The future of content is not stories or blogs, but this!

Michael K. Spencer

The future of content is not actually social media platforms, stories or even blogging platforms. It’s content aggregation apps, that are the right middle-point of clickbait, entertainment and news in both video and short article formats.

The Future of Content is Not an Echo Chamber

Qutiotiao (“fun headlines”) is such an example and notable clone of Tiaotiao, the first hit app by the world’s most valuable startup, ByteDance.

To clone Jinri Toutiao and to keep up with them Qutiotiao created an expensive method of paying users to consume and get others to join.

Founded in 2016, the Shanghai-based company began as a news aggregator banking on personalized content often characterized by gossipy news and viral videos and was funded in part by Tencent.

AI is Key to Personalize Content in Aggregation Apps

By expensive referral mechanisms, where it rewards users with cash prizes for consuming more content and getting their friends to sign up, Qutiotiao is gaining MAUs though nowhere near the reach of Jinri Toutiao that not only has a head start of a few years, but better personalization AI.

China is leaps and bounds ahead of the West in content aggregation apps. With a bigger pool of netziens, there are more eyeballs to go around and even in a censored state there’s plenty of memes, news headlines and fun stories to go around.

Today it has 115 million MAU for the Qutoutiao mobile app and its literature app Midu. Its revenues are growing but so are its losses. What makes these “content aggregation” apps so superior is the attention retention in them, where users generally spend over one hour a day in them. Indeed, as of May, 2019, the company reported that daily time spent on its core content aggregator app increased in the first quarter to 62.1 minutes.

Qutoutiao is part of a large group of Chinese content services that have gone IPO in the U.S. and has some considerable potential since it is spending like a startup just to keep up with ByteDance.

Qutoutiao vows to improve its margins by “controlling user engagement expenses” though it still needs to grow a lot before this can actually happen. Qutoutiao saw explosive growth in monthly active users and net revenues but also significantly widened net losses in 2018. Chinese startups in 2019 are much better positioned for growth since there are so many more millions of end users to attract. In the market, bigger really is better.

As a futurist, I’m obsessed with Chinese startups because in app innovation, that’s where the real actions are happening. Facebook doesn’t understand how to create a super app and the West is years behind without mini-programs, which are basically gateways to tether services into apps.

Even in news and content, if Facebook has failed to do it right, China in spite of censorship offers quite a few incredible in-app experiences.

Qutoutiao went public about a year ago.

It’s not clear if this startup could one day be a legit competitor to ByteDance. Meanwhile, there have been rumors it does plan to make advances into live-streaming, games, and e-commerce. Before that happens, it will need to get its flagship app.

The stock goes for about $4.50 now and is a decent if high-risk bet on the future of clones of ByteDance. Increasingly high-spend startups like Qutoutiao and LuckIn in China show the incredible confidence of that market to innovate and grow services quickly in order to go global faster. If all goes well Qutoutiao won’t just remain an app for mainland China.

It demonstrates how Chinese startups are now able to move faster than western startups due to superior venture capital opportunities and a bigger launchpad ecosystem in mainland China itself, where various tier cities are the perfect demographic challenges for various different kinds of markets and audiences.

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