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Musical.ly, a Chinese app big in the US, sells for $1 billion

  • Bytedance controls the Chinese news aggregator Toutiao.
  • The deal knits together Toutiao's 120 million Chinese users with the roughly 60 million that use Musical.ly in the U.S. and Europe.
  • Despite the dominance of established social media services like Facebook and Snap, Musical.ly rose to prominence among a teenage and tween audience by enabling users to record quick videos set to music.
Someone using Musical.ly, a Chinese app.
Gilles Sabrie | The New York Times
Someone using Musical.ly, a Chinese app.

The only Chinese social-media company to build a major network outside China will be taken over by a fast-growing Chinese upstart.

Musical.ly, a video-based social network popular with teenagers in the United States and Europe, is being sold for between $800 million and $1 billion to Bytedance, the company that controls the Chinese news aggregator Toutiao, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The deal knits together Toutiao's 120 million Chinese users with the roughly 60 million that use Musical.ly in the United States and Europe, ultimately linking a platform in China with a more global one.

Musical.ly will continue to operate a separate product, according to a statement on the deal, though the two companies will cooperate closely.

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Despite the dominance of established social media services like Facebook and Snap, Musical.ly rose to prominence among a teenage and tween audience by enabling users to record quick videos set to music. Young users of the app performed coordinated dance moves or lip-synced to the music.

Since then the company has branched out to other types of videos, including live streaming, and has even sought to attract short-form video shows.

For Toutiao, Musical.ly brings a toehold in valuable American and European markets. Ostensibly an aggregator of news content, Toutiao has evolved into something more like a Facebook newsfeed.

The company uses artificial intelligence to cater an array of posts and videos to users. It has grown increasingly video heavy, and works more as an aggregator of entertainment in a country where a large number of websites vie to attract a smartphone-addicted population.

For Musical.ly, Toutiao brings a huge user base in China and expertise in how to attract users. While Musical.ly has had success overseas, the company has been slow to target a Chinese market that its founders say can be more competitive and radically different from Western markets.