As the politics surrounding TikTok heat up, U.S. users looking to make original, short video content are exploring other options.
They’re turning to Byte, a spiritual successor to the now-defunct app Vine—at least for now.
These sentiments culminated on Wednesday when U.S. users downloaded the app en masse, according to an Adweek analysis of data from the app analytics firm Sensor Tower. The recent popularity comes after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the administration is considering banning TikTok, as critics have zeroed in on the company’s ties to China. President Donald Trump confirmed this on Tuesday, but it’s unclear by what authority he could do that.
By Wednesday, the app’s newfound success skyrocketed it to the No. 1 free app on the App Store, with 126,000 global downloads in a single day, according to Sensor Tower. The vast majority of those downloads—91.2%—came from U.S. users. From Tuesday to Wednesday, U.S. app downloads of Byte increased by 14,275%.
On Thursday, that number shot up even more to 622,000 global downloads in a single day—about five times more than Tuesday’s 126,000 installs.
In the six days leading up to the spike on Wednesday, the app had only been downloaded 1,050 times, on average, per day globally. It remained at the top of the free apps downloaded on Thursday and Friday.
Byte was introduced to some fanfare in January, as Vine had a devoted following, and was downloaded 1.3 million times globally on the App Store and Google Play when it debuted, according to Sensor Tower. It lost popularity among new users in the months that followed and dipped to 19,000 global downloads in June.
Meanwhile, TikTok shattered records for app downloads in Q1 with 315 million total downloads. It has also broadened its reach beyond its reliable and noteworthy Gen Z user base, according to Comscore data first reported by Adweek.
A shift in demographics for TikTok could be a significant threat to the platform, as marketers turned to the platform to reach a broad, but specifically young audience.
“The only thing I’m sometimes afraid of is that Gen Z might not find it cool anymore and might abandon it,” Alessandro Bogliari, founder and CEO of The Influencer Marketing Factory, told Adweek in May. “If millennials and Gen X and boomers get on, is this going to transform it into Facebook?”
But it appears that political threats and not demographic trends right now are causing TikTok users to branch out to Byte.
TikTok spokesperson Laura Perez said in a statement earlier this week that the company had never provided user data to the Chinese government “nor would we do so if asked.”
“We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for the millions of Americans who use TikTok,” Perez said.
It’s not likely that Byte made a dent in TikTok’s overall user base, but it does seem to have significantly benefited from speculation that TikTok may leave the U.S. market.
Byte was founded by Dom Hofmann, who created Vine, the popular six-second video app that Twitter shut down in 2016. Byte could certainly build a more stable user base. Byte had 396,000 unique U.S. visitors in January, but that number fell to 65,000 by May, according to Comscore data.
Meanwhile, TikTok boasted 22.1 million unique U.S. visitors in January, a number that rose to 41.4 million in May, aided by business closures and stay-at-home orders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
When asked for Byte’s own traffic numbers and their view on the recent surge, a spokesperson for the company declined to comment.
On Byte, the chatter this week was all about TikTok. Hashtags like #TikTok, #altTikTok and #TikTokIsOverParty populated a majority of the videos observed by Adweek on Thursday, and a significant number explicitly discussed the possibility of TikTok being outlawed in the United States. In further meta-humor, a number of videos—presumably from new Byte users—explicitly asked how to use the app.
While TikTok is unlikely to suffer much because of this slight migration, Byte is certainly reaping direct benefits from the Trump administration’s rhetoric.
Alixandra Barasch, assistant professor of marketing at New York University, said that Trump’s threats can profoundly affect businesses, which she’s seen most clearly when public companies’ stock prices have moved due to a single tweet.
“The current TikTok situation is an interesting one, because it more directly affects actual consumer decisions—not just Wall Street,” Barasch told Adweek. “I could see it going in both directions, but either way, it’s clear that Trump’s comments—no matter how valid or legal—have a profound influence on real business outcomes.”
Since the Trump administration has not clarified the means through which they plan to ban TikTok, it’s not likely TikTok is going away anytime soon, though the company’s 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly has been under a national security review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. for some time now.
Still, Barasch said even the chatter about threats to TikTok—as well as the platform exiting other markets—can send users of the platform running for cover, with creators promoting their YouTube and Instagram channels more heavily in recent days.
“It’s basically like a ‘contingency plan’—these social media celebrities realize that there are many platforms for sharing content, and will be ready to switch channels if one of them goes away, as many learned their lessons with Vine,” she said.
Luc Wathieu, a professor of marketing at Georgetown University, said that the “urgency” of the administration’s rhetoric, and users’ beliefs that it could go away, are “maybe more important than whether it’ll actually happen or not.”