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As the U.S. weighs a ban on TikTok, the app's young stars consider their next move

Multiple platforms, including Instagram and YouTube, are building apps that mimic TikTok. But some stars see reality TV as their next stop.
Photo: Ellie Zeiler
TikTok star Ellie Zeiler gained more than 5 million followers on the app in less than four months.Courtesy Ellie Zeiler

Ellie Zeiler is already planning out what she will do if the United States bans TikTok.

The 16-year-old has amassed more than 5 million followers on the platform in less than half a year. But that audience could disappear.

“If TikTok is over, I want to transition into longer YouTube videos,” she said. “I’ve always had an interest in making longer videos for YouTube, and the one problem with TikTok is people don’t get to see your full personality in a 15-second video.”

Ellie is one of a new crop of internet stars who have enjoyed a meteoric rise on TikTok, the short-form video app that has itself experienced a rush of success in the past year.

But the app, owned by the Chinese technology company ByteDance, is now the target of growing scrutiny from the U.S. government for its ties to the Chinese government. U.S. lawmakers have expressed concerns about user privacy on the app since as early as October. On July 6, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham that the U.S. is considering banning TikTok, among other Chinese-owned apps.

That has left people like Ellie looking for other options. If a ban on TikTok materializes, they are hoping a similar platform takes its place. And there's no shortage of options from tech companies that are hoping to capture some or all of TikTok's success.

Instagram and YouTube are each working on their own short-form video platforms. And Dom Hofmann, the co-founder of Vine, one of the first apps to embrace short video snippets, launched Byte, a six-second video sharing app, in January. The app skyrocketed to No. 1 on the Apple App Store in the United States for a few days this month after rumors of a TikTok ban emerged.

But some creators aren't necessarily looking for the next TikTok.

Maxwell Mitcheson, vice president and head of talent at TalentX Entertainment, an agency that manages some of the largest TikTok stars, said internet creators are looking to go beyond their usual platforms to reach new audiences — even in more traditional venues like television.

“The best creators have always been able to program content for their audience and a variety of areas,” he said

“We are having our clients create content across all of the major platforms and looking at their careers and businesses, whether that’s long-form video on YouTube or Instagram, touring, acting, you name it.” Mitcheson said.

Many creators who thrived on TikTok are already capitalizing on opportunities beyond social media. The Hype House, a group of high school- and college-age creators who have gained TikTok fame in the past year, are in talks to create a reality show. The D’Amelio family, whose daughters Charli and Dixie have gained tens of millions of followers on TikTok, are also considering their own reality show and have signed a production deal with Industrial Media, according to The New York Times.

But smaller stars like Ellie still need to figure out how to build on their initial TikTok success. She said she may use the platform she has built to pursue another career. She’s interested in fashion and plans to go to college.

“If I decide to work in fashion, the following I have built on Instagram will help,” she said of the Facebook-owned platform, where she has 372,000 followers.