Image copyright ByteDance Image caption ByteDance app is the latest milestone in the company’s rise in China
Technology company ByteDance is raising the ante in a campaign to improve access to its Chinese messaging app, TikTok.
The Japanese messaging app TikTok combines YouTube-style video with visual and text emojis.
It already has 170 million users worldwide, but in China it has just 12 million.
In its latest addition, ByteDance is limiting users to 40 minutes a day of video-tapping.
To use TikTok in China, the parent company ByteDance, formerly known as Jiaoli Media, asks users to register as users of the company’s “WhatsApp-style” social media platform, iQiyi.
Its iQiyi messenger app provides “disaster links” in emergencies, lists the status of the current and incoming storms in China, and displays real-time traffic in the capital Beijing.
Pingyao city in south-western China – regarded as one of the most densely populated cities in the world – has 19 million registered users.
Access to iQiyi for TikTok is open by invitation. It is understood that ByteDance is making the exclusive access to the iQiyi app available to several “large, international brands”.
TikTok video can be shared via iQiyi, is not playable in the separate chat app WeChat, and is controlled in-app via a passcode.
But the tie-up is seen as a strategic move to take on rival Tencent-owned video app iQiyi, which has 100 million users and is widely seen as having a market share advantage over TikTok.
But ByteDance says it is not the only player.
“TikTok has millions of users on China’s domestic internet platforms but we would like to differentiate,” says Juno Lin, senior vice president of product at ByteDance, which was valued at £43bn by venture capitalists earlier this year.
Image copyright KBS
“We are working very hard, but we are also working with iQiyi and other international brands to provide a good offering to Chinese users.”
A total of 40 minutes of video-watching is a short window but ByteDance says it is intended to be the maximum amount of time for primary school children aged between seven and 10 years old.
While a total of 60 hours of video-sharing is a substantial sum, Pingyao has seen as much as 90% of its population glued to their mobile phones.
That will make matters difficult for ByteDance, which declined to say how many people have registered as TikTok users in China.
The company also declined to give figures for how many videos its platform generates, saying only that those numbers “are growing rapidly”, meaning that their revenues will too.
Image copyright ByteDance Image caption It declined to comment on how many times users have watched TikTok videos
Image copyright ByteDance Image caption It does not have the same popularity as Facebook
Little information is available about the app’s usage statistics, but a study by mobile app analysis firm Sensor Tower showed that 8.5% of all smartphone activity in China was dedicated to the app in February.
In comparison, Facebook and YouTube accounted for less than 4% of total online activity.
Previously ByteDance has been accused of having a closed cultural community.
It was criticised by the Falun Gong spiritual movement – a persecuted Chinese spiritual group – and by activists who called it a “corporatised cult”.
It expanded into music, games and ecommerce last year. The company declined to comment on a potential time limit for TikTok.