TikTok Ban: Six months on, home-grown short-video platforms vie to fill in the void

Buoyed by growing smartphone penetration, affordable data price, and depth of fresh entertaining content, the short-form video has emerged as the fastest-growing content category

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: Jan 5, 2021 8:30 AM  | 11 min read
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TikTok's loss has been a gain for India’s home-grown user-generated short-video platforms like Dailyhunt’s Josh, Times Internet’s MX TakaTak, ShareChat’s Moj, and InMobi’s Roposo. In June 2020, the Indian government banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, amid the border stand-off between the Indian and Chinese armies.

Until its ban, TikTok was the undisputed leader of the category that it had helped create. At the time of its ban, TikTok had 85-90% share of the total time spent on consuming short-form content.

The ban left a huge void in the short-form video market that has been on an explosive growth path. Six months into the TikTok ban, a clutch of home-grown short-form video platforms are trying hard to fill in the gap created by the category leader’s absence.

While a large part of the gap is yet to be filled, a report by consulting firm RedSeer indicates that 40% of the TikTok opportunity has been captured by Indian short-form apps even as total time spent on short-form video platforms has almost halved to 80 billion minutes in October 2020 compared to 165 billion minutes in June 2020. This excludes apps like Instagram Reels, Gaana Hotshots, Sharechat, and Helo which have short-video as an integrated feature.

According to RedSeer Associate Partner Ujjwal Chaudhary, the boom in short-form video content consumption is being driven by the need to consume free bite-sized content that is not available on over the top (OTT) platforms.

“Most of the content on OTT platforms are long-form while the young audience is seeking bite-sized content for instant fun. There is also a demand for free content as is visible in the gap between free and paid OTT users. Furthermore, top YouTube channels also lack personalised entertainment content offerings. So, all these factors have contributed to the growth of short-form content,” Chaudhary said.


Investor interest in short-video space

Buoyed by the growing smartphone penetration, affordable data price, and depth of fresh entertaining content, the short-form video has emerged as the fastest-growing content category. The short-form video category has also become an investment magnet.

There have been a spate of high-profile investment deals in the space. Ver Se Innovation has raised $100 million+ from AlphaWave, Google, and Microsoft for Josh. InMobi’s Glance, which owns and operates short-video content platform Roposo, has received a $145 million investment from Google and existing investor Mithril Capital.

In September 2020, ShareChat raised $40 million in Pre-Series E round from Dr. Pawan Munjal, DCM Shriram Promoters Family Office, SAIF Partners, Twitter, Lightspeed Ventures, and India Quotient for driving Moj’s growth.

Chingari has received seed funding of $1.3 million from AngelList, LogX Ventures, iSeed, Village Global, and some others in August 2020. Gurugram-based Bolo Indya raised $400,000 in a funding round led by Inflection Point Ventures and Eagle10 Ventures.


Boom in consumption of short-form content

According to InMobi CEO Naveen Tewari, the past two quarters have been great for short-video platforms. “Over the past few years, the video has become the primary format for content consumption. Over the past few months, digital consumption has gone up because of the pandemic. Coupled with these macro-trends is the fact that short-video platform such as Roposo make it possible for users to not just consume entertaining content, but also express themselves and showcase their talent. Unlike in the past, it is now possible for users to create an audience for themselves regardless of where they come from. All that they need is an innate talent and motivation; the short-video platforms provide the tools and the audience for that talent to surface and be appreciated,” he added.

Moj Director - Content Strategy Shashank Shekhar said that the short video platforms have witnessed an astounding growth in the last one year with Moj reaching 80 million monthly active users within the first few months of its launch. “We have also observed our users spending an average of 34 minutes daily on the platform, thus showing the stickiness and popularity of the product,” he stated.

According to Shekhar, snackable video content has evolved as the most preferred format of content consumption on social media in the past three years and this trend has exploded to greater heights in 2020. He further stated that Indian audiences are hungry for short, snackable videos now more than ever.

Talking about the competition in the market, Rizzle CEO & Co-founder Vidya Narayanan noted, “With India banning TikTok along with a long list of other Chinese apps, over a dozen other short video platforms have emerged. Some like Triller had existed before but took an aggressive shot at the market to fill the TikTok void. With Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, and Snapchat Spotlight, all the major players jumped in. Others like MX TakaTak and Josh launched in the Indian market with the backing of large, existing players, ready to invest heavily in the market to take over the hundreds of millions of people that had made TikTok their home for their daily dose of short videos. About half a dozen other short video apps were launched by small players, all competing to become the next TikTok.”

While stating that the social and entertainment side of short videos is just scratching the surface, Narayanan said that the evolution of smart-phone features has democratised the world of video creation and distribution.


TikTok ban – a catalyst for home-grown platforms

Mitron TV CEO & Co-founder Shivank Agarwal said that the TikTok ban has been the catalyst in accelerating the growth of home-grown short format video apps. However, Mitron was launched way before the ban and had already crossed 10 million downloads by then, he added.

Bolo Indya CEO and Founder Varun Saxena said that the TikTok ban has helped the home-grown apps in acquiring users at almost a minimal cost and a very fast pace. “While it reduced user acquisition cost by 3-4x, it reduced the time span to achieve the same user base by around 10x.”

Shekhar said that there was a content vacuum in the market following the TikTok ban. ShareChat, he added, saw an opportunity and addressed the market by launching Moj. “However, our growth has been organic in nature, particularly coming from our efforts in improving stickiness & retention on the platform, acquiring the best content creators and diversifying the content platter, and growth hacking for building organic installs and word of mouth,” he noted.

