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TikTok for TV: Is It as Fun as the Original? – Tech News Briefing

This transcript was prepared by a transcription service. This version may not be in its final form and may be updated.

Zoe Thomas: This is your Tech News Briefing for Friday, November 5th. I’m Zoe Thomas for The Wall Street Journal. Few apps have capitalized on our ability to scroll through smartphone content as well as TikTok. The social media platform has captivated users with catchy viral videos and made it easy to flip from one video to another but can that experience work on TV? On today’s show, our personal tech reporter Dalvin Brown is here to tell us about TikTok’s new app for Amazon Fire TVs and whether it lives up to the original. That’s after these headlines.
AT&T and Verizon are delaying the rollout of their new 5G frequency band at the request of aviation regulators. Sources say the Federal Aviation Administration has raised concerns about potential interference the 5G spectrum could have on airplanes’ cockpit safety systems like systems that help planes land in bad weather. Telecoms officials have disputed the safety concerns, but both companies have agreed to delay their plans for a December 5th launch by a month.
Google has struck a 10-year deal with CME, the world’s most valuable exchange operator where Google will invest a billion dollars in CME, and CMES’s core trading systems will be moved to Google’s cloud. WSJ reporter Alexander Osipovich covers futures and exchanges. He says this could be a watershed moment for financial firms, which have been slow to adopt cloud computing.

Alexander Osipovich: Historically, banks and exchanges have been sort of wary of outsourcing to the cloud because there are all these concerns about regulation or sensitive client information that they don’t want to have hacked. They want to retain the control. With exchanges in particular, there are all these technical requirements because these companies have to execute trades in microseconds, and it’s very important that the exchange always stay up and not go down because that could have harmful impact on the financial markets. So, by having CME, which is a large credible exchange operator, agree to outsource its markets to Google, I think that you are more likely to see other exchanges follow suit.

Zoe Thomas: At the same time, Google is pursuing a cloud computing contract with the U.S. military. Three years ago, the company abandoned a similar deal with The Pentagon in which Google would’ve supplied imaging tools used by drones after employee activists spoke out against it. The new contract called the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability replaces the JEDI cloud contract. That program was meant to consolidate The Pentagon’s patchwork of data systems but was mired in years of squabbling between bidders and was terminated last July.
In recent months, the Federal Trade Commission under new Chairwoman Lina Khan has rolled out an ambitious agenda to protect consumer privacy. Her plans include stepping up scrutiny of online advertising and exploring new rules for how companies collect and store data, but WSJ Pro cybersecurity reporter David Uberti says the plan faces some hurdles.

David Uberti: It’s contingent on a number of really important things. First of all is money. The FTC only has about 40 or 45 people who actually work strictly on privacy. Now, compare that to some of the richest companies in the world who rely on your data, companies like Facebook or Google or Amazon or whatnot. So, they’re waiting on Congress to potentially authorize more funding in President Biden’s climate and social policy package that’s currently making its way through the legislature. Secondarily, and this is definitely a long-term challenge for the FTC, is they will face a lot of legal challenges over what actually constitutes a harmful use of data.

Zoe Thomas: Okay. Coming up, TikTok is now available on some TVs. How will the bigger screen change the experience? We’ll get into it after the break. This week, Amazon launched a new app for its Fire TV, one you’re probably familiar with from your phone, TikTok. Owners of fire TVs in the U.S. and Canada will no longer need to huddle around their phones to watch the latest viral dance videos, but can the TikTok experience survive the transition to TV? Why does the company want to move to a bigger screen in the first place? Joining us to discuss is our personal tech reporter Dalvin Brown. Thanks for coming on the show, Dalvin.

Dalvin Brown: Thanks for having me.

Zoe Thomas: So, Dalvin, can you describe what this looks like for us?

Dalvin Brown: Yeah. Well, at face value, it looks a lot like the TikTok you might be used to. So, when you launch the app by talking to Alexa, there are categories for different types of videos that you might be interested in viewing. The app highlights popular creators. You can sign into your TikTok account and have a really sort of passive experience flipping through content but on your television.

Zoe Thomas: Okay. You say a passive experience, but TikTok is kind of an active thing that people use, so what does it mean for moving between videos for that scroll that we’re so familiar with with TikTok?

Dalvin Brown: Yeah. So, that’s really one of the biggest differences between TikTok on your phone and TikTok on a TV. TikTok is all about sort of mindlessly swiping through videos to discover new fun content, right, but on a TV, it feels more like flipping through channels. You’re literally clicking a button on your remote to go from one video to the next. It’s something that people have been doing for years on other apps like YouTube or Facebook Watch, but yeah, on the television, it feels more like TikTok 1.0 if you know what I mean.

Zoe Thomas: Are there other drawbacks as well apart from not really being able to scroll in the same way?

