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T(H)RILLING MOVES

TikTok’s American rival Triller just stepped up its game in India

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  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

The race to replace TikTok in India just got fiercer.

On Aug. 24, Triller, an American app, said it has hired former Tiktok top executive Raj Mishra to head its operations in India. Mishra was the first employee TikTok (then Musical.ly) hired in India back in 2017, and served as its country manager until recently.

In addition, Triller has also reportedly tied up with JioSaavn, a music streaming app owned India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries.

This focus on India comes after Triller saw its user base in the country skyrocket from less than a million to nearly 30 million overnight after TikTok was banned on June 29.

The recent announcements could go a long way in helping Triller stand out in India’s short-form video sharing space, which has lately become super crowded as a host of homegrown players mushroomed and Instagram launched new a new feature to gain from the TikTok ban.

TikTok had over 200 million users and more than 240,000 creators in India, and with Mishra on its team, Triller stands a strong chance to tap into that ecosystem.

TikTok’s human touch

Mishra had been with TikTok since its early days when it was still Musical.ly.

He helped ByteDance build and grow out the India team, liaisoned with business partners, and nurtured the creator community. “Under his leadership, Musical.ly became the most downloaded app on both Android and iOS,” Triller said in a press release announcing Mishra’s appointment.

After TikTok acquired Musical.ly in 2017, Mishra led the transition and rebranding of the app. Over the years, he also helped ByteDance build the India strategy for its other apps such as Helo, which is also banned in India now. Helo had around 50 million Indian users as of 2019.

Triller, on its part, has already been working to give Indians what they want. At the end of July, it poached top TikTok content creator Awez Darbar, who had over 20 million followers on the Chinese app. It’s also ramping up hiring across all domains from marketing to partnerships to communication in India.

By bringing Mishra on board, Triller will quickly learn “what early tactics were deployed, how data was analysed, and how the outreach was done” by TikTok, said Ankur Bisen, senior vice-president at management consultancy Technopak.

The American model

Out west, Triller’s unique selling point has been its close association with music industry celebrities. Eminem is an investor in Triller, while the likes of Alicia Keys, Cardi B, and Marshmello regularly use the app to create their own music videos.

It’s aping the same model for in India. Triller has brought the likes of rapper Divine and singer Armaan Malik on board.

The JioSaavn partnership will further strengthen this approach. JioSaavn has over 900 label partnerships including Universal, Sony, and T-Series. Music videos watched within JioSaavn will automatically be Triller music videos and the platform’s main screen will also have a prominent button to “Make a Triller Video.”

With the deal, JioSaavn joins other video- and music-streaming players like Zee5 and Gaana in marrying music-streaming and video-sharing. However, this particular association can strike as absurd because Facebook invested $5.7 billion to acquire a 9.99% stake in Jio Platforms and Facebook-owned Instagram’s new feature, Reels, is perceivably a rival product. But experts don’t think it raises concerns.

“Jio Platforms has defied all past norms at so many levels. I have not seen any other equivalent to Jio where Facebook and Google have both invested at this level,” said Technopak’s Bisen. “The space is so fluid. Somebody investing can be bought out. A contrarian bid may suddenly turn into two competitors deciding to join hands and co-exist.”

Moreover, this strategy isn’t all it imported over from America. While Indian apps like Chingari and Mitron grapple with privacy policies—or lack thereof in the latter’s case—Triller has been stressing on its security ethic.

“We are an American company and we have very strict rules, regulations on local, state and federal law that we must abide by,” Abbos Roohparvar, senior vice-president at Triller, told daily newspaper Indian Express.

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