GroupM's Sameer Singh moves to ByteDance... what exactly is it?

By Aishwarya Ramesh , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Digital
Published : May 22, 2019 04:52 AM
A quick look at what Sameer Singh's new employer ByteDance is all about.

ByteDance announced the appointment of Sameer Singh as vice president, monetisation (India). In his new role, Singh will work closely with ByteDance's partners and clients while leading the advertising, sales and marketing strategies across all of ByteDance's products in India. Based in Gurugram, Sameer will be starting his role in August. Before this, Singh was CEO, leading the South Asia operations of GroupM. With varied experience spanning over two decades, he has worked in different regions including India, China, the US, UK, and West Asia. He will leave GroupM at the end of June and Prasanth Kumar will take up the CEO role.

ByteDance

Commenting on his new role, Sameer said, "I am truly excited to join ByteDance, one of the fastest growing global technology companies spearheading innovation in the mobile space. In India, ByteDance has transformed the way people create and interact with their content and I believe that my experience will contribute to ByteDance's journey in this market. I am looking forward to working with my colleagues, our clients and our partners at ByteDance to create new synergies in the industry."

Sameer Singh Sameer Singh

Welcoming Singh to the team, Lidong Zhang, senior vice president, ByteDance, said, "We are excited to welcome Sameer to the team. We are looking forward to working with him to bring ByteDance's monetisation efforts in India across our various platforms such as TikTok and Helo to even greater heights."

But what exactly is ByteDance?

ByteDance is a Chinese technology company that operates a range of content platforms that include popular video creation app TikTok. Yiming Zhang founded ByteDance in 2012 and Bloomberg reported that it is one of the most valuable startups in the world - it's valued at more than $75 billion, thanks to a recent round of fundraising.

ByteDance's portfolio includes video content-driven apps such as TikTok, Douyin, Helo, Vigo Video, BuzzVideo, FaceU, and news content-driven apps such as News Republic and TopBuzz. ByteDance's most popular Indian offerings include Helo and TikTok - both apps allow users to share photo and video content on the platforms. TikTok has been downloaded more than 500 million times from the Google Play store and Helo has been downloaded more than 50 million times.

In December 2017, ByteDance acquired video content creation app musical.ly for nearly $500 million. TikTok is an offering that ByteDance has had since 2016 and after it acquired musical.ly, ByteDance merged the two apps. Musical.ly's existing users were migrated to the TikTok app.

TikTok is undoubtedly one of the most popular content-driven apps in ByteDance's portfolio. While TikTok videos are entertaining, it's more important to take note of the company for the way they're investing in artificial intelligence. A good example is ByteDance's flagship news reader app - Toutiao. It's valued at $20 billion and is one of China's fastest growing internet services with almost 120 million daily users, as reported by TechCrunch.

Toutiao's success can be attributed to the AI algorithm that ByteDance invested in. The algorithm tracks a customer's behaviour on the site to help deliver news stories that are tailored to a user's preferences and interests. The AI algorithm is fed with information such as what content a user is clicking on, when he/she stops scrolling, the type of stories they're reading and even the location that they're reading it from. ByteDance also backs a similar app in English called TopBuzz, available in the US and Brazil.

In 2016, ByteDance established its AI Lab with a focus on developing technologies that serve the purposes of ByteDance's various content platforms. The lab's main focus is to use AI to understand information (in the form of text, images and video) and to develop large-scale machine learning algorithms that help deliver personalised recommendations based on user information. In addition to developing algorithms for their own platforms, ByteDance is also interested in working collaboratively with existing content-driven apps in order to make their presence felt in markets in other countries. Another notable investment that ByteDance made in 2016 is a $25 million investment in Indian news aggregation app DailyHunt.

In January 2018, ByteDance made a deal with BuzzFeed to distribute its content across its apps. ByteDance said in a statement that it had reached an agreement with BuzzFeed to publish content from the US group on its news and video platforms in China and other parts of the world, reported Reuters.

In 2019, Bloomberg reported that ByteDance announced that it's working on a paid music streaming app that will challenge the likes of Spotify and Apple Music in emerging markets such as India.

TikTok is both one of ByteDance's most popular and most controversial apps. The video sharing platform allows users to edit their videos creatively, add filters and choose soundtracks from a library. The Madras High Court banned the app from Google's Play Store and Apple's App Store in April this year over concerns that the platform hosts inappropriate content which can be viewed by minors (the minimum age to join TikTok is 13.) The company went on record to say that the ban caused a loss of $500,000 per day. The ban lasted 20 days and was eventually lifted. TikTok is back on both iOS and Android platforms.

ALSO READ: A Dummy's Guide to TikTok

So, where does Sameer Singh fit into all this?

In an interview with ET, Zhen Liu, senior vice-president of corporate development - ByteDance, mentioned that it had invested nearly $100 million in India, has pledged another $1 billion in the next two to three years, and the company is experimenting with different formats of content monetisation. Liu told ET, "We have just started experimenting with formats to approach monetisation on TikTok. In the long term, the revenue model is a combination of advertisements as well as other options."

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