Dalvin Brown: Well, yeah. TikTok videos are shot vertically on the mobile app, and they take up the whole screen, right, but on a television, they take up just the center of the screen, and that leaves a lot of blurry, dead space. Also, on the mobile app, you can leave comments and livestream content from creators. You can search using a search bar and type in keywords for hashtags. You can’t do any of that on the TV app. Obviously, you can’t create new content on a TV. You can’t edit new content on a TV, so it’s pretty pared down overall.

Zoe Thomas: What about TikTok’s famous algorithm that’s … It’s so good at learning what we like to watch and showing us more of that. How is that going to be affected by using it on a TV and possibly by multiple users on the same TV?

Dalvin Brown: Good question. Well, for one, you don’t have to sign in to stream content on TikTok on the television or on your mobile phone, but signing in is what gives you all those bells and whistles and videos catered to your interests, and so that’s what a lot of people might want to do. The flip side of that though, is that if you sign in on a communal screen like your family’s living room TV, everyone gets to see the videos that you like. They get to see how the algorithm has personalized that content to you, and they might feel a little bit intrusive for some people.

Zoe Thomas: Right. TikTok gets to know us so well. Maybe we don’t want some of our family members or housemates knowing us as well as that app does.

Dalvin Brown: Yeah, exactly.

Zoe Thomas: Okay. So, that’s what it looks like, but let’s talk about why TikTok is doing this.

Dalvin Brown: Yeah. So, TikTok says it’s simply giving people a.k.a. families another way to stream its content, but what’s also clear is that TikTok has a ton of users. It claims over a billion people, but most of them are teens and young adults. Being on a television screen exposes TikTok to parents and grandparents and perhaps other relatives who have not been so quick to download the mobile app known for teenagers dancing. So, by having an app on a television, that’s a bit more approachable to some older audiences, some analysts say that TikTok is trying to poise itself to capture a broader audience.

Zoe Thomas: What does that mean for its younger audience? I mean, I can’t imagine a lot of teenagers really want to be sharing this content with their parents.

Dalvin Brown: Yeah. So, I spoke to some teenagers, and they all said they have no intentions on watching TikTok on the television. Some even said, what’s the point when there’s a TV in front of me and I’m always on my phone anyway? So, I don’t know how many teenagers or how many typical TikTok users will sort of cross over to television, but again, it is an opportunity perhaps to expose the platform to people who haven’t been won over just yet.

Zoe Thomas: What about Amazon, TikTok’s partner in doing this? It has the Fire TVs. What does Amazon get out of it?

Dalvin Brown: Yeah. So, I think Amazon’s big bid is to get its Fire TV out there and have people talking about it and to have some type of exclusive content for people to watch. It’s the first to launch TikTok on a television in the U.S., and so I think bringing TikTok on in some of its other partners, it’s attempting to differentiate itself from some of the other television companies out there.

Zoe Thomas: Have any other social media platforms tried this before?

Dalvin Brown: TikTok is not the first social networking site to launch an app for television. So, Facebook does have Facebook Watch where you can go and watch videos from creators or stream Facebook originals on your television, but one key difference here is that TikTok isn’t looking at its app as a one-off or sort of a sidebar app. It’s calling it TikTok. You can already like comments, see what comments other people have made on the platform from your TV, and there might be plans to integrate more social features over time as more people download the app.

Zoe Thomas: Before I let you go, I just want to talk about how TikTok is doing as a company. The founder of its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, stepped down as chairman and the new chairman and CEO is putting in place some structural changes. Can you just give us a sense of why the company is making these changes and if it will affect its presence in the U.S. or its users?

Dalvin Brown: Sure. So, TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has reorganized into six separate sections. One of those sections, TikTok will now control the mobile app and the brands pushed into e-commerce outside of China going forward. What’s not clear is what that means for TikTok users here in the U.S. What is clear though is that TikTok has, for some time, tried to distance itself from Beijing partly due to perceived ties to the Chinese government and also some privacy concerns. Will that work? Only time will tell.

Zoe Thomas: All right. That was our personal tech reporter Dalvin Brown. Thanks for joining us.

Dalvin Brown: Thank
you.

Zoe Thomas: Before we go, one more reminder that we’re taking listeners’ questions about the WSJ’s Facebook Files series, what do you want to know about the investigation, the future of Facebook or combating its effects in your own life? Leave us a voicemail at 314-635-0388. We’ll have a member of the Facebook Files investigative team on an upcoming episode, and we might include your question or story. Again, that’s 314-635-0388. All right. That’s it for Tech News Briefing this week. Our producer is Julie Chang. Our supervising producer is Chris Tinsley. Our executive producer is Kateri Jochum, and I’m your host, Zoe Thomas. Thanks for listening, and have a great weekend.

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