Last October, Mahi de Silva, Triller’s recently appointed chairman, said to Billboard
, “As a U.S company, Triller is laser-focused on the protection of our community from the prying eyes of nefarious parties or political agendas which has been a clear issue among our competitors.” This was an explicit shot at TikTok’s ongoing struggles with the United States government
. Now, shittalking amongst executives isn’t annoying
to me in theory, but just purely leaning into anti-Chinese sentiment is a bit
Ironically, a couple of weeks later the #MAGAChallenge appeared on Triller
, which, according to The Wrap, upset a few employees
enough to try and remove the pro-Trump rap from the platform and
caused at least two workers to resign in protest. Mike Liu, the company’s CEO, provided this blathering quote in response to the story: “Triller doesn’t endorse any political parties. Triller is agnostic to politics, religion and does not censor content. We welcome everybody to make Triller videos and enjoy the platform. See you on Triller!” If the company is willing to push xenophobic rhetoric about its competition, I don’t think one can claim political agnosticism. Yet, there may be a financial reason why it’s suddenly making such hard contrasts with TikTok.
In October, Billboard reported Triller
reached 60 million downloads and 13 million “active monthly users,” which was the first time in over four years the company provided a non-total download metric. The Wall Street Journal noted
many of Triller’s investors came from Hollywood and finance. This reflects an argument made in the book Spotify Teardown
: Spotify’s priority was never going to be artists but rather its corporate backers, be it major labels, advertising companies, or finance. Triller appears locked in a similar business model, though it lacks one key element: subscriptions, which make up the majority of Spotify’s business. This is a fundamentally precarious business, as most advertising-based video and music streaming platforms burn through cash well before profitability enters the equation. (Note: Earlier this week, Google, for the first time ever, shared how much YouTube made in a year
, and that’s a platform with nearly 2 billion users.)
A couple of months later in December, suddenly Triller received a new round of investment and reported hitting 75 million users and 26.5 million active monthly users. (Just for context, in October, about 21.6% of the people who downloaded the app could be counted as an “active monthly user,” and in December that jumped up to 35.3%…in December…which sounds totally legit.) Now who were these investors…to quote Music Business Worldwide
Snoop Dogg, The Weeknd, Marshmello, Lil Wayne, Young Thug, Kendrick Lamar, Baron Davis, Tyga, TI, Jake Paul and Troy Cartner; mega-music managers Gee Roberson (Co-CEO of The Blueprint Group), Moe Shalizi (founder of The Shalizi Group), Wassim Sal Slaiby (CEO of XO Records), Amir Cash Esmailian of XO, and Ash Pournouri (former manager for Avicii).
Also joining as investors and strategic partners are Shawn Gee (President of Live Nation Urban), Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith (Chief Executive Officer of TDE), James Prince (Chief Executive Officer of Rap-a-Lot Records), and Believe Digital, among others.
Open Triller right now and you’ll notice nearly all of the promoted content is by people with direct investment in the company. That’s one way to democratize video sharing! Triller shows very little organic support if you look a bit closer at their stats. The numbers in press releases often appear to be pulled out of thin air (26.5 million monthly users is “coincidentally” the exact number TikTok
reported in early 2019, though if you open the App Store right now, TikTok is #3 and Triller isn’t in the top 200). The combative public tone feels odd until one remembers that while all three major labels are allegedly invested in Triller, they are still negotiating with TikTok over licensing
Even in the highly financialized state
of the global music industry there can be messy tensions. Bytedance, in particular, is a bit outside of the web. While Triller, a US-based company, might’ve started as an app to make short-form videos, it now exists mostly for the three major labels to (again, allegedly) wag their collective finger at the runaway success of TikTok. The company, while still figuring out licensing agreements with the majors, announced its first with Merlin last month
. No wonder Triller talking heads evoke concerns over national security, how else will major label C-Suites hasten getting those sweet TikTok dollars.