Firework

Background:

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Google is interested in buying the social media app Firework, viewed by many as a competitor to the hugely popular TikTok.

Details and Implications:

Firework allows users to make and share 30 second videos. The differentiation with Firework is that users can watch part of the video in vertical mode, then turn their phone to ‘reveal’ the rest of the video, often accompanied by a twist or surprise in the content they are viewing in the wider shot.

Interestingly for a social app it doesn’t have a ‘like’ mechanism as such and doesn’t allow comments, instead allowing users to either save or share videos to show that they like them. A move that could be seen as a response to the many social problems other apps have experienced around trolling. Instagram is currently testing the removal of the ‘like’ function due to this.

Firework launched in March this year and has already been valued at $100m following its latest round of investment, which saw it raise $11.3m. It was founded by Jerry Luk and Vincent Yang, with an exec line-up that includes experiences from analytics company Everstring, LinkedIn, Snap, Warner Bros, Universal Pictures and Fox.

As well as Google’s reported interest, Chinese social media giant Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, is also reportedly interested in the company. Both companies will be keen to not miss out on what seems to be the current social media trend of ultra-short form videos, set to music and highly shareable.

TikTok’s growth has been stellar since launch, with its 15 second videos set to music seeing huge uptake by users. Launched originally in China as ‘Douyin’, outside of China, it has gained popularity under the name ‘TikTok’ since its global launch in 2017 and by February 2019 TikTok, along with Douyin, had hit 1bn downloads globally, giving Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp a run for their money. In comparison, Instagram hit 1bn downloads in 2018, eight years after its 2010 launch.

Facebook also launched Lasso last year in the US as a standalone app. Lasso allows users to share short form videos with a soundtrack. Monthly downloads have averaged less than 1% of TikTok’s.

And Google’s failure to spot and then capitalise on the rise of social media is well documented, with Google+ finally turned off last year.

For Google (or its parent company Alphabet) the attraction of Firework could be two-fold. Firstly, it could help mitigate the impact of TikTok on YouTube viewing but it could also help Google to take YouTube to a new level. YouTube videos have an average length of 4 minutes and in recent years it has invested heavily in more premium content creation. Firework could provide a home for the shorter, ‘cat’, ‘LOL’ and ‘prank’ videos, leaving YouTube free to focus on longer form content. This would also have the added benefit of possibly addressing some of the larger brand safety issues that the platform has faced. Google also has the scale to promote Firework through its search services to power it to a leadership position in the market very quickly.

Summary:

Speculation is rife and that is no doubt driven by the rapid growth of TikTok, so any similar service is going to be an attractive acquisition for a whole host of companies. Firework would seem to be a good fit for Google, although it’s entirely possible that the regulators would look at any deal. What it proves is that the appetite in the market for video based UGC platforms has not dimmed, even though many come with considerable brand safety issues.

Further Reading: Wall Street Journal (sub required) | TechCrunch | Digiday | TikTok POV | Firework