With data tariffs touching rock bottom post Jio’s launch and smartphone penetration rising sharply, Indians are consuming content via their mobile devices like never before. This has led to the creation of a large amount of short video content, with multiple platforms offering a host of opportunities to generate such content. TikTok is one such platform, whose viral success was evident in the content creation frenzy across the country. The China-based app had been downloaded 2 billion times in India and had 200 million users in the country before it was banned by the government in June 2020. India was, in fact, TikTok’s largest overseas market and the company had planned to invest about $1 billion in it from 2019 onwards. Engagement rates for Indian TikTok influencers, at 16.82 per cent, were higher than the global average of 15.86 per cent.

Following TikTok’s exit from the country, there has been a surge in Indian short video platforms. As per a report by App Annie released in early 2020, Indian users had spent a combined 5.5 billion hours on TikTok in 2019. With the app’s departure, India’s 504 million internet users have been in search of alternative apps that could meet their creative and entertainment needs. Industry research has shown that Indian users are more attracted to the content of native influencers because their profiles are a fertile platform for home-grown brands, companies and advertisers. According to social media analytics company HypeAuditor, TikTok had given rise to over 200,000 influencers in India since July 2020. The majority of these influencers have between 5,000 and 20,000 followers.

A fledgling market

TikTok’s massive Indian user base of more than 200 million led to the proliferation of native apps such as Chingari, Mitron, Trell and Roposo, which saw a spike in users and engagement during the period following their launch. From 20 million users in financial year 2016, the Indian short-form video market garnered over 180 million users in the financial year 2020.

TikTok’s exit from the Indian market allowed the home-grown short video platforms to establish a firmer foothold in the market. In fact, the TikTok ban led to a strong V-shaped recovery for rival Indian platforms due to their swift and aggressive marketing. Josh, Moj and MX TakaTak, all platforms from established digital brands, are now entering the short video space. While international platforms such as Triller, Dubsmash, Reels on Instagram, and Shorts on YouTube have made an impact, they have not yet been able to penetrate the Indian short-format video market like native apps have.

Investors have also taken note of the success and growth of the short-form video market. A round of funding led by Nexus Venture Partners raised $5 million in August for Mitron TV. Inflection Point Ventures recently led a $4 million investment in Bolo Indya, which has 2.8 million content creators and 6.5 million users.

Five years from now, India is expected to have 970 million internet users. It is

estimated that the short-form video market will grow 4x in terms of total minutes, rising to 400-450 billion minutes per month from 110 billion minutes currently.

Drivers of change

Internet accessibility

The tech milieu in India has led to the launch of numerous new content apps over the last three to four years. India’s high global ranking in short-form video consumption can be attributed to its content creation velocity, which means the country creates a continuous stream of content in various formats, particularly on over-the-top and short-form video platforms. Further, cheaper internet services have made entertainment accessible to everyone via a smartphone or other device. A study notes that in India, people spend one-fifth of their day on smartphones.

Regional content

Over 65-70 per cent of former TikTok users in India have moved to the app’s local counterparts because they offer similar features, creativity and accessibility. Strong marketing campaigns have also enabled these apps to onboard 30-35 per cent of new users over the past year. The main reason for this trend is the increasing focus on vernacular content as well as the “Made in India” positioning of these apps. Industry reports indicate that 60-62 per cent of users of short-form video apps in India reside in Tier II cities, which is higher than that for other content-focused social media apps such as Instagram and YouTube. Further, according to RedSeer, 55 per cent of users use short video apps because of the regional content available. This has allowed Indian apps to develop a loyal user base that is likely to persist even if TikTok is allowed to operate again in the country. In its report, RedSeer further stated that Josh outperformed MX TakaTak in metro cities since it primarily had users from the Hindi belt, whereas Moj performed well in Tier II+ cities and was the second-best in Tier I cities, mostly due to regional marketing strategies.

Engagement from content creators

Creating content for short app videos does not require production, budgeting or fancy equipment. As a result, apps see engagement from content creators from all walks of life. In the past few years, many Indians have started pursuing careers in this space. According to RedSeer, micro-influencers (10,000 to 100,000 followers) earned between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 every month, macro-influencers (100,000 to 1 million followers) earned between Rs 73,000 and Rs 180,000, and mega-influencers (more than 1 million followers) earned Rs 1.5 million-Rs 3 million every month.


The way ahead

The RedSeer study estimates that Indians now spend 55 per cent of their time on short-form video apps, indicating a strong market opportunity as Indian platforms mature in 2021. Despite TikTok’s initial success in creating a short video ecosystem in the country, the company may not taste similar success again if the ban is lifted. As per industry surveys, 75 per cent of the current Indian users of short video platforms are unlikely to switch back to the Chinese app.

Clearly, home-grown apps are here to stay and they are, therefore, firming up plans to scale up. These platforms are investing in the future superstars of the Indian short video industry, as well as in scripting, presentation, shooting, editing and publishing. Josh, MX TakaTak and Moj have launched training, spotlight and content creation programmes for promising users over the past nine months. Josh organised a CreatorThon, MX Taka Tak launched a creator fund and a creator fellowship, and Moj released a creator programme.

User-created videos will continue to be a part of the social media landscape, especially for organic marketing, influencer marketing and paid advertising. Various advertisers, including both fast moving consumer goods and digital consumer services, have expressed interest in increasing the eyeballs for their brands by using this medium. In the financial year 2021, more than half of the digital advertising spend in the Indian economy ($2.37 billion) was on social media and online videos, making it one of the fastest growing advertising channels in the country. It is also expected that demand for the lifestyle, fashion, food, sports and fitness categories will surpass popular categories such as dance, lip-syncing, acting and comedy. Short videos will become more prominent in India’s education sector as well.

By Anjali Kumbhar