Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

next-upnext upauthorJanko RoettgersNoneDo you know what's coming next up in the world of tech and entertainment? Get Janko Roettgers' newsletter every Thursday.9147dfd6b1
×

Get access to Protocol

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
People

TikTok TV: ByteDance makes its move for the living room

ByteDance wants to bring TikTok to smart TVs, but experts say it won't be easy.

A smart TV

TikTok's foray into the smart TV world began close to a year ago.

Photo: Samsung

TikTok is getting ready to embrace the living room: The social media giant began experimenting with apps for a variety of smart TV platforms in recent months, offering users access to both their personal feeds as well as new, curated experiences.

These apps could help TikTok both broaden its audience and tap into lucrative online TV ad dollars. New devices could also be a boon to creators, help them experiment with new formats, and perhaps even aid the production of TikTok content. However, the jump to the bigger screen poses a number of challenges for a service that's thus far been synonymous with mobile, short-form entertainment.

TikTok's foray into the smart TV world began close to a year ago with an app for Amazon's Fire TV devices that is called "More on TikTok." That embrace of TVs was informed by existing behaviors of TikTok users, according to the company's U.S. head of product, Sean Kim.

"When people share their favorite TikTok videos with friends or family, they turn solo viewing into a shared, communal experience," he told Protocol via email. "With TikTok on TVs, we're bringing traditionally mobile-first content to the biggest screen in the home, giving users the opportunity to gather around TVs to enjoy [...] TikTok, together."

However, "More on TikTok" was just a modest first step. The app simply provides a curated collection of popular videos, with no option to log in and access personal feeds. That didn't go over well with everyone. The app's current average rating on Amazon's app store is 3.5 stars; a whopping 27% of users gave it just one star.

Undeterred, TikTok launched a more full-fledged app on Samsung smart TVs in December, followed by an app for Android TV devices in February; both apps combine personal feeds with curated collections. The apps are thus far only available in select European countries, but an expansion to other markets and devices is in the works, according to a TikTok spokesperson.

"We're excited to see how creators engage their unique TV audiences and how viewers bond with one another through the experience of co-viewing TikTok content," Kim said.

TikTok is facing a number of obstacles as it expands to bigger screens. The most obvious one is that all video on TikTok is vertical, which doesn't translate well to TVs. Navigation is another major challenge, as the TV remote is an imperfect replacement for the type of scrolling available on mobile screens. "Mobile is hyper fast," said designer Sanjiv Sirpal, who previously worked on mobile and TV user interfaces for companies like Hisense and Flextronics. "Having to juggle the remote will be a bit of a pain."

Aside from these technical challenges, there's also the question of whether people even want to watch TikTok in the living room, surrounded by family. "Couples might be in for a shock if they peered over each other's feeds," Sirpal said. A solution may lie in new story formats specifically designed for bigger screens, he suggested.

There are some examples for mobile-centric video services succeeding on TVs. For YouTube in particular, bigger screens have become a massive growth engine. In the U.S. alone, more than 120 million people watched YouTube on their TVs in December, according to YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan. A quarter of those viewers watched almost all of their YouTube videos on TV.

This has been a big boon for YouTube's advertising revenue, as TV-based advertising typically sells for a premium. In Q1, Google generated a whopping $6 billion with ads on YouTube.

Replicating that success story won't be easy for TikTok, said former Viacom executive Andrew Rosen, who now authors Parqor, an industry newsletter. "TikTok and YouTube are two very different consumption models, most distinguished by TikTok's maximum content length of one minute," Rosen said. Google has also had a lot more time to innovate in the living room, he added. "YouTube has been on Smart TVs for longer than TikTok has been in the marketplace."

It's also still unclear whether the things that make TikTok special even work on TV. TikTok videos aren't just short and vertical, they also frequently elicit a response from viewers. "It is two-way, interactive consumption," Rosen said. "TVs offer one-way, non-interactive consumption, so it is less clear why that would be valuable to TikTok users at scale."

At least on that front, TikTok may get some help from consumer electronics companies looking to make TVs more interactive. This spring, Chinese hardware maker Mecool unveiled an Android TV-based streaming device that comes with an integrated camera. In addition to touting its video-calling capabilities, Mecool also specifically positions the device as a tool for TikTok creators, complete with a dedicated TikTok button on its remote control. But so far, Mecool has to run the mobile app version of TikTok on its device, as the company's smart TV apps don't support video uploads yet.

Asked about plans to embrace new device types, Kim remained noncommittal. "We're always looking for ways to add value to TikTok viewing experiences, and we'll continue exploring opportunities to make [the service] more easy, fun and accessible," he said.

Power

Google wants to (try to) make Google Glass cool again

Also this week: savvy virtual assistants, surveillance without violating people's privacy, and more patents from Big Tech.

Is making these cool even possible?

Image: Google

This week was so full of fun patent applications that I didn't know where to start. We've got a throwback to 2013, a virtual assistant that knows when I've stopped talking, and headphones that can determine a user's hearing abilities.

But as always, remember that the big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future

Keep Reading Show less
Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

As President of Alibaba Group, I am often asked, "What is Alibaba doing in the U.S.?"

In fact, most people are not aware we have a business in the U.S. because we are not a U.S. consumer-facing service that people use every day – nor do we want to be. Our consumers – nearly 900 million of them – are located in China.

Keep Reading Show less
J. Michael Evans
Michael Evans leads and executes Alibaba Group's international strategy for globalizing the company and expanding its businesses outside of China.

Does Elon Musk make Tesla tech?

Between the massive valuation and the self-driving software, Tesla isn't hard to sell as a tech company. But does that mean that, in 10 years, every car will be tech?

You know what's not tech and is a car company? Volkswagen.

Image: Tesla/Protocol

From disagreements about what "Autopilot" should mean and SolarCity lawsuits to space colonization and Boring Company tunnels, extremely online Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company stay firmly in the news, giving us all plenty of opportunities to consider whether the company that made electric cars cool counts as tech.

The massive valuation definitely screams tech, as does the company's investment in self-driving software and battery development. But at the end of the day, this might not be enough to convince skeptics that Tesla is anything other than a car company that uses tech. It also raises questions about the role that timeliness plays in calling something tech. In a potential future where EVs are the norm and many run on Tesla's own software — which is well within the realm of possibility — will Tesla lose its claim to a tech pedigree?

Keep Reading Show less
Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.
Protocol | Workplace

Apple isn’t the only tech company spooked by the delta variant

Spooked by rising cases of COVID-19, many tech companies delay their office reopening.

Apple and at least two other Silicon Valley companies have decided to delay their reopenings in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty

Apple grabbed headlines this week when it told employees it would delay its office reopening until October or later. But the iPhone maker wasn't alone: At least two other Silicon Valley companies decided to delay their reopenings last week in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Both ServiceNow and Pure Storage opted to push back their September return-to-office dates last week, telling employees they can work remotely until at least the end of the year. Other companies may decide to exercise more caution given the current trends.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | Workplace

Half of working parents have felt discriminated against during COVID

A new survey found that working parents at the VP level are more likely to say they've faced discrimination at work than their lower-level counterparts.

A new survey looks at discrimination faced by working parents during the pandemic.

Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

The toll COVID-19 has taken on working parents — particularly working moms — is, by now, well-documented. The impact for parents in low-wage jobs has been particularly devastating.

But a new survey, shared exclusively with Protocol, finds that among parents who kept their jobs through the pandemic, people who hold more senior positions are actually more likely to say they faced discrimination at work than their lower-level colleagues.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Latest Stories