For Firework, Indian sensibilities are key to success: Sunil Nair

K Giriprakash | Updated on November 21, 2019

TikTok competitor says it has active moderation in place for content and does not rely on algorithms alone

While video-sharing app TikTok has run into controversy repeatedly in India (the Madras High Court banned the app before subsequently lifting the ban) TikTok’s Californian-based competitor, Firework, which launched its operations about 45 days ago, believes common sense and Indian sensibilities will be the key to its success in the country. In an interview with BusinessLine, Sunil Nair, Firework India CEO, shares the company’s game plan for the country. Excerpts:

TikTok has received widespread criticism in India and the US for its content. Are such video-sharing apps meant to cater to the lowest common denominator?

The internet ecosystem is not the Wild Wild West from 20 years ago. All businesses have to respect the local nuances and the local laws if they operate across geographies. We have taken steps that include strong moderation and curation of content that is seen in the public feeds. We always look for good storytelling and visual creativity in 30 seconds. It is not as if we took down notes of the mistakes made by others and then avoided them, what we do is common sense and should be adopted by everyone — it helps the platform to be a safe place.

So, how different is Firework to ensure better content is put out there?

The underlying belief is that good content will get its audience. We hand-hold creators and work with them to help them create, to help them put their ideas into the format. In future, we will start creator programmes that include workshops conducted by experts in creating stories within 30 seconds. Our creators get briefed on local nuances and trends and we provide them with feedback on what is getting watched and by whom. Our initial success in India can be measured by the fact that a prominent director like Chaitanya KM has been able to create 30-second fiction films for Firework.

TikTok has more than 120 million subscribers in the country. How are you going to take them on considering they are already way ahead in the race?

Firework caters to an audience that wants good quality content, which goes beyond memes, cringe comedy and an endless scroll of a song done again and again. We are challenging users to discover what is possible when great technology meets good storytelling. One also needs to remember that nothing on the internet is a formidable force. We have seen behemoths fall by the wayside when nimble companies come into the space. I would like to point out that other than the common factor of the short format, there is nothing in common between the two platforms — they cater to a mass audience/bottom of the pyramid while we cater to the vacant middle layer in India.

Social media is slowly moving to video content rather than the typical social media we have known. At the same time, there is an increasing concern on data security, publishing sensitive content, national security and so on. How are you addressing these issues?

Social media has moved to the video already. The old social media was built for text and pictures. Video has taken over the narrative entirely. We have some of the best brains in Silicon Valley led by our co-founder and COO, Jerry Luk, building content moderation and curation tools that allow us to take down content that is sensitive in nature or does not fit into the guidelines/nuances set for a country.

We do not have vanity metrics on the platform so there is no rush to gain validation to your work by getting likes on the content you create. Any video that’s uploaded does not automatically qualify to be a part of a feed. It has to pass through a series of steps that ensure that it is well within the guidelines. We have active human moderation in place and do not rely on algorithms alone.

How does Firework make money globally and particularly in India? What innovations are you bringing into this country?

A brand can create their Firework account and upload content that is relevant to the brand and organically becomes part of a relevant feed. These brands have the option of making themselves visible by choosing any of the options available to make themselves a part of the feed where we ensure maximum visibility. For example, a travel brand or a hotel can advertise in the travel feed or when people are consuming travel-related content. We have a premium chat function that a brand can bring their brand ambassador to and have an interaction. Firework makes money through ads and we also allow our creators to put a price to their time and create subscription-based chats for their fan base.

For India operations, are you looking to grow the team? How many people do you already have globally and in India and how many more will you hire?

Globally, we are a team of 180-plus. In India, we have a team of eight right now and we will be growing the team exponentially over the next six months. We do not want to predict the size at this point.

Published on November 21, 2019

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