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Covid impact: TikTok stares at a gloomy India picture

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: May 27, 2020, 09.52 AM IST
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AFP
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Over the last two weeks, TikTok has been widely criticised on social media following a fight between two content creators on opposing sides of the spectrum – TikTok and YouTube.

Highlights

  • While 35.7 million users downloaded TikTok in March, the number of users who downloaded it in April came down to 23.5 million and further to 17 million till May 23.
  • Over the last two weeks, TikTok has been widely criticised on social media following a fight between two content creators on opposing sides of the spectrum – TikTok and YouTube.
  • The government’s ‘Vocal for Local’ push, which intends to push local brands over foreign ones, especially Chinese brands, is also not in TikTok’s favour.
Bengaluru: Fewer people downloaded short videos app TikTok in April and May compared to the previous two months, amid reduced marketing and advertising budgets due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a persistent anti-China sentiment among users and calls for it to be banned on popular app stores due to objectionable content.

Data shared with ET by app intelligence firm Sensor Tower show that downloads of the social media platform fell 34% in April and 28% up to May 23, after growing by 8% in March and 7% in February.

While 35.7 million users downloaded TikTok in March, the number of users who downloaded it in April came down to 23.5 million and further to 17 million till May 23, according to Sensor Tower data.

It has been a double whammy of sorts for TikTok.

While popular brands have cut down on advertising budgets overall and specifically on apps such as TikTok in the wake of the pandemic, the social media platform itself has cut down on marketing and stepped away from brand building over the last two months. Earlier, TikTok was a persistent advertiser on other digital platforms including Facebook-owned Instagram, but that is no longer the case, experts said, although it may be a temporary phenomenon.

“It looks like a short-term trend and we will likely see some India-specific campaigns from TikTok by the festive season,” said Karthik Srinivasan, an independent communications consultant and former national lead, social, at Ogilvy. Instagram, on the other hand, is investing heavily in advertising on TikTok to acquire new users, he added.

TikTok did not respond to ET’s email till press time on Monday.

Two developments have also coincided with a drop in its user growth.

Over the last two weeks, TikTok has been widely criticised on social media following a fight between two content creators on opposing sides of the spectrum – TikTok and YouTube. Netizens have asked for the app to be banned, with hashtags like #banTikTokinIndia trending on Twitter. This has affected its Google Play Store rating, where it fell to as low as 1.2 last week, with over a million reviews critical of the app.

The government’s ‘Vocal for Local’ push, which intends to push local brands over foreign ones, especially Chinese brands, is also not in TikTok’s favour, although a complete boycott is not possible as brands and creators will continue to flock to the platform till there is an alternative, said Vivek Bhargava, CEO of DAN Performance Group, an agency that tracks digital marketing.

“When TikTok strikes a deal with a celebrity or top creator, they promise these creators a certain reach and views,” said an advertiser on the condition of anonymity. “So, these creators are given a free hand to make content that will gain most traction on the platform,” he said.

TikTok has been a preferred platform for marketers and brands with its huge reach. The platform has over 200 million monthly active users in India alone, which also accounted for 44%, or 323 million, of total TikTok app downloads in 2019.

To be sure, it is not just TikTok that is facing the heat.

According to a BARC India and Nielsen report, marketing spends on YouTube, Hotstar and TikTok have together fallen sharply in categories like banking and finance, retail, durables, automotive and computers due to the ongoing economic crisis.

Digital media buyers have also seen a 15-25% decline in advertisement rates.

Further, users have been incensed by multiple objectionable videos that have surfaced on its platform over the last two months, including that of rape, acid attacks and animal cruelty, raising questions over its content moderation strategy.

The lockdown has resulted in at least 2-4 times growth in videos made many creators on the platform, experts tracking the space said, with many falling through the cracks in terms of objectionable content.

Paras Tomar, an influencer, said while content on the platform needs to moderated more carefully, creators will need to change their mindset as well. “We cannot wash our hands off after creating content. As creators we are also responsible for such disturbing videos and for sharing them.”

Yet, video creators said they are not ready to switch platforms.

“I got 8 million views for my video in a day, at a time when people were asking for a ban on the app,” said content creator Shivani Kapila who has 9.3 million followers on TikTok. “No way will I be quitting the platform anytime soon.”

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TikTok not going to legally challenge the ban order

Homegrown TikTok rival Chingari on fire

Why was TikTok banned in India but PUBG was not?

Made in India rivals emerge to compete with TikTok

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