a seed that has grown into Snapchat, Instagram Stories, and TikTok; a seed that has reached billions of users worldwide. Vine launched in 2012, was quickly acquired by Twitter, and reached 200 million active users by the end of 2015. The app had an immense impact on the culture and aesthetic of social media video and launched the careers of social-media celebrities Logan Paul and Zach King. By the end of 2016, Twitter shuttered Vine, due to advertisers leaving the platform and users migrating to other tools. (2016 was the year that Snapchat peaked and Instagram Stories launched, after all.) Last week, Vine founder, Dom Hoffman, launched Byte, which users are casually referring to as “Vine 2.”

In its first weekend, Byte was downloaded 1 million times, according to Sensor Tower. Keep in mind, though, that a download does not a monthly active user make. One-fourth of apps are only used once after download, and never opened again. Byte features 6-second looping vertical videos with few effects, in contrast to TikTok’s and Instagram Stories’ effects-heavy interfaces. While Byte’s launch was strong, it is already showing flaws. Within two days, the app was plagued with comment bots and username land grabs. Much of the content so far seems to be old Vines or TikTok re-uploads.

Where Byte shows greatest potential is in its creator program, which is currently taking applications. A key reason IGTV failed (which we predicted in a recent report) is that it did not provide monetization opportunities for its content creators. YouTube offers revenue sharing for content creators, as does Facebook for a select few, but no other social network is giving a cut of the action to those who create the content that drives the site. If Byte’s program is designed correctly, it could have the potential to lure content creators away from TikTok and maybe even Instagram, migrating their audiences along with them.

However, will TikTok or Byte be the “next big thing?” Both are part of the overall vertical/ephemeral trend across all networks, with Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, Pinterest, and YouTube having already tested it. Vertical, ephemeral, augmented video is already a “big thing,” regardless of any one app that uses a version of the format.

Despite having one billion users internationally, TikTok had 26.5 million U.S. users in November 2019 (though growing quickly). TDG anticipates that TikTok use will remain pervasive among teenage users, but fail to see growth among adult users over 30, so it will not reach significant market penetration. Plus, TikTok may face government regulation around privacy issues with the Chinese government, which could limit its use in the U.S.

In this analyst’s opinion, the appeal of TikTok and Byte is relatively limited to younger users and ultimately a bit, well, boring. Byte’s videos are six seconds in length, while TikTok’s can be up to a minute, but 15 seconds is the culturally-accepted length. Neither allow for links, articles, long captions, etc. TikTok tends to have users endlessly repeat and slightly iterate on the same dances, the same memes, and the same jokes. You can only see the same augmented reality effect, watch the same choreography, listen to the same trending 15-second clip of a song so many times and be entertained; in other words, the novelty wears off fast. Both are fun, but they are ultimately not very deep. These are environments more like a micro-YouTube, where you consume the content of strangers more than people you know, let alone create your own content. Without that personal connection or being able to dive into topics with depth (news, family, knowledge, even a full-length song), the potential for huge audiences is limited. So much of the internet is how-to, recipes, news, shopping, work, family, paperwork, medical, etc.—content that does not have a place on TikTok or Byte. The quirky fun that provides an adult-free haven for teenagers keeps both depth and older audiences out intentionally- but also will hamper its growth.

That said, TikTok will continue to grow, with Byte following in its shadow, likely garnering a small loyal audience of former Vine users. TDG predicts that both Byte and TikTok will eventually settle under 100 million U.S. users. For reference, Twitter has 68 million active monthly US users, Pinterest has an estimated 84 million, Snapchat an estimated 80 million, and TikTok had 26.5 million in November 2019.

Lauren Kozak, the author of User Adoption and Trends in Social Streaming, IGTV, & Facebook Watch, and The Ascent of the Social TV Engager, is our Senior Advisor on Social Media, Analytics, and User Behavior. She has previously held positions for the Los Angeles Times, Tribune Publishing, and Britney Spears.

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