TikTok challenger Triller keeps momentum strong through music

After the TikTok ban that never was, Triller - “the MTV of this generation” - is leaning into its ties to the music industry to stand out. But the competition is fierce.

Back in August, when it looked like TikTok’s days in the U.S. were numbered, it was Triller’s chance to shine.

The short-form video app was launched in 2015, but it saw major traction this year during the kerfuffle of Trump’s proposed TikTok ban that never came to fruition.

In early August, Triller announced it was the No. 1 app across all app store categories in 50 countries, including the U.S., with downloads surging 20-fold to 250 million within one week. Those numbers, however, have been questioned by third-party measurement firms. Triller declined to share updates on its latest user numbers.

Fast forward to November and, despite the drama, it doesn’t look like TikTok is leaving the U.S. anytime soon. Additionally Reels launched on Instagram, bringing short-form video to the Facebook-owned app used by one billion people.

Still, Triller has enough of a unique flavor to stand out among both brands and consumers, argues Bonin Bough, Triller’s chief growth officer.

First and foremost, Triller claims to have a slightly older audience than TikTok, with 65% of users in the 18- to 34-year-old range. In the U.S., one in three TikTok users may be under 14,  according to The New York Times. More than half of Triller’s users are female, with “higher propensity to share and repurpose” content, Bough said.

But Triller’s real strength is tied to its relationships with the music industry. The app has licensing agreements with all of the major record labels and integrations with streaming platforms such as Spotify, iTunes and Tidal, so artists can get paid when their songs are used in videos. Those licensing deals cover content that is shared off of Triller’s platform.

“We integrated into the ecosystem and gave users a way to use license protected music, which is rare,” Bough said. Although how rare it is anymore isn’t as clear, as TikTok just inked a major long-term licensing deal with Sony Music Entertainment earlier this week.

Live -- but make it virtual

Relationships with the music industry have lended Triller star-studded talent for in-app live events, which have become popular entertainment for young audiences during the pandemic.

In April, Triller launched Trillerfest, a three-day virtual music festival hosted by SNL actor Jay Pharoah that featured top artists, including Snoop Dogg, Migos and Pitbull, to raise funds for COVID-19 relief. The concert brought in 5 million viewers who watched a collective 1.5 million hours of content.

Triller is using the virtual live strategy to appeal to brands eager to get in front of young audiences. In October, Triller partnered with Pepsi and Rock The Vote on the “Unmute Your Voice” festival, which played on the line of 2020 -- “you’re on mute” -- to drum up participation in the presidential election. The concert drew top names like Demi Lovato and Chance the Rapper.

“Not only are we a place where culture comes to live, but we also create culture,” Bough said. “We are the MTV of this generation.”

Triller is looking forward to its own Super Bowl moment later this month as the exclusive host of Mike Tyson’s bout against Roy Jones Jr., the 54-year-old boxing champ’s return to the ring. The app, which shelled out $50 million for the licensing rights to the live event, will host a celebrity-filled halftime show and release a 10-part docu-series about the behind-the-scenes preparation for the fight.

“We've turned the event into a three-hour extravaganza,” Bough said. “In a world where sports is underdelivering, this is a huge opportunity to be part of a cultural moment and event.”

Triller is also working closely with influencers on its platform on custom executions for brands. The app, for example, ran a talent contest with Boost Mobile that gave winners the chance to record and perform an original song with a major artist. These tie-ups are also good for artists, Bough said. “Because of our music platform we can help hopefully take that song to number one.”

Triller also offers crosshype, an ad product that adds guaranteed reach on top of organic influencer content for a fixed CPM. The app also sells in-feed video ads, AR-lenses and custom programs that ensure creators get their cut too.

“You can buy influence on the channel in a more predictable way,” Bough said. “We developed a lot of this not just to support advertisers but influencers as well.”

The competition

Triller isn’t the only platform leaning into music, influencers, live events, or short-form video, of course.

Fortnite kicked off the virtual concert phenomenon back in 2019 with an in-game performance by Marshmello, and followed up with a live performance from Travis Scott in April. The latter brought in almost 30 million unique viewers. And The Weeknd hosted a virtual concert on TikTok in August that drew in 2 million viewers.  

Triller also isn’t the only platform focused on supporting influencers as well as brands. TikTok launched a $200 million creator fund in July that is expected to grow to $1 billion in the next three years.

It’s a different strategy than Instagram and YouTube, which haven’t put skin in the game when it comes to creators making their own living through their platforms.

“We are here to really support the creators and give them tools to build their business so they become beneficiaries of all their hard work,” Bough said.

Triller will bring new ad products to the market this year that offer more interesting custom executions for brands, but Bough declined to go into detail. He said most marketers have skipped over the test-and-learn journey and are ready to spend on larger programs.

“We will be announcing different ways to integrate with the platform, specifically around our live product,” Bough said. “We've got a huge opportunity in front of us right now.”

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber

GET YOUR CAMPAIGN DAILY FIX

The latest work, news, advice, comment and analysis, sent to you every day

register free