Long story in short: The short-form video market has taken off in India during the pandemic

Himanshu Shrivastav, 26, has been passionate about dancing and acting since his childhood. Hailing from Gairatganj, a small town in Madhya Pradesh, he always wanted to make it big in life. “I had a desire to make my own identity. I wanted people to recognise me for my work. I was waiting for that opportunity for the past 14 years—a platform to show my talent to the world,” said the actor-dance performer who’s currently living in Mumbai.

And then Moj happened. Shrivastav started creating content on the short video app, run by Bengaluru-based social media and social networking service ShareChat, in October 2020. Since then, there has been no looking back. Today, he has over 1.9 million followers on Moj and counting. “My content has been watched by thousands of people regularly and that’s a big achievement for me. I have learned a lot from this journey with Moj,”says Shrivastav, who now teaches dance in an acting institute in Mumbai.

Shrivastav has created several short films, some of which have received tremendous response from viewers. These include A Silent Mystery, Dear Dance, Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai and Apne Sapne. “I love playing different roles in a movie’s production process. I wrote these films myself and I played the lead roles as well. I’m also into video editing. So I edited those films myself,” he adds.

Similarly, SK Sarif Husain, 28, has had his own share of struggles and challenges as he belongs to a financially weaker section of society. However, that did not restrict him from following his passion to work as an artist.

Initially, Husain uploaded videos on social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook hoping to get acknowledgement for his work. “One day, my mentor Faisal Khan, who is like a big brother to me, told me about the homegrown short video app, Josh. I soon started uploading videos about my work. As I went forward, some of my videos went viral within two months of uploading, which helped me garner a total of 1 million followers within a short span of time,” says Husain, a native of Dubrajpur in West Bengal.

Today, Husain has 9 million followers on Josh. “Josh helped me get the opportunity that I perhaps deserved,” he adds.
Besides recognition, the flow of income in his family also accelerated. Without disclosing any amount, Husain says he monetises his follower base through brand collaborations and commerce. “Today, I have the freedom to fulfill the wishes of not only my family members and friends, but also take care of my own personal needs,” says Husain, whose craft revolves around ‘matchstick art’ and ‘leaf carving’. “I try to use my creative aptitude in taking full advantage of the leaf’s form and structure to create an artistic piece. The ability to mix and match through my craft is what I consider as the USP,” he adds.

Currently, Husain is working on building his own personal set-up in his room for creating art and will hopefully be completed in a month or two. “As I look back and acknowledge what I have today, a certain sense of achievement is felt,” he says.

Content creators like Shrivastava and Hussain—and their massive follower base—are fueling a growth in the short-form video (SFV) sector in the country. Although short-form videos are not something new—Chinese app TikTok pioneered the format globally a few years ago—they have witnessed a stellar growth in India in the past couple of years amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Market explosion
To understand the explosion in the short-form video market, we must take a few steps back to the country’s large digital community and its insatiable hunger for online videos. According to a report by global consultancy Bain & Company, there are about 640 million Internet users and 550 million smartphone users spending approximately 1.3 trillion hours online in India. This is second only to China. Smartphone users also spend about 4.8 hours on their devices daily, of which an hour on average is spent consuming videos.

So, naturally, there is a growing appetite for consumption of online videos. As per the Bain & Company report, titled ‘Online Videos in India—The Long and Short of It’, India’s online video user base has scaled to more than 350 million people, growing 24% from 2018 to 2020, nearly twice as fast as markets such as China and Indonesia. Usage per active user has also grown dramatically—the daily time spent per active user on online videos has simultaneously grown by 60% to 70% over 2018 to 2020, the report adds.

Short-form videos are between 15 seconds and 2 minutes, as compared to long-form videos (LFV), which are more than 2 minutes long. Videos can be made by users or professional creators, and they may be pre-recorded or livestreamed. A mix of global social media and entertainment giants as well as local specialist platforms are getting in on the online video action, notes the Bain & Company report published last year.

Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of activity in the market. In November last year, video streaming giant Netflix announced that it is rolling out a new feature aimed at kids called ‘Kids Clips’. The effort, which Netflix referred to as a test, builds on an earlier feature called ‘Fast Laughs’ that spotlights comedy clips.

Kids Clips, appearing on Netflix’s iOS app, will show short videos from the platform’s existing library of children’s programmes and movies. Netflix plans to add new clips daily based on its current and future offerings.

Kids Clips will compete with the likes of TikTok, YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels.
In December 2020, there were reports that Google is working on a new feature that would integrate short video results into searches. According to reports, Google is working on the possibility to feature videos from Instagram and TikTok.

This means that the new feature will allow users to open short videos that show up in search results right from the Google app, without needing to enter the short video app separately. Google later confirmed this feature, according to reports.

Rise of Indian apps
TikTok, known in China as Douyin, was one of the first video-focused social networking services to scale the short-form video market in India. With more than 200 million users and 20 million content creators posting at least one video a month on the platform, TikTok surpassed over 2 billion mobile downloads worldwide as of October 2020.

However, the Indian government banned TikTok along with 58 other mobile apps with Chinese developers or investors, including WeChat, UC Browser and PUBG on in June 2020.The Union ministry of electronics and information technology later released a statement saying the apps were “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.

Following the ban, Indian short video platforms hustled to onboard former TikTok creators with a large fan following. India has more than 50 million users who have created and posted at least one short video, as per Bain & Company. “These creators are cross-platform and are increasingly monetising their follower base through brand collaborations and commerce,” the global consultancy notes.

