Crass, vulgar, sleazy: Welcome to fast burgeoning video content biz in India

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Video thumbnails catch your eye on the mobile phone when you open this app. In one of the many windows on the screen, a woman draped in a saree beckons, inviting you to watch her ‘dance talent’.

Click on it, and she grooves to the song Munni Badnaam Hui, while her saree keeps falling off her shoulder to reveal a deep neckline and even lower waistline.

The whole 60-second video is far from any dance talent show, and more a tawdry clickbait attempt, you realise. No surprises that the comment section of the video is full of unrefined language and views.

This is how Tencent-backed Chinese video content platform ‘Kwai’ has made its entry into India, as an app to access entertainment, especially for tier-2 and tier-3 city audience. Itis already thriving in other countries.

Kwai allows users to become short video creators using mobile phones. They can make profiles, gain fans around the world, and receive rewards as well as cash revenue.

The Chinese app, which has presence in other countries, including Russia, Brazil, America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and India, among others, and 70 million users overall, has acquired over 10 million users in India alone.

The platform might boast of high numbers, but its user base is not that premium at all.

Kwai is not the only platform in this race of promoting crass content – it has another, bigger Chinese competitor in India, ‘BIGO LIVE’.

Vulgarity is rife

Founded in 2014, BIGO LIVE entered the Indian market in April 2017. The app provides the users with a platform on which they can broadcast their “talents” live and connect with fans and fellow users. Apart from networking, the broadcasters can also earn revenue through the application.

Surprisingly, the app had boasted of 50 million registered users in India within 8 months of its launch. And it is confident of reaching the target of 100 million subscribers by the end of this year.

The platform, however, is rife with obscene content. Many users of the platform have complained about multiple thumbnails featuring objectionable images of women. Though it claims to have set up a team to monitor vulgar and obscene content, it is still viral all over the platform.

“The availability of bulk data for the cheapest amount has suddenly opened a floodgate for video consumption in India. Amidst high growth in the video segment, users from different demographics are joining the Internet industry,” said Satish Meena, a senior forecast analyst at Forrester.

He added that Chinese content companies are trying to replicate the China model, in which they are targeting tier 2 and 3 cities, in India. They see non-metros as the next biggest destination which largely consume inconsequential content (primarily entertainment).

A 2016 report on free WiFi data consumption across various railway stations in the country is a case in point.

A month after the start of Railtel-Google’s free WiFi program at Patna (a tier 2 city) station in October 2016, porn emerged as the most searched category by users. It reflects the country’s data and content consumption pattern, especially in tier 2 and tier 3 cities.

Nevertheless, this situation is not limited to India. These applications circulate similar content on their interfaces for audience in smaller cities and towns in China, US and several other developed countries.

Experts say that such newly launched platforms are catering to this demand for not-so-elegant content by users, which eventually helps them grow at a fast pace.

Another Chinese company ByteDance has similar apps such as Tik Tok, Vigo and Buzzvideo in India.

It goes beyond videos

Interestingly, such crass content is not only promoted by video platforms, but so-called technology products focussing on content aggregation are also offering similar videos.

For instance, NewsDog, which collates articles in English and various regional Indian languages including Tamil, Telugu and Marathi, has been peddling vulgar and clickbait material on its platform.

A mere scroll on the app window throws up content such as ‘Actors having sex caught red handed by producer’, ‘Spotted: Sridevi’s daughter goes topless,’ and pictures of actresses involved in a bikini photoshoot.

With a massive following in India, owing to such content, the company has been topping the Google Play store news category since 2016. It claims to have over 50 million users and is available in 10 local languages.

Buoyed by the growth, the platform, which has two offices in India, in Pune and Gurugram, plans to set up offices throughout the country in 2018. NewsDog also launched a platform WeMedia, which enables users to submit content. Presently, WeMedia has over 30,000 contributing writers.

Recently, it announced to raise $50 million in a series-C funding round led by Chinese conglomerate Tencent, along with other investors, including California-based venture capital firm DHVC, Legend Capital, and DotC United Group.

Money draws creators

These apps provide entertainment as well as revenue generating schemes for content creators.

For instance, NewsDog offers newcomers Rs 50 as a sign-up bonus – a means to acquire new users. Subsequently, they get coins for spending time on the app, which can be redeemed through mobile wallets. The other way to make money is through referrals.

BIGO LIVE also offers money-making schemes for content generators. Unlike NewsDog, this platform entices users through virtual gifting, a process in which audience members can send pictographs to broadcasters, which can be converted into cash.

Criticism and bans

Naturally, these platforms engaged in distribution and promotion of objectionable content are not untouched by criticism and have been banned in various countries.

Recently, Kwai also called Kuaishou, received severe criticism by Chinese authorities for promoting “vulgar, violent, gory, pornographic and harmful” information on its website and application.

After receiving the flat notice from authorities, Kwai has begun reviewing and monitoring all user-generated content in China.

Tik Tok was banned in Indonesia. The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology clarified the the action was taken against the app because of its content that included negative videos that could prove to be a bad influence on the youth.

Similarly, BIGO was also blocked in the Muslim-majority country in 2016. The move was, however, reversed once it sanitised its content.

Experts say this user-generated content appearing on these platforms can be likened to pornography and the applications should neither allow the circulation of such content, nor should aid its promotion. They emphasis the need for implementing regulations in this regard.

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