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Exclusive: Bytedance’s local language app now wants to say ‘Helo’ in English

Vernacular language social media and entertainment platform Helo, which was launched in mid-2018 to compete with homegrown startup ShareChat, is now tinkering with the addition of English language. 

The Bytedance-owned app, originally launched to cater to the non-English speakers has been experimenting with an English language option through partnership with news and media houses, according to two people familiar with the development.

This move is aimed to capture the screen time of tier I and metro audience — a departure from the initial idea of focusing primarily on the tier II, III and beyond audience.

“They are slowly moving away from a pure social media platform to an information and content app,” said one of the two people mentioned above, requesting anonymity. “They have also been onboarding more and more media platforms in several languages including English over the last few months.”

A Helo spokesperson confirmed this development. 

“As part of our continued endeavor to build the best possible product experience for our users, we are running a limited test with English language as an addition to 14 regional languages,” said a Helo spokesperson. “The test is being done to evaluate whether this addition is beneficial and enhances user experience.”

The platform has also been working with celebrities to add more professionally-generated content to the platform rather than a pure user-generated content play, added the second person cited above. 

Experts tracking the content space say that Bytedance is following the classic playbook of Toutiao (which is a news and information content platform in China) as far as Helo in India is concerned. After solely focusing on vernacular social networking, it’s evolving into a broader information, news, discovery and sharing app. 

“If one looks at Bytedance’s DNA, it’s more of managing the user’s content consumption patterns and preference using machine learning. Unlike social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, Bytedance doesn’t focus much on fostering a community,” said a venture capitalist from China, who also invested in Indian content space, requesting anonymity. “But even as news and information publishers will find Helo to be a new avenue for traffic, Helo will need to look at monetising options to keep publishers hooked in the long haul.”

Part of the reason to move to English is to attract the real spenders on social media which is highly skewed towards the metros. Helo’s rival ShareChat, too has been struggling over monetising its largely non-metro user base. This is why the Twitter-backed startup recently launched a separate app Jeet11 to foray into the world of fantasy gaming which will help them monetise. This is particularly necessary for the company because it has recorded zero revenues in FY19.

While official user numbers aren’t available, media reports suggest that both Helo and ShareChat had 15 million daily active users and 40 million monthly active users as of November 2019, citing sources.

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