The big news this week is all about music rights on TikTok, but the story is much more interesting than that. At the same time that many of the world’s biggest artists are pulling their songs, TikTok has made a major addition to its content formats, and there are signs that usage of the app may have plateaued.

Universal Music Group — who represents Justin Bieber, BTS, Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, and thousands more artists — has issued an open letter to TikTok, calling them out for unfair practices, and they’re pulling the rights to use any UMG songs on the platform.

Over the past year, TikTok has become one of the largest music streaming platforms in the world, and it’s now where many artists build their audiences, so the fact that the biggest music group would remove their content is a significant move. Universal raised three specific issues:

  1. Appropriate compensation for artists and songwriters
  2. Protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI
  3. Online safety for TikTok’s users in the form of harassment and hate speech

None of these issues are new, and according to Universal, they have been able to work with other platforms like YouTube and Spotify to come up with solutions, but in their words, TikTok has tried to “bully” and “intimidate” them into taking a deal that would be bad for artists, and bad for users.

The immediate impact is that you won’t be able to use a lot of the most popular music in your content, and a lot of existing TikToks are likely going to get taken down, or the audio will be removed.

30-Minute TikToks

This all comes at what appears to be a turning point for TikTok, as they’ve been making some bold moves to expand how people use the app beyond short video clips.

They are clearly coming for YouTube, which is the world’s largest video streaming service (by a lot), with the introduction of 30-minute videos that can be uploaded in a horizontal format.

Just about everyone’s immediate reaction was “who would watch a 30-minute video on TikTok?” However, there are some signs that they might be onto something. For example, the producers of Mean Girls recently uploaded the entire movie as a series of clips. Imagine how much easier that would be to watch had it not been limited to short clips, and had viewers been able to turn their phones to landscape to watch it as originally intended.

Supercharged Horizontal Video

Creators are reporting that they have not only gained early access to the horizontal format, but TikTok is explicitly telling them that landscape videos will be prioritized in the algorithm.

TikTok-er @amber.figlow ran a test by uploading an old YouTube video and found that not only did people watch it, but it very quickly got 10X more views than any of her recent vertical videos. Watch her break down the results here.

The implication is that any of us could do the same thing. We could go back into our archives and try publishing YouTube-style videos to TikTok and gain the advantage of, what is almost certainly a temporary, super-charge of distribution.

Have We Reached Peak TikTok?

With the flurry of attention and activity surrounding TikTok, it would seem like they must be growing at a record pace, but the opposite is true.

While it’s still growing, TikTok usage is currently increasing at only 3%, where last year growth was at least 12%.

Some users are speculating that the drop-off correlates with the launch of TikTok Shop (currently only in the US), which means that there are even more ads and promotional content in users’ feeds.

So What?

It has always seemed to me that the vision for TikTok is to become an everything app — similar to apps like WeChat that are so popular in Asia — but if they expand their feature set and usage continues to plateau, or even decline, it may be the case that the North American market is just not ready.

But let’s be clear, the explosive growth that TikTok has achieved in this part of the world is unprecedented, so the question is: Will it be able to expand beyond its core use case of short-form video?

For those of us considering TikTok as a business opportunity, it makes sense to pay attention and test it out, especially where they are artificially boosting features and formats, because we can ride those waves, but it’s still very much to be determined whether TikTok will become the sort of one-stop shop that they seem to be trying so hard to achieve.