Chi­nese apps crack lan­guage bar­rier code

Bat­tle now is for re­gion-fo­cused prod­ucts for non-English speak­ing first-time In­ter­net users in the coun­try

Business Standard - - COMPANIES - YUVRAJ MA­LIK

Last month, Sharechat, a top ver­nac­u­lar con­tent shar­ing platform, sued new en­trant Helo for us­ing its copy­ing de­sign and in­dulging in un­fair com­pe­ti­tion.

Helo, an app by Chi­nese tech gi­ant ByteDance, is a lot like Sharechat. Both have a time­line and con­tent shar­ing fea­tures that, brashly put, re­sem­ble In­sta­gram.

When it comes to tar­get­ing the non-English speak­ing users in In­dia, Chi­nese apps have been far more suc­cess­ful com­pared to oth­ers.

In the last 18 months, at least half a dozen apps have en­tered the In­dian mar­ket, in­clud­ing play­ers such as Helo, Like, Clip, Tik Tok, Kwai and Vigo Video with fo­cus on ei­ther of the three cat­e­gories — so­cial me­dia and con­tent shar­ing, news, or user gen­er­ated video.

Ex­cept for Clip, all oth­ers are run by cre­ators in China or neigh­bour­ing coun­tries in South East Asia.

These apps have been hugely suc­cess­ful in crack­ing the In­dian ver­nac­u­lar mar­ket.

The fight now is about re­gion-fo­cused prod­ucts for non-English speak­ing first­time in­ter­net users, where even deep-pocket global com­pa­nies such as Face­book, Twit­ter or What­sApp are find­ing it dif­fi­cult to main­tain user trac­tion.

It’s not that In­dian apps are much be­hind. In fact, Sharechat and news platform Dai­lyHunt have largely cre­ated the re­gional au­di­ence niche in In­dia, tog­gling be­tween 25 and 30 mil­lion monthly ac­tive users.

But the one thing that is favour­ing the Chi­nese play­ers is their huge ex­pe­ri­ence back home, a coun­try of 1.3

bil­lion peo­ple. This is help­ing them gain troves of data and in­sights, help­ing them take big strides in In­dia. China has seen a pro­lif­er­a­tion of so­cial apps like nowhere else in the world. These are ubiq­ui­tous and the space has ma­tured to a point of amal­ga­ma­tion among con­tent shar­ing, mes­sag­ing and pay­ments plat­forms, said a New Delhi-based an­a­lyst, who tracks in­ter­net firms.

“They have troves of data and in­sights on how these plat­forms work and now with user growth in China slow­ing, these firms are look­ing to In­dia,” the an­a­lyst added.

Last year ByteDance bought Mu­si­cal.ly, a Dub­s­mash-like video app, for $1 bil­lion and merged it with Tik Tok, one of its own apps.

To­gether, Tik Tok is now the largest platform for user gen­er­ated lip- sync videos in the world.

ByteDance, a $30 bil­lion in­ter­net be­he­moth, owes its suc­cess to Jinri Toutiao (mean­ing to­day’s head­lines in Man­darin), a news app and the com­pany’s flag­ship prod­uct.

With 120 mil­lion daily ac­tive users in China, Toutiao is the dom­i­nant news app in the coun­try and is said to have cracked the code for bring­ing lo­calised news to the fore. ByteDance — also a ma­jor in­vestor in In­dia’s Dai­lyHunt — has turned bullish with Helo.

“We wanted to use our lo­cal un­der­stand­ing of the needs of a mar­ket – what kind of con­tent is be­ing con­sumed and shared and so on. We found that a lot of peo­ple wanted to con­nect even over What­sApps sta­tus up­dates, trendy top­ics, ro­mance con­tent and more such sharable con­tent. We wanted to cre­ate a more holis­tic ser­vice that al­lows peo­ple to con­nect to the right com­mu­nity and con­tent,” said Bella Bal­doza, a direc­tor at Helo, in a call from Sin­ga­pore.

While Bal­doza did not di­vulge the ac­tual user num­bers (Helo is live only in In­dia), she said that the app launched in June this year, has grown phe­nom­e­nally. Data from app An­nie shows Helo is among the top 10 apps in terms of Google rank­ings, go­ing neck and neck with Sharechat.

Be­sides Chi­nese apps, ven­ture cap­i­tal (VC) in­vestors from China are also bet­ting big on the space. Shun­wei Cap­i­tal, a Chi­nese early-to mid- stage VC, re­cently led a $100 mil­lion round in Sharechat at a re­ported val­u­a­tion of $460 mil­lion. It is also an in­vestor in Ben­galuru-head­quar­tered Clip along with phone maker Xiaomi.

“It’s not about tier II and tier III cities but about users’ knowl­edge of English. I know English so I have a bunch of op­tions – I can go to Medium, I can go to Quora, I can down­load Kin­dle or Google Play­books. Any­body who doesn’t know English, there is noth­ing re­ally they can do. There are no real plat­forms where I can go and read in, say, Ben­gali or Marathi,” said Ran­jeet Pratap Singh, co-founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer at ver­nac­u­lar story telling platform Pratilipi.

With the Met­ros get­ting sat­u­rated, it has be­come in­cred­i­bil­ity im­por­tant for in­ter­net plat­forms to cap­ture new users from smaller towns and cities.

Google has put its weight be­hind The Next Bil­lion, a di­vi­sion for cre­at­ing lo­calised prod­ucts while Face­book and Twit­ter are on a spree of tie-ups with re­gional news out­lets and con­tent cre­ators to push ver­nac­u­lar con­tent.

The one thing that is favour­ing the Chi­nese play­ers is their huge ex­pe­ri­ence back home, a coun­try of 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple. This is help­ing them gain troves of data and in­sights, help­ing them take big strides in In­dia

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