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Recent Rewinds: Unclear whether Vine’s successor Byte will have a lifespan as short as its videos

(Grace Gilligan/ Daily Bruin)

By Phillip Leung

March 5, 2020 10:37 p.m.

History repeats itself, and so does art. With films, video games and even books being flooded with sequels, remakes and spinoffs, audiences in recent years have appeared to embrace familiarity over novelty. In Recent Rewinds, columnist Phillip Leung explores the entertainment industry’s inclination toward reimagining and building on old stories.

Word on the grapevine is that a new app has taken a byte from the short-video market.

In January, a successor to the decommissioned app Vine arose under a new name – byte. The app, developed by Vine co-creator Dom Hofmann, allows users to loop six-second videos in a simple and minimalistic platform, appealing to those who cherished Vine’s collection of short clips. Competitors such as TikTok and Instagram, however, could mean the market is too saturated for byte to make the same impact as its predecessor.

To start, creating an app with the sole purpose of recreating one that was shut down for being unprofitable is a questionable decision at best. While Vines were widely praised for their six-second limit, which promoted more creative content, their simplicity allowed competitors to mimic Vine’s features. Soon after Vine took off, competitors such as Instagram and Snapchat incorporated short video formats into their platforms as well, taking away from Vine’s core appeal. As entertaining as well-crafted short clips can be, they alone are not enough to sustain a business.

[Related: Recent Rewinds: Live-action ‘Mulan’ sacrifices Mushu and music for cultural accuracy, realism]

Such content-creator businesses, including YouTube and Instagram, rely heavily on their users to stay afloat – the more resources platforms have to offer their content creators, the better. For instance, YouTube gradually added live-video streaming and gaming channels to gain a wider audience. Unfortunately, Vine’s inherent simplicity did not have such diverse resources to offer, and neither does byte. While Vine produced popular content creators who are still active today, including Liza Koshy and Shawn Mendes, many ultimately left the platform at some point, contributing to its demise in 2017.

Immediately dismissing apps based on short videos, however, would be ignoring the elephant in the room – TikTok. The app had 500 million monthly active users in 2018, according to its owner ByteDance, with current estimates of around 800 million. TikTok allows users to post videos up to 15 seconds long, often accompanied by music in the background. While TikTok may initially appear to possess similar drawbacks to Vine and byte, a few subtleties have helped propel it to its current success. The app’s widespread popularity, especially in the U.S., poses yet another obstacle to byte’s breaking into the mainstream.

Fifteen seconds may not seem so different from Vine and byte’s six seconds, but the slightly less restrictive video limitation gives creators more leeway with their content. Some content creators were very clever in making the most of six seconds, but most popular Vine videos were primarily comedic, such as a young girl mistaking a flock of ducks for chickens.

TikTok, on the other hand, gives slightly more room for content to be tailored to specific communities, including acting, gaming and sports – all while maintaining its distinction as a platform for short videos. TikTok also takes advantage of the fast turnover and collaborative nature of the internet, providing various video formats for users to react to other videos or film one alongside another. By encouraging users to put their own spin on other people’s content, TikTok yields trends that promote community, such as people filming videos of themselves dancing to voicemails from their exes.

[Related: The Quad: Looking into why TikTok has become so popular, the kind of content it produces]

TikTok also incorporates some clever revenue-generating methods taken from other streaming platforms. In addition to ads and sponsorships, TikTok sells an in-app virtual currency that users can give to their favorite creators, similar to how streaming services such as Twitch and YouTube Live allow viewers to donate to streamers. If byte is to truly contend with TikTok, it will need to incorporate such creativity as a business and not just as an app for entertainment.

Thankfully for byte, many were waiting in anticipation of the app’s release. On the weekend it was released, byte was downloaded 780,000 times, a much faster start than Vine. While this is certainly impressive for a brand-new app – one that was also delayed several times – TikTok was downloaded 8.2 million times in the same weekend byte was released. Though the gap may seem insurmountable for byte, its fast start shows an audience still exists for a more limited video format.

The odds are certainly against byte, but it should not be written off just yet. Last week, it announced its Partner Program, paving a way for creators to cash in on their videos. The initial pool of $250,000 is quite minuscule compared to TikTok, which made $176.9 million in 2019. Regardless, byte’s monetization so shortly after launch demonstrates that it’s serious about making a sustainable business for its users as well as for itself. And with the U.S. government’s security concerns over TikTok’s Chinese ownership, byte might just get the opening it needs.

In the meantime, byte should be given more than six seconds to prove itself.

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Phillip Leung
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