Well-known Kannada film-maker KM Chaitanya was intrigued when he got a call from Firework, a new social video sharing platform developed by California-based Loop Technologies, to create and share short fiction videos. It was not just the “big challenge” of telling a story in 30 seconds, he was also sceptical about video sharing platforms.
“We’ve been watching Tiktok content, which is extremely imitative. In fact, my casting director warns actors not to send their auditions on Tiktok,” says Chaitanya, whose filmography includes popular movies such as Aa Dinagalu (based on the Bangalore underworld of 80s), Amma I love you etc. However, the director found the new video-sharing app Firework creative and agreed to make a series of 30-second short films for them.
Calling it a ‘refreshing’ medium which filmmakers can no longer ignore, Chaitanya also said that to cater to younger audiences who have a short attention span, smaller content capsules have to be created.
It is not just filmmakers who are capitalising on this create-and-share 30-second format, actors like Shilpa Shetty, Deepika Padukone, news anchors, travel bloggers, brands, foodies, craft lovers are all gravitating here. No longer is it restricted to the small town, Bollywood wannabes showcasing cringe-worthy, comedy content.
It is not surprising then that China’s ByteDance owned social apps Tiktok and Helo, and Alibaba owned VMate (another video sharing app) were the breakout social apps of India in 2019, with TikTok being the most downloaded app of last year, according to State of Mobile 2020 report by data-analytics firm App Annie.
Industry bigwigs too are waking up to the fact that users are more influenced by recommendations on the app than by B-Town celebrities. The statistics on the amount of time Indians spend on these video sharing platforms are staggering.
For example, even as global time on Tiktok app grew at a massive 210% year-on-year in 2019, Indians spent the most numbers of hours on this app, outside China. The videos created and shared on these apps are meant to make you laugh or stop to gawk. You can learn to make stuffed mushrooms too or do a Shuffle dance step or be entertained with endless lip-syncing of Bollywood dialogues and songs. Or, you can stumble on a sexy jig or a yoga pose or a short skit by Shilpa Shetty or be amazed over a dog’s antics. No emotion is too small to be captured here.
Creators are encouraged to let their imagination run riot and these apps facilitate users to easily create their short videos with filter effects and editing tools. This space is still evolving but many international players—Singapore based Likee, Instagram’s IGTV, the Chinese app Vigo and local companies (nearly 21 of them, says analyst firm Tracxn) such as Raidpipe, Getyovo.com (funded by Leo Capital), Gagster, Manpasand, Rockabyte and more are already competing for a share of this growing market.
Firework, which considers India as a “potent market” entered late last year after launching in the USA in early 2018. On what brings them to India, Firework CEO Sunil Nair says, “Indians are naturally inclined towards creative expression. Additionally, you cannot ignore a billion-plus population, which makes India a very exciting market.”
A young population, increasing mobile and Internet penetration, and low-cost data are driving the growth of these video sharing platforms. Besides long commutes in urban cities are attracting consumption on the go and young people looking for quick laughs during coffee breaks at work. The easy access to possible 15 seconds of fame is further drawing users to these platforms. Not to overlook the quick bucks you can make by turning into a powerful social media influencer.
Video sharing apps have grown out of proportion compared to the time Bangalore-based Akhila Unnithan forayed into Tiktok in 2015. Her dance and lip-sync videos had made her a star on Musical.ly (rebranded as Tiktok after their acquisition).
“I was part of a team in Musical.ly and we had to post a certain number of videos in a month. We were paid depending on the likes we got. Today, Tiktok stars largely make money through brand promotions. Even Bollywood actors use Tiktok stars to promote their films,” says the Bengaluru-based software professional, who has 909.1 thousand followers on Tiktok.
The ecosystem around these apps are evolving to the extent that agencies are emerging to promote Tiktok digital stars like the AR Rahman and Shekar Kapur backed Qyuki, a new media company in Mumbai.
Well-known fashion blogger Arshad Ahmed’s video last year on his sad reaction on the lack of likes of his Tiktok videos suddenly went viral and he picked up nearly 100 followers in a flash. “Videos are frankly more engaging than static posts,” admits this 25-year-old, who has 13,100 followers on Instagram. It requires a lot of hard work and time to continuously post videos, says Arshad, who is not a full-time influencer anymore.
It is important to be on Tiktok today since brands know the wide reach of this platform, whose algorithms allow for the video to go viral, says Arshad, who has worked with big brands like Marks&Spencer, Cadbury etc.
Firework, who is targetting urban youth in the age group of 18-25 years from Tier 1 and 2 cities across India, is positioning themselves differently. “What we see in short format today is frivolous. So, we tied up with actors Rajeev Khandelwal, Flora Saini, director KM Chaitanya and with journalist Faye D’Souza to release a mini-series and offer meaningful, intelligent content,” says Sunil Nair. Faye D’Souza presents crisp 30-second news commentaries from across the country on this app.
Video sharing platforms are currently the flavour of the season. As Sunil Nair says, “I think India is a market with extreme potential. While metrics like number of users will obviously grow – I am certain that the Indian advertiser will seriously warm up to the short format concept and allocate bigger advertising budgets to this digital space. It is a constantly evolving space and that makes the business so exciting.”
More international players from China, Europe and USA are expected to enter the space offering more advanced innovations designed to hook and bring in more users. Will it dumb down creativity or foster it? Will user fatigue set in and a new form of entertainment pop up on our Play stores to excite our jaded, tech-numbed senses? Only time will tell but until then, you can flip left to watch ‘Droning over the Wall of China’ or learn how to make the best banana bread on these platforms. You can get tired of watching backflips, hairstyle tips and wannabe Bollywood heroines.
(Kavitha Shanmugam is a south-based independent journalist.)