Harsha had amassed more than 50,000 followers for her dance and travel videos on TikTok before the Indian government banned the Chinese short-video app in 2020. 

She tried to replicate her success on Moj, one of the many homegrown clones of TikTok that mushroomed soon after the ByteDance-owned platform was banned. 

Like Harsha, hundreds of content creators in India have migrated from TikTok to either Instagram, YouTube Shorts or other homegrown applications.

But Harsha says the transition was anything but smooth for her — she needed a year to match the follower count she had notched up within just six months on TikTok.

Her heart, instead, is set on Instagram Reels, which has a larger user base both in India and globally. 

According to a Redseer report, monetisation of the Indian short-format video market is at the cusp of a breakout and could potentially touch $8-12 billion by 2030. 

But the sector remains dominated by Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, while Indian players such as Moj, Josh, Chingari, and Roposo, among others, have not made much of a dent yet.

Funding ups and downs 

With roughly 200 million monthly active users in India, TikTok was one of the country’s biggest players in the short-video space. Its ban left a vacuum that was quickly sought to be filled by entrepreneurs with alternative offerings. 

As the homegrown apps grew in popularity, funding in the sector zoomed by 70 per cent to touch $65.8 million in 2021 from $38.6 million in 2020, according to Traxcn data.

For instance, Chingari has so far raised $88.4 million across 11 rounds of funding. The following year, however, blew cold for the sector as funding plunged by 57 per cent to $28 million; the current year, too, has not brought any respite yet.

Waning home advantage

As the TikTok ban coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic-induced lockdowns, influencers and brands alike flocked to local alternatives. 

But not for long. The lure of Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts proved way stronger. According to Comscore data, from 2021 to 2022, the number of engagements generated on social media increased by 171 per cent for Instagram Reels, and an eye-popping 3,940 per cent for YouTube Shorts. 

On the other hand, among the homegrown video apps, the two most popular — Moj and Josh — together boast 300 million monthly active users.

The magic potion that the local apps lack is the ability to develop a tech stack similar to that of TikTok, says Pratik Gour, Director of Marketing at Footprynt, a Mumbai-based digital marketing agency.

“To succeed in this competitive landscape, content strategy and creative nuance are of paramount importance. The Indian apps lack the user interface (UI), design and, especially, the tech required for virality that TikTok had. Users and creators are used to the quality that TikTok offered, and which these players haven’t been able to deliver,” he says.

He adds that, earlier, many brands tried marketing their products on these apps but stopped after they could not verify the user reach data that the companies provided.

Small town, big allure

The focus of short-video platforms is on chasing user metrics among audiences in Tier-3 centres, says Agnik Ghosh, co-founder and CEO of Memechat, a meme monetising app.

“These [short-video] apps have shifted focus to Tier-3 audience as they are larger in number and easy to acquire, and to show a higher number of monthly active users to investors,” he explains.

The Indian apps have been driving growth by paying popular creators from their own pocket, and without much revenue coming in. However, this will be hard to sustain in the long term, says the founder of an influencer managing agency who declined to be identified.

“Indian short-video apps have to pay every celebrity and top content creator to come onto their platform. The moment the influencers stop getting the cheques, they will stop posting content on the apps,” the founder says.

Download dynamics

Gaurav Jain, head of emerging business, ShareChat and Moj, says the company spent nearly nothing on marketing, yet its organic user base has increased. “Moj’s retention rate and user engagement are at an ‘all-time high’, he adds.

“Moj is India’s largest pure short-video platform with over 160 million monthly active users. This achievement is noteworthy considering the rapid increase in ad loads. Moj is today one of the top five most downloaded social apps in India,” he says.

“Our main revenue levers are advertising and in-app gifting, where fans gift their favourite creators via live streaming. The power of short videos in regional languages is attracting brands of all shapes and sizes to our platform today. We have designed a diverse range of robust ad products, which have received a phenomenal response from advertisers. Live-streaming revenues, coupled with influencer campaigns are the biggest catalysts of monetisation growth for the creator community on our platform.”

Regional sizzle

Neha Singh, co-founder of Tracxn, observes that a chunk of the content consumed by Indian users today is short-form videos, and the homegrown apps have their share of following throughout the nation as they have content in regional languages too.

“After TikTok was banned, a significant gap in the Indian short-form video industry was filled by companies like Chingari, Moj, and MX Takatak. These apps have spread across the nation, thanks to the availability of regional language content, and due to which more than 80 per cent of their users are from Tier 2 and 3 cities. Additionally, brands have recognised this opportunity and are making use of these platforms as one of their primary marketing channels,” she says.

“Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube, which enjoy significant popularity among audiences globally, pose a stiff competition for Indian firms operating in this domain. However, owing to their growing popularity in Tier 2 and 3 cities, we anticipate that these applications will thrive in the future.”