TikTok is showing that it's possible to beat Facebook with a hot app teens love

Key Points
  • Lasso, Facebook's copycat app of TikTok, has been downloaded by an estimated 70,000 U.S. users since launching in November.
  • TikTok has been downloaded by 39.6 million U.S. users in the same time frame, according to estimates by SensorTower, an app market intelligence firm.
  • It's the latest example of Facebook's failure to capitalize on a new social app by copying it.
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Throughout its history, Facebook has had a habit of eliminating would-be rivals by simply copying features.

The company used this tactic to squash the threat of Google+ in 2011, and it did the same to Snapchat when Instagram cloned its signature Stories feature in 2016. But so far, the strategy has failed to put a stop to TikTok, an upstart rival that has become a hit among teens.

Facebook in early November released Lasso, a social app that lets users watch and create short videos that are usually set to songs. The app is nearly identical to TikTok, except when it comes to download stats.

TikTok has been downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play by 39.6 million U.S. users since early November, according to third-party estimates provided to CNBC by SensorTower, an app market intelligence firm. In that same time period, Lasso has been downloaded by 70,000 users.

Most recently, TikTok saw 6.4 million January app downloads in the U.S. compared with Lasso's 15,000, according to SensorTower, which generates its estimates from proprietary predictive models for the two app stores.

"The value of competition is to ensure that consumers have the choice of innovative and high quality products and services, and that is exactly what we see in today's ecosystem," a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement.

These stats show just how popular TikTok has become in the U.S., but this is hardly surprising for anyone who has ever used the two apps.

Open up TikTok and you'll be greeted by an endless amount of videos with tens of thousands of likes and hundreds of comments on the app's primary feed. Lasso's recommended videos, by comparison, typically have hundreds of likes and a few dozen comments, at best.

TikTok is owned by China-based company ByteDance and is known as Douyin in China. The app has a reported 500 million monthly active users across the globe, and it was recently listed as a competitor by both Snap and Twitter on each of the company's latest financial filings. In the U.S., it was the most downloaded social app for December, ahead of Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, according to app market data firm App Annie.

The good news for Facebook is that if Lasso doesn't pull ahead of TikTok, it can simply try again.

When the company was first taking on Snapchat, Facebook released at least four Snapchat copycat apps — Poke, Slingshot, Lifestage and Flash — before simply taking the Stories feature and adding it to the Instagram, Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp apps.

"We've seen numerous examples of niche apps like this from Facebook launch and eventually shutter without ever really becoming a blip on the radar," SensorTower co-founder Alex Malafeev told CNBC. "We'll need a few more months of data to really get a clearer picture of its longterm prospects."

TikTok did not responded to a request for comment.

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Snap.

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