Chinese media app Toutaio has been described as the most addictive media platform in the world. Steven van Belleghem takes a closer look.

If you ask business leaders and marketers where they look to understand emerging tech trends, many of them would point towards Silicon Valley. As the home of tech giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Tesla, the area serves as a hub for innovation, and the developments in Silicon Valley continue to transform customers’ behaviour, and their expectations for what other brands should be doing.

In recent years, however, it is increasingly the case that European business leaders should perhaps be looking East, rather than West, for the big developments and opportunities in tech.

I regularly lead “innovation tours” to both the US and China to allow executives to see emerging tech trends first-hand. While most people are now aware of Alibaba and Tencent, there are some other exciting businesses that everyone should be aware of.

AI powering the news

Alibaba and Tencent are still widely regarded as the two untouchable tech giants in China. Recently, however, there has been another company which has given Alibaba and Tencent something serious to think about in the field of content since it was founded in 2012.

Bytedance is the parent company of China’s most popular media site, Toutiao. The word “Toutiao” translates as “headline”; its slogan is “The only true headlines are the things you care about” – which gives a clue as to what it makes it stand out from the crowd.

Toutiao is a new style of media app which uses artificial intelligence in order to source and curate daily news via its 4,000 partner sites. Some of the content is created by traditional journalists, some comes from social influencers, who are increasingly important in China. But the real differentiator is that Toutiao uses bots to make automated content tailored to the needs and behaviours of individual users.

Users of the app have information in which they have an interest pushed to their homepage using a complex algorithm. Through the technology of its AI Lab, Toutiao learns each user’s feedback and preferences from every interaction – time spent on an article, what time of day the user reads different content, comments, favourites, likes, dislikes and more. The result is a user experience that is more personalised than is currently offered by any of their local competitors, and arguably more than any other news platform in the world.

Seriously addictive content

Toutiao is now widely regarded as the most addictive media platform in the world. The average user of the app spends 74 minutes per day on the channel, which is particularly impressive when you compare that with the 50 minutes people spend on average on Facebook, and the 30 minutes spent on Snapchat. It also gets double the daily views that BBC Online receives globally!

Toutiao specialises in short video clips lasting around ten seconds, which are often funny and engaging so the use can easily watch one after another. However, it is the combination of AI and personalisation that has really created such an addictive user experience on the platform – it doesn’t just publish content, it pushes it to the individual user in a targeted way.

The app is able to cut through dozens of pages of results on news outlets for the user, solving the perceived problem of ‘too much choice’; no longer do you need to search for the content you like, Toutiao brings it to you and it is an undeniably convenient experience. Record-breaking monetisation

Toutiao has grown quickly to become one of the most used media apps in the world in a short time. What is perhaps more impressive than the levels of usage, however, is the speed at which Bytedance have been able to monetise the platform.

If you compare the first four years of monetisation of Toutiao with that of other leading tech platforms, including Facebook, Tencent, Twitter and LinkedIn, Toutiao is streets ahead. In fact, only the early years of Google’s monetisation come even close to its rate of growth. Bytedance has mastered the art of monetising media in a way that no company has ever managed before.

Of course, the impressive growth of Toutaio hasn’t gone unnoticed by investors, and Bytedance is rumoured to be planning to IPO in 2019. From the outside you would almost expect Alibaba or Tencent to be involved in some way, but Bytedance is independent and a true competitor to the Chinese tech giants, so it feels almost inevitable they will fight back in some way – it will be interesting to watch just how.

Prof. Steven van Belleghem is an expert in customer experience in the digital world. He is an award-winning author, and his latest book Customers The Day After Tomorrow is out now. Follow him on Twitter @StevenVBe, subscribe to his videos at or visit