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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

TikTok’s troubles are an opportunity for media companies 

May 13, 2024 | By Todd Krizelman, CEO – MediaRadar @ToddKrizelman
The topline: TikTok’s uncertain future offers an opening for media companies to attract brands that are currently spending on TikTok and seek more stable alternatives.

As the digital landscape faces the potential U.S. ban of TikTok, media companies are presented with a unique opportunity. TikTok has rapidly emerged as a dominant player in the advertising market, even rivaling giants like Meta, Amazon, and Google. Needless to say, open web publishers have felt the competition as well. However, TikTok’s uncertain future offers an opening for media companies to attract brands that are currently spending on TikTok and are seeking more stable alternatives.

With that in mind, my company, MediaRadar, conducted a comprehensive analysis of ad trends on TikTok to better understand patterns that could help media companies strategically position themselves during this transitional period. We found some useful openings in the ad market as well as some tactical tips for publishers positioning themselves to offer digital advertising alternatives. 

Overview of the digital ad spend

Before we get into TikTok, let’s table set the digital advertising marketplace: since January 2023, total media spending overall in the U.S. has reached $184 billion, with $150 billion spent in 2023 and an additional $33.5 billion in the first quarter of 2024. The primary sectors driving this investment are Retail, Technology, Media & Entertainment, Medical & Pharma, and Finance. They accounted for 49% of the total, contributing over $55.8 billion. This represents 56% of the $100 billion invested during this period.

Advertising expenditure on TikTok

On TikTok, advertising expenditure reached $3.8 billion in 2023, with nearly $909 million added in the first quarter of 2024. This brings TikTok’s total ad spend since January 2023 to $4.7 billion, which makes up just under 3% of all U.S. media ad revenue during this period. 

Yes, TikTok’s market share is modest. However, its impact is significant, especially in engaging dynamic and visually-oriented industries such as Media & Entertainment, Retail, Technology, Beauty, and Professional Services. Brands in these sectors alone have spent over $2.4 billion on the platform, representing 51% of TikTok’s total ad buys.

TikTok experienced significant growth in the first quarter of 2024, with spending increasing 13% from $805 million in the same quarter of 2023. Monthly increases were 18% in January, 4% in February, and 19% in March.

The top 1,000 advertisers in 2023 significantly increased their investment, spending $340 million on TikTok—up 47% year-over-year. These advertisers accounted for 37% of the $909 million spent on TikTok in the quarter. For comparison, the top 1,000 brands in digital media overall spent nearly $6.4 billion in Q1 2024, marking a 20% decrease from the previous year.

Advertising opportunity for digital media companies

In April 2024, President Joe Biden signed a law that put restrictions on TikTok in the U.S. Even though it may take a while to play out, the uncertainty alone is likely to create opportunity for digital publishers to woo advertisers seeking alternatives to the platform. The challenge is not just to capture ad dollars but also to prevent them from flowing into platforms like Meta (Instagram and Facebook) and Snapchat, which are poised to benefit from any shifts in the digital landscape. 

Here are three key takeaways for publishers to help win those migrating dollars. 

1. Embrace and promote snackable, short-form video content

TikTok’s success is largely built on its short, engaging video formats that appeal to younger audiences. Publishers should develop and showcase their own versions of these video formats that are optimized for quick consumption and designed to keep the audience coming back for more. By demonstrating the ability to produce compelling short-form content, publishers can attract brands interested in engaging the digitally native audience that thrives on quick, impactful visuals and storytelling.

2. Emphasize the advantage of brand safety

In a digital advertising landscape where brand safety continues to be a major concern, publishers have a distinct advantage over platforms like TikTok, known for their UGC which can often veer into controversial territory. Publishers should highlight their controlled environments and rigorous content standards, presenting themselves as a safer alternative for brands that want to ensure their ads are displayed in a reputable context. This is particularly persuasive for TikTok’s largest advertisers, who are likely larger brands who deeply care about their brand and its equity. 

TikTok has proven effective at driving sales and conversions through innovative ad formats and integrated shopping features, like TikTok Shop. Media companies should also capitalize on this trend by promoting how their content can drive consumer action. This involves showcasing success stories and case studies where advertising with them has led to measurable increases in sales or conversions. By articulating how their platforms facilitate a seamless journey from content engagement to purchase, publishers can appeal to advertisers looking for clear ROI on their ad spend.

By focusing on these strategies—leveraging formats that appeal to the TikTok audience, ensuring brand safety, and demonstrating a direct path to consumer action—publishers can effectively redirect advertising dollars to their platforms as they become available.

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