Charted: There’s no match for TikTok’s popularity in India yet

Tough to rival.
Tough to rival.
Image: Reuters/Andrew Kelly
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India’s ban on 59 Chinese apps includes one that has ruled the roost in the country for years.

The reach of TikTok, owned by Beijing-based Bytedance, eclipses all other live-streaming apps in India by a huge margin. More than a third of Indian smartphone owners have TikTok installed, according to market insights firm Kalagato’s survey of five million people.

Albeit a distant second, the next-most popular alternative is also a Chinese app, Bigo Live. Its parent company Bigo Technology is registered in Singapore but owned by Nasdaq-listed Chinese company YY. The Bigo app has also been banned in India.

More than 60% of the 500 million TikTok users who have installed the app use it daily.

Time spent on TikTok has only grown since March when the Indian government imposed lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company’s popularity has not taken any hit despite allegations of featuring pornographic content, videos promoting domestic violence, animal cruelty, racism, child abuse and objectification of women, and sparking data security concerns.

Experts condone the government ban. “These apps come from a nation that has publicly and willingly created a walled garden and kept key players out of it and has created its own digital powerhouses to earn from,” Sanchit Vir Gogia, founder and CEO of Greyhound Research, wrote on Twitter. “It’s also important to weigh in here the repeated security issues as reported earlier by multiple parties and most recently by Apple—while this definitely has a political agenda attached to it, one cannot discount the threat to personal data and privacy.”

Indian entrepreneurs are lauding the government’s curbs as it throws up opportunities for them. “This is the digital aatmanirbhar (self-reliant) moment that most Indians have been rooting for,” said Naveen Tewari, founder and CEO of InMobi Group, which acquired video-sharing social media platform Roposo last year.

However, they have a long journey ahead. Roposo’s user base, at 55 million, is a fraction of TikTok’s. Another alternative, Chingari app, has been gaining traction, reportedly hitting 2.5 million downloads on Google PlayStore, but it’s still miles away from catching up.

TikTok, meanwhile, denies any data being compromised and is seeking a comeback. After all, its prospects dim if the ban lasts. During a temporary ban in April 2019, the company claimed it was losing Rs3.5 crore ($463,493) daily and 250 jobs were at risk.

The ban in India could hurt TikTok’s rumoured plans to go public this year, Blaise Fernandes, director of foreign policy think tank Gateway House, pointed out in a statement.