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TikTok's pain is Triller's gain. But will the L.A.-based video app's surge last?

Wendy Lee and Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES -- It was the moment this Hollywood startup had long been waiting for.

When the future of TikTok was imperiled by President Trump's executive order on Thursday, a previously obscure Century City-based rival was poised to reap the benefits.

"We are absolutely positioned to be a replacement for TikTok if they do get banned," said Triller CEO Mike Lu on Thursday, mere hours before the executive order was issued. "Out of everyone in this space, we are the most adaptable ... and grounded one in terms of being TikTok's successor."

Indeed, the competitor of China-based tech company ByteDance's TikTok saw its popularity surge before Trump officially set a clock on TikTok's operations in the U.S.: Triller jumped to the No. 1 downloaded iPhone app in the nation on Aug. 1 (its July low was 845), according to San Francisco-based analytics firm App Annie (on Friday it was at 198). It hit that milestone one day after Trump first floated the notion of a TikTok ban and four days after some of TikTok's best known stars said they would make Triller their new home -- while taking some equity in the 5-year-old company.

TikTok said it was shocked by Trump's order -- which would bar the wildly popular video app's parent company, ByteDance, from conducting business transactions with other American companies starting Sept. 20 -- and would explore all of its options.

"We will pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and our users are treated fairly -- if not by the administration, then by the U.S. courts," TikTok said. On Saturday, NPR reported that TikTok plans to file a federal lawsuit in Southern California as early as Tuesday.

 

Microsoft is in talks to purchase TikTok's U.S. operations, but there's still a lot that could go wrong. The tech behemoth could have trouble maintaining TikTok's cool factor, which has kept creators flocking to the platform. And Trump's provision that some proceeds from such an acquisition go to the U.S. Treasury could pose legal obstacles, though Microsoft has already signaled a willingness to provide "proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury," in a statement Aug. 2.

And don't count out competition from Facebook-owned Instagram, which on Aug. 5 unveiled a TikTok-like feature called Reels.

But if TikTok stumbles and Instagram Reels flops, Triller could emerge as a big winner -- as could Ryan Kavanaugh, the brash executive who owns most of the company through his investment firm, Proxima Media.

A success for Triller would amount to a significant comeback for Kavanaugh, best known previously as head of mini-studio Relativity Media.

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