One such short video platform to identify the market opportunity and work relentlessly to build a product to seize it was Moj. Launched in 2020, Moj was created as a go-to destination for users across the country to showcase their creativity and talent, through short videos. “The concept of Moj was ideated and built within an impressive span of 30 hours and was launched on the Google PlayStore on July 1, 2020,” says Shashank Shekhar, senior director, content strategy and operations, Moj.

ShareChat, with its legacy in Indian social and digital space, provided a lot of insights and understanding while building the app. “Due to the existing know-how around social and video with ShareChat, a team of over 70 engineers and product experts was formed with a single focus, of building Moj in the earliest possible timeline,” says Shekhar, adding: “The platform has now evolved as India’s number one short video app with the highest monthly active users. Moj is the ultimate destination for short videos, with our community spending 34 minutes on the platform on an average daily.”

Recently, it was announced that short video platform MX TakaTak will merge with Moj to create a community of 100 million content creators with access to 300 million monthly active users and nearly 250 billion monthly video views, adds Shekhar.

Like Moj, MX TakaTak was also launched in July 2020 after the government banned a host of Chinese apps, including popular short video platform TikTok. “MX Media, the parent company of MX TakaTak, and ShareChat, the parent company of Moj, today announced a strategic merger between Moj and MX TakaTak, to create the largest short video platform for Indians, whereby the two platforms will now be controlled by ShareChat,” a joint statement said.

“MX has created two ‘unicorns’ within one business, unlocking significant value for our shareholders, and will now continue to double down on OTT, with significantly increased financial resources,” MX Media CEO Karan Bedi said.

ShareChat has raised a total of $1.2 billion so far and was valued at $3.7 billion in the Series G round that closed in December last year.

Around the same time, in August 2020, another homegrown short-video app Josh was launched by VerSe Innovation, India’s first unicorn for tech in local languages. Josh, which translates into passion or fervour in English, is “Bharat’s destination for short, snacky and trending viral videos”, according to Umang Bedi, co-founder of VerSe Innovation.

“Josh is the manifestation of the vision of two entrepreneurs, Virendra Gupta and I, to revolutionise the content landscape in India and serve the unmet content needs of a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic population. The goals were very clear—to play a role in building a Digital India, to empower India’s creator ecosystem and to promote India’s rich heritage and culture through a short video platform that is proudly made and hosted in the country,” he adds.

The accelerated growth of the short-form video market in India has been on the back of homegrown apps. According to a RedSeer Consulting report, short form content has grown 1.37 times in terms of monthly active users (MAUs) and 1.1 times in terms of daily active users (DAUs) in India, with Indian platforms capturing a huge chunk of the market.

“These numbers tell us of the shift in trends occurring in the way people consume content. A shorter attention span coupled with a busy lifestyle can be seen as a reason as to why users prefer content that is quick, short and snackable, as opposed to longer formats. With developments in technology that allow for the use of AI/ML to drive deep personalisation, short-form content thus offers users an exciting, new viewing and creating experience,” says Bedi.

Josh caters to both Tier 1 ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’. It enjoys a most-engaged viewer base of over 139 million monthly active users (MAUs) comprising both male and female audiences in the age group of 18-25 years. “All of this has played an instrumental role in propelling the app to its current position. We have already captured a significant share of the market and at this current rate of growth, feel confident that our numbers will double in the next few months,” adds Bedi.
Going ahead, Moj too is building live streaming capabilities that will be a major focus area for in the next few quarters. “This will be an immensely effective way to monetise for creators, with their followers and fans sending them virtual gifts during live streaming sessions. We believe this would not only help our creators monetise, but also, help them to interact with our user community across the country with more relevant and engaging content,” says Shekhar.

More recently, Moj tied up with Flipkart to enable video and live commerce experiences. The aim of the collaboration is to enable content creators to share their curated tastes through the app and empower consumers to directly purchase Flipkart products from Moj. “It’s a significant step for the Moj creator community to monetise their innovative and original content,” adds Shekhar.

Meanwhile, another homegrown short video app Chingari announced in December last year that it has crossed 107 million downloads on Google PlayStore. “We launched Chingari with a concept of being unique in terms of a short-video sharing platform. It has constantly pushed us to go beyond the best. Chingari as a brand has now truly arrived with this present success on the charts. For us, this is just the beginning of bigger achievements,” Sumit Ghosh, co-founder and CEO of Chingari App, said in a statement.

The company earlier revealed that the app witnessed around 100,000 downloads per hour at one point. Chingari app also registered 500,000 downloads within just 72 hours.

Chingari has been in the news in recent times for its collaborations with multiple platforms for unique entertainment and engagement collaborations. In December last year, it announced a partnership with Snow Records, an independent newly launched music label. This will mark the promotion of all the new albums that will be released by Snow Records on Chingari.

Around the same time, Chingari inked a partnership with Desi Crew Digital, a platform for upcoming talents. With this alliance, Chingari aims to enter the Punjabi music market and strengthen Punjabi songs and roots. A month earlier, the short-form video app also signed a global music licensing agreement with the country’s oldest and largest music label, Saregama. With this, the entire catalogue of over 130,000 songs from Saregama will be made available on Chingari.

In January this year, the company announced that it has raised $15 million in a funding round led by Republic Capital. Onmobile, JPIN Venture Catalysts, Hill Harbour, also participated in the round along with angel investors. This brought the total funds raised in the round to $28 million, as per reports.

Recently, Chingari also entered into a strategic partnership with Fashion TV (FTV). As per the partnership, Fashion TV’s content will be available exclusively on Chingari app.

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