CHI­NESE IN­VA­SION

So­cial net­work­ing apps from China are tar­get­ing In­dia’s re­gional au­di­ence and gain­ing trac­tion.

Business Today - - THE BUZZ - By De­vika Singh Il­lus­tra­tion by Raj Verma

CHINA AND IN­DIA have been at log­ger­heads for years, but this time, the Asian su­per­pow­ers could be fight­ing a pitched bat­tle over so­cial me­dia plat­forms. Take, for in­stance, what is hap­pen­ing at ShareChat, In­dia’s fastest-grow­ing so­cial net­work­ing app that is avail­able in lo­cal lan­guages and tar­gets Tier II and Tier III ci­ties and be­yond. A cou­ple of months ago, the home­grown app dragged Chi­nese app Helo’s par­ent com­pany ByteDance to court for copy­ing its prod­uct de­sign and us­ing ‘ ShareChat’ as an ad-word on Google. It seems ByteDance wants to go all out to cap­ture the re­gional au­di­ence in the coun­try.

The tech com­pany, which owns sev­eral pop­u­lar apps in China such as Toutiao, TikTok and Xigua Video, also bought Cal­i­for­nia-based so­cial net­work­ing plat­form Mu­si­cal.ly ear­lier in the year and merged it with TikTok. Now, the com­pany has its eyes on In­dia and has launched sev­eral plat­forms in the coun­try which have gained huge pop­u­lar­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to data from New York­based an­a­lyt­ics com­pany Sim­i­larWeb, TikTok’s An­droid ver­sion had 17.11 mil­lion daily ac­tive users (DAUs) in In­dia in No­vem­ber 2018. Helo, which was ex­clu­sively launched in In­dia in June, claims to have 25 mil­lion monthly ac­tive users in the coun­try. Its short video-shar­ing app Vigo Video is also pop­u­lar here and its An­droid app clocked 6.42 mil­lion DAUs in In­dia in No­vem­ber, ac­cord­ing to Sim­i­larWeb.

Be­sides ByteDance, other Chi­nese apps have seen good en­gage­ment as well. Ten­cent-backed Chi­nese video con­tent plat­form Kwai had over 3,00,000 DAUs in In­dia in No­vem­ber.

Most of these apps fol­low an iden­ti­cal strat­egy in In­dia. They are avail­able in mul­ti­ple lan­guages, have a user-gen­er­ated con­tent model in place and are tar­get­ing the re­gional au­di­ence. In the ab­sence of proper reg­ula-

tions and con­tent mon­i­tor­ing, these apps bet heav­ily on short video clips, which are of­ten bawdy and bor­der on the ob­scene.

These China-born apps def­i­nitely pose a threat to their In­dian coun­ter­parts such as ShareChat, Clip and Ro­poso, which are tar­get­ing the same au­di­ence. But what is the rea­son be­hind the sud­den and wide­spread in­ter­est in the Chi­nese plat­forms?

Shya­manga Ba­rooah, Head of Op­er­a­tions at Helo, says there is a great op­por­tu­nity to bridge the dig­i­tal di­vide and in­clude the next-gen­er­a­tion In­dian In­ter­net users, who are more com­fort­able com­mu­ni­cat­ing in their mother tongues. Ac­cord­ingly, the com­pany de­liv­ers per­son­alised re­gional con­tent.

Girish Menon, Part­ner and Head, Me­dia and En­ter­tain­ment, at KPMG in In­dia, has a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. Ac­cord­ing to him, most of these apps have scaled up sig­nif­i­cantly in China on the back of mo­bile con­sump­tion, and there is no other mar­ket be­sides In­dia if they want to repli­cate that scale.

Their In­dia strate­gies are sim­i­lar to those they have adopted in China. The short, snack­able con­tent fea­tured on these apps is the right fit for the In­dian re­gional au­di­ence, com­ing to the In­ter­net for the first time.

“The de­mog­ra­phy is not re­ally dif­fer­ent in China and In­dia in terms of size, and it has given them tremen­dous in­sight into con­sumer be­hav­iour,” says Ra­man Kalra, Part­ner, PwC In­dia – En­ter­tain­ment, Me­dia and Sports Ad­vi­sory Leader.

“Chi­nese apps can be mon­e­tised only when there is a sig­nif­i­cant scale. But for In­dian apps to fol­low the same prin­ci­ple is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult,” says Menon of KPMG. “A Chi­nese player can af­ford to say that for the next five years, it will earn zero rev­enue but will con­tinue to grow its busi­ness. Whether an In­dian player can do the same will be the key to cor­ner­ing suc­cess.”

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