Coronavirus: UK’s first ‘TikTok house’ opens during outbreak
Six of the UK’s most famous TikTok content creators have moved together and are trying to meet an increase in demand from teenagers en masse, despite some doubts about the timing.
The Bytehouse collective planned the move before the coronavirus pandemic and completed it before the UK blockade on March 23rd. It is the first “TikTok house” in the United Kingdom, a phenomenon already established in the United States.
Video producers are progressing despite their families and others expressing reservations about the timing of the initiative.
An industry expert also suggested that the pandemic would make the effort less profitable than it could have been.
TikTockers have a combined following of over 14 million people. Their videos currently reach over 73 million people per week.
The abbreviated social media platform was the second most downloaded app of 2019 after WhatsApp.
People in the UK have spent much more time on TikTok since blocking and social isolation measures were announced. There was a 23% increase in the average viewing time between January and March, according to Sensor Tower analysts.
Roommates, Shauni, 19, SurfaceLdn, 22, seb, 20, Monty, 17, KT Franklin, 19 and Lily Rose, 20, will respond to challenges and try to create useful content related to coronavirus, as well as the most common memes and dance jokes.
In addition to publishing content on their individual accounts, the six stars are also attempting to create some sort of reality show – by publishing a narrative of their experience on the Bytehouse accounts, which appear on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram.
The collective collaborated with Rise above, a project developed by Public Health England, to help promote positive mental health messages during the blockade to a predominantly teenage audience.
Initially, the initiative was to last three months and include shorter visits from lesser-known TikTok creators.
There are gay and heterosexual couples in the Victorian home, designed to be “a safe LGBTQ space”, but its location in central London is kept secret to keep fans from trying to visit.
A post suggests indoor activities, such as learning “foot strokes” and “building forts”.
“I want to help people through coronavirus by helping them stay inside,” says Monty.
“We are doing daily live streams and other content, so followers have things to interact with while they stay at home. Seeing some of the reactions and comments is really encouraging.”
But the six also publish advertising campaigns on brands and promote musical pieces in groups, joining forces and thus increasing the earning power.
For example, housemates are paid to play a night card game called What meme? – advertise it to your audience.
In accordance with the rules, these posts are marked with the hashtag “ad”.
“If you want to create next generation content for Gen Z, then it has to come from Gen Z itself, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” says Flow Adepoju, head of innovation for Fanbytes, owner of the Bytesized talent, the company who manages all the roommates.
Fanbytes provides a weekly “care package” to the house, containing food and essential items.
YouTube stars in America, such as Team 10 – with brothers Logan and Jake Paul – and FaZe Clan, have been gathering in homes for many years now, says Mustafa Mohamed, co-founder of another influencer agency, Yoke Network.
Meanwhile, British game star KSI lived in The Sidemen House.
And more recently, the biggest American stars of TikTok have occupied the Hype House.
The logic is that you pollinate your audience, explains Mohamed.
“I worked with a TikTok star called Avani who was in the Hype House,” he says.
“I’ve seen her go from a few million to about 15 million followers – and the amount she has been able to earn from her posts has also skyrocketed.”
The Fanbytes team has planned this project since the beginning of the year.
They considered canceling it when it became clear that the coronavirus would hit the UK.
“I had a sincere conversation with our influencers,” says Timothy Armoo, head of Fanbytes, “and each of them was still ready to make it happen.”
Some had conversations with their parents, who expressed their doubts – but were persuaded when they realized how much the opportunity meant for their children, says Armoo.
The TikTok house in Los Angeles known as Fenty Beauty, founded by the musician Rihanna to promote its beauty products, decided to close in late March.
A company spokesman described it as “a precautionary measure due to Covid-19”. The roommates continued to post remotely.
Some TikTok users used the comments section on videos posted to the Bytehouse account to ask themselves if it was wise to move on with the British house TikTok.
Some wondered if it had undermined the government’s message about social distancing.
But despite reservations about being separated from their families, roommates have recognized how important it can be for their career on social media, Armoo says, especially when they took into consideration the extra traffic that could come from blocking measures.
Armoo had previously worked with Public Health’s Rise Above project in England – creating a football challenge on TikTok to combat antisocial behavior – so he was well positioned to bring the collective in with the project.
Roommates were careful to repeat the “stay home” message to fans.
Overall, Armoo thinks that the bet to move on with the house, despite the coronavirus, has paid off.
“We have had tens of thousands of teenage comments saying that our content is brightening their day,” he says.
He won’t say how much money TikTok’s roommates have made so far.
But Tiktok stars with over two million followers in the UK can earn annual revenue of up to £ 25,000, he says, and some can earn a lot more with long-term brand agreements and merchandising opportunities.
However, the time at home during the block may not necessarily be the same as money, a digital agency accustomed to working with TikTok talents warns.
“The first things brands cut into a crisis like this are their marketing budget,” says Alex Jobling of Burstimo.
He believes it is a good time for influencers to grow their following, but not necessarily to gather new sponsorship deals.
The common mission of influencers is to make social media celebrities their primary source of income and full-time employment.
According to roommate Monty, one of the reasons to join the house is to show that UK stars TikTok can achieve the same status as their American counterparts.
“I feel that the British scene is not taken as seriously as the American one, so it was nice to take the opportunity, knowing it was a big deal.”
So far the content of roommates hasn’t had a big impact on YouTube or Instagram, where their videos only get a few thousand views.
However, the roommates on TikTok have already achieved excellent results. Their Bytehouse group account has more than 230,000 followers.
Three of their videos recorded over 800,000 views.
Their most popular video to date has reached 1.7 million, making fun of Hype House in America.
Follow Dougal on Twitter: @dougalshawbbc