TikTok’s meteoric rise came through its focus on bite-size videos, delivered with eerie specificity and the ability to scroll endlessly. But now, as competitors get serious about giving TikTok a run for its money, the company appears to be increasingly focused on its livestreaming program — and particularly, how it can be used to sell things.
The question of whether livestream shopping will catch on outside of Asia has lingered for a while. And so far, TikTok’s experiments in other markets have been mixed, according to reports: first, the Financial Times reported that TikTok was axing plans to expand live shopping in Europe and the US after disappointing results in the UK. But earlier this month, another Financial Times report suggested live shopping in the US was back on and ramping up in time for big brands to participate going into the holiday season.
That apparent redirection is now bolstered by a new report in Semafor that outlines TikTok’s plans to export its live shopping success from China to the US. The program, reportedly known as “Project Aquaman,” leverages social media agencies in China and livestream e-commerce companies in the US to train brands and manufacturers to host shopping streams. At least 20 companies are part of the effort, Semafor reports, and they coach participating streamers on things like scheduling content, filming, and finding hosts for the livestreams.
Recent job listings posted by TikTok suggest the company plans to go even further into e-commerce by building out fulfillment centers in the US. The listings reference warehousing, delivery, and return services that will “ensure fast and sustainable growth of TikTok Shop.”
Hiring agencies to shape livestream content is an approach TikTok is reportedly taking outside the realm of shopping, too. In September, Rest of World reported the tech company was partnering with influencer agencies in China, the Middle East, the US, and the UK whose job it is to recruit and teach livestream best practices to creators, including musicians. Their objectives: grow their audience and get viewers to tip them. For virtual tips, TikTok takes a 50 percent cut.
If TikTok and its network of agencies can successfully push livestreams as a way for brands to sell products and for influencers to monetize their presence, it could be a substantial new revenue stream for the platform, which currently makes most of its money in ads.
But the emphasis on building out its livestreams is also coming at a time of increased scrutiny. A report last week from the BBC detailed how similar agencies were working with Syrian families in refugee camps who begged on livestreams for tips, only earning a fraction of the profits. This week, TikTok announced it would overhaul its livestream feature, raising the age requirement from 16 to 18 and creating a way for streamers to reach only adult audiences.