ByteDance is shutting down TopBuzz, its attempt to build a news app for an international audience, in a high-profile failure for one of China’s most valuable tech companies.
TopBuzz aggregated news from media outlets, following the template of ByteDance’s successful Chinese news app Jinri Toutiao, which translates as “Today’s Headlines”.
But while the Chinese app was ByteDance’s first breakthrough, building a huge audience after its launch in 2012, TopBuzz quickly ran into controversy for serving up fake news stories, such as a carrying a report that Yoko Ono had claimed an affair with Hillary Clinton.
In 2018, TopBuzz said it had removed 2.7m pieces of content that violated its standards.
ByteDance is best known for Douyin in China and TikTok overseas, sister apps which aim to entertain users with a stream of short videos.
Launched in 2015, TopBuzz racked up 40m monthly users three years later but never reached the same level of popularity that TikTok now enjoys. Downloads and users gradually dwindled as the company cut back on advertising and focused elsewhere.
“We are proud of the work that we accomplished with TopBuzz, but have determined that other areas of the business should be our priority going forward,” the company said.
Last September, tech news website The Information reported that ByteDance was in talks with US media groups to sell TopBuzz, after it had fallen in the rankings of top apps, with one investor suggesting that ByteDance wished to focus on TikTok.
The TopBuzz app has been removed from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store and the last update pushed through to existing users was on May 9.
Matthew Brennan, founder of tech consultancy China Channel, said Jinri Toutiao had been successful in China, where there was a “lack of a direct Facebook news feed equivalent”.
But he said in the rest of the world, news aggregators faced the challenge that “Facebook already provided news relevant to users in their feeds . . . All the top news sources have their own apps as well”.
“If something’s not working or it’s going along with low growth, [ByteDance] will just shut it down. They are not sentimental.”
The company shut down hit app Neihan Duanzi in 2018 after vulgar jokes and videos on the platform ran foul of Chinese government regulators.