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TikTok Conducts Experimental Paid Subscription Service

The TikTok social media platform has become an extremely popular medium for young, creative, and eclectic users that produce and share short-form and entertaining videos on the app. A generation of Z’ers has made the platform the fastest growing social media app in the world with 850 million monthly users in 154 countries. Once, not all that long ago, the Chinese owned social media network was facing predicted demise in the United States amidst claims that it was misusing user data and colluding with a repressive Chinese government. A tinkering with its ownership permitted the fast-growing app to avoid banishment in the U.S. market, but new anti-trust legislation under debate in the U.S. Congress is once again threatening business as usual for TikTok and a number of its competitors.

The Senate Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly passed The American Innovation and Choice Online Act out of the committee recently. The bill is predicted to have a major effect on tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Meta and TikTok. The Act prohibits the dominant social media platforms from discriminating against other businesses that are threatened by self-preferencing services. The legislation will prohibit big tech gatekeeper companies from giving an advantage to their own products on the platforms.

The inclusion of TikTok in the context of the legislation is not deterring the platform’s executives from moving forward with testing a subscription-based product for creators’ content. The new premium option will allow creators of short-form videos to charge users to view content. “We’re always thinking about new ways to bring value to our community and enrich the TikTok experience,” said a TikTok spokesperson. Each creator can choose their own price point for access to exclusive content.

TikTok’s paid subscriptions test follows recent confirmation that it’s also testing an in-app tipping feature on its platform that allows creators to accept money from fans outside of TikTok LIVE streams, where gifting is already supported. Creators can participate in the testing program if they have at least 100,000 followers and are in good standing with the platform.  The foray into a paid subscription option will give creators the opportunity to make a living wage from creative efforts. Instagram announced that it also is launching a test of paid subscriptions with a small number of creators and influencers. Subscriber prices will range from $0.99 to $99.99 per month depending on the content and its creator. Instagram says it doesn’t plan to take a cut of creators’ subscription revenue, at least for now.

As the new legislation makes its way through the whole House and Senate, Big Tech platforms are initiating a massive lobbying effort to derail the regulatory action. Clearly technology companies are concerned for the passage of any regulations that would temper the, as yet unfettered, monopolistic behavior. “Despite millions of lobbying dollars by monopolists spent to influence lawmakers, a bipartisan group of senators just stated with a clear voice that Big Tech is too powerful,” said Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project. Could this be the opening of the door to reforming big tech’s power over the digital marketplace?