The maker of WeChat is getting into India’s news business

Chinese apps are coming for Indian news-readers.
Chinese apps are coming for Indian news-readers.
Image: Reuters/Jitendra Prakash
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Chinese internet giant Tencent has just made its first bet on India’s news ecosystem.

Newsdog, an India-focused vernacular news aggregator, raised $50 million (Rs341 crore) in a funding round led by Tencent, the company announced on May 22.

The app, with a readership of over 50 million, curates content from various news sites in 10 local Indian languages. Part of the latest funding will go towards adding more local languages to expand the app’s user base in the country, Tencent co-founder and chief operating officer Yi Ma said in the company’s press release.

Analysts believe news feeds and aggregators that offer vernacular language content are set to see massive growth in India. Seven in 10 Indians trust regional news over English-language sources, according to a 2017 study by KPMG and Google. However, these companies need to figure out ways to monetise their businesses, said Yugal Joshi, vice-president of Texas-based consulting and research firm Everest Group.

Tencent’s interest in India’s internet businesses is nothing new. The Chinese behemoth, which owns social media platforms WeChat and QQ, has backed Indian e-commerce platform Flipkart, ride-hailing company Ola, and music streaming site Gaana. But NewsDog marks its first foray into news.

With data becoming cheaper and smartphone adoption on the rise, digital content is an attractive sector for Chinese investors. ”Indian consumers are increasingly spending more time on video and online content. And this is a market where, other than YouTube maybe, there is no real leader as of now,” Satish Meena, a Delhi-based analyst with Forrester Research, told Quartz. ”(Chinese investors and firms) seek experience from China to build firms at scale and that gives them an advantage here.”

India’s news ecosystem already has several Chinese players. UCWeb, an app owned by Tencent’s rival from home, Alibaba, has been operating in the country for years, and ByteDance, the creator of Beijing-based news platform Toutiao, has invested at least $25 million into Bengaluru-based DailyHunt.

“The retail world is controlled by Americans now with Walmart-owned Flipkart and Amazon,” Joshi of Everest Group said. “I won’t be surprised if the Chinese end up controlling the content space.”

However, Chinese apps have been under scrutiny. Last December, NewsDog, along with other Chinese internet players like We Chat, UC browser, and others, were investigated for alleged data leakage and theft. At the time, the Indian government had even asked its army personnel posted on the China border to delete these apps, citing security concerns.