An assortment of Indian video-sharing apps are competing to take over the commanding position that TikTok enjoyed in the country until it was banned in June.
More than 200 million Indian users of the wildly popular Chinese app, as well as other new users, are searching for the right alternative, ratcheting up dizzying growth for local video-sharing apps that were little known before the ban.
There are more than 10 major apps in the running, all counting on a surge in techno-nationalism for their rise against foreign rivals, such as Instagram Reels and the United States-based Dubsmash.
Among the domestic front runners is Roposo, which brands itself as “India ka apna video app” (India’s own video app). It has seen its number of monthly active users rise from 15 million in June to 60 million last month.
The arrival of millions of new users is a windfall that some of these apps have not been ready to accommodate.
Mr Sumit Ghosh, chief executive and co-founder of Chingari, another Indian contender, said the day after the TikTok ban its service registered 600,000 downloads every hour.
“The whole team was up for the whole 48 hours (following the ban) trying to keep up with the users,” he told The Straits Times.
“Now obviously we have scaled up and stabilised.”
The companies have also had to ramp up staff levels.
For instance, Chingari has doubled its engineering team – from seven to 14.
Indian apps have also begun spending money to keep the influx of new users coming, as well as retain existing ones.
“Those are the two big challenges and those two are the biggest elements in terms of the efforts that a company puts in,” said Mr Bikash Chowdhury, chief marketing officer for Glance, which owns Roposo.
The app is trying to retain users by giving them “coins”.
In the running to replace TikTok
Founded in 2014 and acquired by Glance last November. Monthly active users have risen from 15 million in June to 60 million last month. It has more than 90 million downloads, up from 50 million prior to the ban.
Launched in 2018, it has gone from 3.5 million downloads before the ban to more than 26 million now; daily active users have shot up from half a million to three million. It was named the winner of the government’s “AatmaNirbhar” Bharat (“Self-reliant” India) App Innovation Challenge in the social category on Aug 7.
Launched in April. The number of daily active users has increased from one million to four million while downloads have nearly trebled from 12 million to 33 million.
Founded in 2017, it has notched up five million daily active users from one million before the ban. Downloads have risen from 40 million to 75 million.
Each user gets a few such coins for their first video and earns more subsequently, based on how well their videos perform.
These coins can be redeemed on Paytm, an Indian digital wallet.
Users are minting as much as 100,000 rupees (S$1,840) a month on the platform through these coins.
Chingari, meanwhile, announced a countrywide talent contest on July 15 with a top prize of 10 million rupees as well as 500,000 rupees for each state-level winner.
The firm expects more than 10 million creators to take part.
“We feel we have a very short window of three to six months to fill this void that TikTok has left,” added Mr Ghosh, referring to a possibility that TikTok could return to India, if it meets the government’s conditions, and recoup its users.
The need for deep pockets as apps capitalise on their growth has pushed start-ups to seek out funding while avoiding Chinese money.
Chingari announced this week that it had received seed funding of US$1.3 million (S$1.8 million) from Indian and American investors while Mitron raised 20 million rupees recently.
Mitron founder and CEO Shivank Agarwal told The Straits Times that the Indian market is big enough for players to grow beyond TikTok’s core base that catered largely to young users focused on humour.
The smartphone user base in India is expected to grow from 500 million to 900 million by 2023.
“The good thing is that we were growing rapidly even when TikTok was already here,” he said, adding that there are opportunities in smaller cities and towns across India as well as in the age segment beyond 40.
How-to videos, he said, could be one such category for the app’s expansion.
However, Mr Tarun Pathak, an associate director with Counterpoint Research, said the game to replace TikTok is about who pulls in the most influencers and how users react to an app’s features.
TikTok was especially popular for its ability to recommend videos matching user’s preferences and its easy-to-use editing tools.
“Creation of an app that can match TikTok will be very difficult over a small amount of time, especially for start-ups,” he noted.
The ease of using TikTok is what Ms Geetha Sridhar misses most.
Ms Sridhar was widely followed for her recipes and tips on how to live well, and had a million followers on the Chinese app.
She has tried some of the Indian alternatives but they have left her unimpressed. She has grudgingly settled for an account on Rizzle, an Indian-American app.
“No one can beat TikTok,” Ms Sridhar, 54, told The Straits Times. “It’s my day, my lover, my boyfriend.”
And like any faithful lover, Ms Sridhar awaits the day when TikTok may return. “I still have 60 videos saved as drafts,” she said.