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Short Videos - Indian Startups in a Battle Royale

Not familiar with Battle Royales? Battle Royales were made infamous by WWE where multiple wrestlers would fight in a single ring with the objective of eliminating the others and emerging victorious. The battle to become the top short video app in India is very similar to a Battle Royale. Let's dive straight into it.

A short video is any clip which does not cross the 10-minute mark but in today’s age of social media, a short video is any clip which does not cross the minute mark. This has become increasingly popular in today’s age as content creators can share multiple videos without focusing on large content and users can access multiple videos without committing too much time to a particular video.

In India, video is now the most popular format for ads with the country being the sixth largest consumer of video ads. Further, the number of smartphone users in India is expected to reach 700 million by 2023 which makes mobile advertisements very crucial for brands and this has led to the rise of content creation through short videos as a way of engaging and advertising to the users.

Short video content is a niche space in content creation that has been left out with a big void ever since the current BJP Government decided to ban 59 Chinese apps including the most popular one – TikTok.

TikTok managed to function at close to 150 million active users in India alone and clearly outranked other influencer marketing platforms like Instagram and Twitter in terms of Engagement Rate. Influencer Marketing Hub analysed over 1,00,000 influencer accounts across platforms and TikTok ranked highest with an average engagement rate of 7.7% whereas Instagram ended up in a not so close second with an average of 3.8%. The ban on TikTok affected both the content creators as well as the content consumers as the livelihood of most of the content creators depended on their traction on TikTok. PM Modi’s Aatmanirbhar approach motivated many startups operating under the radar in the same space to step up and fill in the big shoes left by TikTok.

The answer to who will fill the shoes could have been answered by probably just one or two players who would then battle it out to acquire the most users in the least time to ensure dominance over the other. However, India saw the rise of 5+ short video apps with each of them resembling the user experience of TikTok and to make matters even more interesting, Instagram brought its Reels feature to India to perfectly capitalize on the situation.

TikTok had a very controversial stay in India due to the lack of filtering and curation in their content which paved way for challenges from courts, NGOs and women’s groups. On the flipside, all the Indian alternatives are claiming to be a more family friendly app with a strict filtration process and with curation more specific to India’s diverse culture. Let’s find out more about these Indian alternatives.

Chingari - The Winner of PM Modi’s coveted Aatmanirbhar Challenge. Chingari is easily one of the best go-to alternatives to TikTok with a very easy to use interface and an option to choose from 11 languages for its content. Chingari seems to be focusing a lot on customer retention and engagement with a supplementary section allowing users to read news in regional languages as well as play over 250 casual games. However, for the uninitiated the app can be a little difficult to navigate especially since the “Explore” section purely depends on trending hashtags with no correlation to the category or nature of the video. (Latest Funding - $1.3 Mn)

Mitron - Special mention in The Aatmanirbhar Challenge. By the looks of the app, Mitron still seems to be in a very early phase with a few key features like Explore and Vernacularly filtered content still under development. It is a very limited app right now with a focus only on watching short videos and they will need to roll out more user friendly features in order to keep a hold on the churn rate. (Latest Funding - $280K)

Roposo - What started off as a fashion discovery platform now aims to be India’s giant in the social network space with its pivot to video sharing in 2019. Compared to its competitors, Roposo seems to have their app figured out and has one of the best interfaces making it very easy for any new user to navigate and understand. Apart from providing close to 8 languages to filter the content, Roposo provides close to 12 languages for the app usage itself allowing greater flexibility when it comes to expanding on a regional level. The Explore section allows users to navigate content based on both trending hashtags as well as categories ranging across News, Photography, Fitness etc. Roposo also promotes content creation through additional features like “Duet” and “Mix N Match” which gives an array of options for younger creators to choose from.

Moj - Moj allows you to navigate content across 16 languages and is very traditional in its approach as a short video app with its focus primarily being on short videos for user engagement. The Explore section allows users to explore categories which are presented in the form of hashtags which does simplify navigation. However, the design of any creator’s profile is very similar to how profiles look on Instagram with an overview of posts, followers and following.

Bolo Indya - Bolo Indya allows users to navigate the app and the content across 13 languages, however the user can only see the content in the language he has chosen for app usage. (If your app language is Hindi then you can only navigate Hindi content). But, Bolo Indya is fairly low in its user base in comparison to its competition and is currently working on its “Earn Money” campaign where they are educating users on how they can become a content creator and earn money through Bolo Indya. The explore section however is well sorted, allowing navigation through trending videos and categories of your choice. The “Update your Interests” section is a feature unique to Bolo Indya which aims at providing content more relevant to your interests. (Latest Funding - $300K).

With every app mentioned above trying to beat out each other and fill the void in the space, a question remains unanswered – How do they beat out Instagram Reels?

Facebook launched Lasso in 2018 which unfortunately failed but served as a beta allowing them to come up with a better platform in the form of Reels. In November 2019, Instagram launched Reels in Brazil and slowly branched out to Europe for market testing before making a perfect entry in India in July 2020 by capitalizing on the Chinese App ban situation and is expected to blow up in US as well since Donald Trump’s Administration is still on the fence about TikTok’s future in the states.

The battle is definitely unfair, on one side is a feature in an application owned by a company worth billions of dollars while the other side are smaller apps with minuscule funding battling out against each other. Reels is tapping into users which these smaller apps cannot tap into – “The Accidental User”. These are the users who stumbled upon short videos while exploring the “Discovery Section” of Instagram or who have used a reel to generate content on their personal profile as a replacement to videos. In addition to these accidental users, Reels benefits from the thousands of brands who use Instagram as a platform to promote their products/services, Reels are now being used by these brands to promote their brand further by providing education on their products, generating relevant and captivating content and by showing their products in a new light through the reels. However, the app alternatives are aiming at providing more relevant content and they let the user take control of what he/she wants to see and share, only time will tell how these companies attract brands and integrate them in their app.

There are multiple milestones the Indian Apps are racing towards in what looks like a marathon – Who is getting the most users? Who is getting the most funding? Who captures the Tier II and Tier III markets first? Who attracts the castaway influencers of TikTok?

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