Chinese apps TikTok, Tencent Video, iQiyi among world's top-earning apps in first half of 2021

TikTok logos are seen on smartphones in front of a displayed ByteDance logo in this illustration taken Nov 27, 2019.
PHOTO: Reuters

Chinese apps, led by viral short-video platform TikTok, made up five of the world’s top-10 earners of app store revenue in the first half of 2021, a sign of how digital spending habits have shifted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

ByteDance -owned TikTok, whose numbers include revenue from its Chinese version Douyin, was the highest-grossing non-game app from January 1 through June 23, both in overall revenue and sales derived solely from app store payments, according to preliminary data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower.

Google’s YouTube and dating app Tinder came in second and third, respectively.

Consumers are estimated to have spent more than US$920 million (S$1.2 million) on TikTok and Douyin over the six-month period.

Streaming video platforms Tencent Video, and Baidu -owned iQiyi came in fourth and fifth among the top app store revenue earners.

For overall revenue, they were sixth and eighth, respectively. Alibaba Group Holding -owned Youku and Tencent Holdings ’ QQ Music were also among the top 10 app store revenue earners at eighth and 10th place, respectively. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post .

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Worldwide consumer spending in mobile apps reached US$64.9 billion across Apple ’s App Store and Google Play, up 24.8 per cent year on year. Sensor Tower’s numbers for app store revenue in China only account for money made on Apple’s iOS, not the many Chinese app stores on Android.

Google Play is blocked in China.

Chinese consumers were already big mobile spenders before the pandemic, but this trend has accelerated during lockdowns and quarantines over the past 16 months. The entertainment sector has been the biggest beneficiary, especially streaming platforms and video games.

Chinese game developers have also continued to do well during this period, making up half of the top 10 revenue earners.

Tencent was again the biggest winner, with its titles Honour of Kings and PUBG Mobile, including the Chinese version Peacekeeper Elite, taking the top two spots, pulling in about US$1.5 billion each. Genshin Impact, from Shanghai-based miHoYo, came in third at US$848 million.

In the video-streaming space, competition has ramped up, with tech giants shelling out millions of yuan on exclusive prestige content to attract more subscribers. The deluge of content and rise of short videos has caused some friction, however.

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Earlier this month, iQiyi, Youku and Tencent Video all called out short-video platforms for allegedly profiting off of copyrighted content. Short video summaries spliced together from clips of popular shows have become popular on some platforms.

Although consumer spending on mobile has reached a record high, growth is slowing in some areas compared with the first half of 2020, which was the height of pandemic lockdowns in China.

App Store spending grew 22.1 per cent to US$41.5 billion, lower than the 29.3 per cent growth in the same period last year.

For Google Play, however, spending growth picked up slightly, growing 30 per cent to US$23.4 billion, four percentage points higher than in 2020.

Download growth has also slowed. Across both stores, there were an estimated 72.5 billion downloads of apps and games, up 1.7 per cent year on year. This is far behind the explosive 25.7 per cent growth seen in the first half of 2020.

Not even TikTok has been immune. Combined with Douyin, the short-video apps saw downloads fall 38 per cent in the first half of the year to 384 million.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.