“We are conducting Auditions for CELEBRITY FACE STAR”, a post on Instagram boldly proclaims. “TikTok classes by Celebrity Face founder and CEO Rakesh Dwivedi” shouts another, and many more by a Delhi-based agency called Celebrity Face, which dangles the carrot of fame and by association fortune on TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing social media app that is the epitome of virality.

Run by Rakesh Dwivedi—a TikTok user with 1.1 million followers—Celebrity Face offers the lucky few a chance to learn how they can ascend to the status of influencer, the holy grail. Students will be taught how to make and edit videos, use filters and “how to take slow videos”, The Ken was told when it reached out to a number listed on the Instagram posts.

A specialised training course for celebrity-hood is just the tip of the iceberg. ByteDance, which owns TikTok and is the world’s most valuable startup at an estimated $75 billion, has taken India by storm over the past year or so. Riding on an internet and video consumption wave and a large population of young users, TikTok in India has led user growth for its global parent, as well as invited scrutiny from the Indian government and judiciary. It was even on the receiving end of a short-lived ban.

Of all China’s internet giants, the Beijing-based social media startup is easily the most engaged with Indian consumers. The BAT trinity—search and digital advertising firm Baidu, e-commerce leader Alibaba and messaging and gaming company Tencent—have significant investments in Indian tech startups, but their own products and services have little foothold locally.

TikTok, meanwhile, in the first quarter of 2019, saw a 70% increase in the number of its new users to 188 million globally, and India accounted for 47% of those downloads, according to data from market intelligence firm Sensor Tower. ByteDance’s claimed TikTok active user base rivals that of Facebook-owned Instagram in India.

ByteDance operates at least a dozen social media and content apps around the world. A feat unmatched by its Chinese peers, whose social platforms have little traction outside their home turf. The company’s stable of apps is an eclectic one: Some, like TikTok and Vigo Video, at first glance seem to compete with each other, while some, like Helo in India, are tailored carefully to suit a specific country or market.

Touted globally as a potential threat to the Facebook-Google duopoly on online ad revenue, ByteDance’s many properties together command over 1 billion monthly active users, the company announced just this week. Of which nearly a fifth comes from India—possibly its most important battlefield yet.

Different strokes

Founded in 2012, ByteDance has been present in India since it launched Vigo Video—which lets users post short video clips as well as livestreams—in September 2017.

AUTHOR

Harveen Ahluwalia

In her last assignment, Harveen was at Mint, the business daily published by HT Media. At Mint, where she spent about two years, she wrote stories on retail, food and the media business. Harveen is a B.Com (H) graduate from Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi. She has a diploma in journalism from the Times School of Journalism. Like many folks at The Ken, Harveen talks and tweets a lot. When she isn’t writing or reading, she likes to sketch and doodle. She can be reached at harveen at the-ken dot com.

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