While the TikTok ban helped many newly launched platforms to gain market share, a lot of platforms like Roposo and Rizzle were already present in the market and had already built a loyal audience base over the last few years.

According to Tewari, the ban on Chinese apps is an opportunity for India to establish itself as the next digital hub after the US and China.


Content strategy

Roposo, Tewari said, is a user-generated short-video platform that creates content across several genres including entertainment, comedy, food, dance, and music.

Chingari Co-founder and CEO Sumit Ghosh said that their content strategy boils down to figuring out what content will inspire and entertain their users. “Till now, we have inked many content deals, which includes, miss-world-morning star, Main Bhi-Bachchan, Chingari Style star, etc.”

Shekhar said that Moj’s content strategy is completely focused on user-generated content. He added that user-generated short video content has proven to outperform professionally generated content, which is produced with heavy budgets and is not sustainable in the long run. “We have invested significant efforts in acquiring the top content creators from the Indian short video ecosystem and have more than 300 Tier I influencers active on our platform,” he averred.

Moj, Shekhar said, aims to break away from the regular categories of short video content like dance & lip-sync and diversify the content available in far more niche categories. “We have identified 500+ sub-genres of short video content and are building a unique and distinct content supply by acquiring the best creators in those particular categories,” he revealed.

While Bolo Indya’s content is entirely user-generated, it has inked some barter content deals with platforms like Utter. “We have quite a few content deals lined up for announcement in January, from OTTs to music labels to production houses from Bollywood, Tollywood as well as Bangla film industry. We shall be making them public in the next few weeks,” said Saxena.

Talking about Mitron’s content strategy, Agarwal said that the platform had launched new categories which enable users to discover the content of their interest and creators to engage with like-minded followers. Further, it has released several category & mood-based in-app original tracks and music for creators. Recently, it had also inked a licensing deal with Zee Music Co.

Narayanan said that creators must make at least three videos using the Rizzle camera to get certified for original content before they can upload content from their gallery. This helps Rizzle to enhance the overall appeal of the platform. “With sound-effects, green screen, picture-in-picture, and other great features, Rizzle is optimised for series creation, from simple vlogs to scripted series,” she added.


Revenue model for platforms and creators

Tewari said that Roposo is a creator-first platform where creators come to showcase their talent and monetise their talent and content. “What sets Roposo apart from other short video platforms is the concept of coins. Creators accumulate coins on the platform based on the engagement that their content delivers. These coins are redeemable by creators. Further, creators can earn money through brand partnerships, namely hashtag challenges, on the platform,” he said.

Ghosh revealed that Chingari plans to on-board more creators and offer them real cash to make their Chingari journey more enjoyable. “Chingari also gives an opportunity to earn coins. You get Chingari coins for every like, comment, follow, and join bonus in your wallet. Redeem the coins that you earn in your wallet into money, and convert them into cash. You need a minimum of 1000 coins to redeem your money,” he noted.

Rizzle, Narayanan said, is very focused on creator development and audience growth at the moment. “Despite advertisers having reached out to us, that is not our focus right now.”

She also stated that there are equal monetisation opportunities available to all creators at Rizzle through their in-app sponsorship model. “By creating 30 videos, a channel can be upgraded to premium status which then enables the audience to sponsor it. With three tiers of premium -- silver, gold, and platinum, fans who like the content can choose to sponsor a channel at any of these levels from 99 cents for three months to $2.99 a month,” she elaborated.

Further, the sponsorships are structured for micropayments that are affordable to the masses and function as a voluntary gesture of support from the audience without any paywall. In addition, Rizzle Bounties is a program where creators can win cash and awards for achieving various milestones with their videos.

Mitron has set itself a three-month target internally to start monetising its content. The plan, Agarwal said, is to ensure that ads will be innovative as they need to integrate the brand’s messaging and influencer’s creativity seamlessly together.

Once we start monetising the content, there will be several opportunities for the creators to make money via brand integration and promotions,” said Agarwal, while adding that the platform is working on a strategy for bringing in creators from across the spectrum.

Moj has seen significant interest from advertisers organically ranging from digital consumer services to FMCG. “We have done some pilots with a few selected brands so far. Currently, our focus is completely on growth and we will continue to strengthen the platform and our creator’s ecosystem before we focus on brand collaborations,” said Shekhar.

Currently, Moj has tens of thousands of creators enrolled in the Moj Creators Program. Further, it has partnered with third-party experts to identify potential talents and groom them to mature as polished content creators. “Our initial focus was to build a strong ecosystem for the creators before we start enabling monetisation opportunities for them. We will soon explore multiple revenue avenues for the creators.”

Bolo Indya’s Saxena noted that the advertising deals are around influencer-led content generation and using it as influencing content to help the brands achieve their end KPIs. “We have been working with brands both from India and US for influencer-led commerce and marketing on the platform,” he said.

Advertising forms around 60% of Bolo Indya’s revenue while 40% comes through Bolo Meets, a specialised creator-focused services commerce proposition. Bolo Meets offers a unique proposition to content creators to be able to monetise their content and social capital

“We already have creators earning in the range of Rs 60-70k on the platform on an average by delivering their services on to their follower base. We expect this number to cross 1 lakh per month for creators by March 2021,” he stated.

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