TikTok’s rivals in India struggle to cash in on its ban

Scores of startups have launched short video apps in recent months

For years, India has served as the largest open battleground for Silicon Valley and Chinese firms searching for their next billion users.

With more than 400 million WhatsApp users, India is already the largest market for the Facebook-owned service. The social juggernaut’s big blue app also reaches more than 300 million users in the country.

Google is estimated to reach just as many users in India, with YouTube closely rivaling WhatsApp for the most popular smartphone app in the country.

Several major giants from China, like Alibaba and Tencent (which a decade ago shut doors for most foreign firms), also count India as their largest overseas market. At its peak, Alibaba’s UC Web gave Google’s Chrome a run for its money. And then there is TikTok, which also identified India as its biggest market outside of China.

Though the aggressive arrival of foreign firms in India helped accelerate the growth of the local ecosystem, their capital and expertise also created a level of competition that made it too challenging for most Indian firms to claim a slice of their home market.

New Delhi’s ban on 59 Chinese apps on June 30 on the basis of cybersecurity concerns has changed a lot of this.

Indian apps that rarely made an appearance in the top 20 have now flooded the charts. But are these skyrocketing download figures translating to sustaining users?

An industry executive leaked the download, monthly active users, weekly active users and daily active users figures from one of the top mobile insight firms. In this Extra Crunch report, we take a look at the changes New Delhi’s ban has enacted on the world’s second largest smartphone market.

TikTok copycats

Scores of startups in India, including news aggregator DailyHunt, on-demand video streamer MX Player and advertising giant InMobi Group, have launched their short-video format apps in recent months.

Before we get into the traction these apps are receiving, let’s look at their features. Do note: They share one common feature: all have completely replicated TikTok’s user interface and social sharing options.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

ShareChat, a Twitter-backed social network in India, has been the biggest beneficiary since the ban. Immediately after India banned TikTok, it launched Moj. Between June 30 to August 20, Moj was downloaded nearly 31 million times. ShareChat’s marquee app, which prior to the ban was seeing a few million downloads each month, itself was downloaded nearly 27 million times.

During the same period, MX Player’s TakaTak — owned by Indian conglomerate Times Internet — was downloaded 30 million times. MX Player app was downloaded nearly 16 million times.

Josh from DailyHunt, which has amassed tens of millions of users to its news aggregator app, saw nearly 26 million downloads. Roposo’s download stood at about 25 million; Trell, which raised more than $11 million this month, had 11 million; Chingari had 10 million; and Mitron had 7.5 million.

Looking at download figures, this is how Google Play Store’s ranking in India has changed in the past 100 days.

But a closer look at these apps’ figures show that they are struggling to convert installs into loyal users. (Disclaimer: TechCrunch understands that even as mobile insight firms have gotten impressively accurate in estimating the level of usage an app has, sometimes their figures could be off the mark.)

Roposo had 4 million weekly active users two weeks ago, ahead of the pack. MX TakaTak had 3.2 million users, Moj 2.5 million users and Josh and Trell had about 1.8 million users each. Chingari had fewer than 500,000 weekly active users, and Mitron fewer than 200,000 users. (These are all Android-specific figures, as the OS powers about 99% of India’s smartphones.)

During the same period, Mitron had fewer than 45,000 daily active users and Chingari had about 65,000. Roposo and MX TakaTak both led the chart with about 1.2 million daily active users. Josh had about 525,000 daily users and Moj had fewer than 700,000 daily active users.

Struggle to sustain initial momentum

A common theme among most of these apps is that nearly all of them had larger weekly and daily active user bases a month ago. At the end of June, Mitron had about 2.5 million weekly active and 900,000 daily active users, for instance. Around the same time, Chingari had nearly 6.4 million weekly active and 2.6 million daily users.

Similarly, Roposo had nearly 10 million weekly and 4.7 million daily users in the first week of July. The only short-video app that has demonstrated consistent growth so far is MX TakaTak, which was launched in the early days of July.

Services that had massive presence in India have also seen some growth in recent weeks. WhatsApp had about 330 million weekly active users, up from about 320 million in the week prior to the TikTok ban.

YouTube’s weekly active user base stood at about 290 million, while Facebook’s big blue app had about 175 million users. MX Player had 90 million users ahead of Hotstar, which had 45 million users. Netflix had about 31 million users, behind Amazon Prime Video’s 40 million users.

The Indian firms need to improve their strategy as they might not get this kind of opportunity again. And they need to do it fast, as ByteDance is aggressively exploring options to bring TikTok back to India.