Anand Prakash just got off TikTok. His messages sound jubilant.

Prakash, the academic head at live tutoring app Vedantu, just held his first live session on the video-streaming social media platform. “My gut feeling is this could work like live classes on YouTube,” reads his text. Vedantu’s math channel, which features one-minute-long videos on math tips and tricks, has garnered over 500,000 followers, as of October 2019. 

The third-most downloaded app globally in the first quarter of 2019, China-based TikTok and its 15-second videos have taken India by storm. With over 200 million users in India, it is arguably China’s most popular consumer tech export. Its parent company Bytedance—valued at $75 billion—is the world’s highest-valued tech startup.

Tiktok’s popularity has made the app a destination for brands like Club Factory, Oppo and Pepsi—all looking to advertise to the largely under-30 audience. While celebrities have also embraced the platform, TikTok has created its fair share of content creator celebrities. In fact, getting to a million views is almost too easy. TikTok’s addictive vertical video feed and unbounded access to small-town India, has unlocked accessibility at scale.

But from being a purely entertainment-oriented platform, TikTok is hard at work to reposition itself as an edtech platform. According to industry experts The Ken spoke with, its #Edutok campaign—introduced in June 2019—is a calculated move to improve the company’s image. Having faced regulatory challenges over unsavoury content and intermediary ownership issues, TikTok wants to be seen as a platform that has social value. Hence, education.

“TikTok has a target on its back. Its success has created an existential crisis for home-grown apps like Sharechat,” says a Delhi-based edtech investor, who wished to comment anonymously to avoid being caught in the crossfire between the apps. According to him, TikTok—arguably the only social media app with an engaged multi-lingual, multi-regional audience—laid siege to Sharechat’s original audience. Now, Sharechat is lobbying regulators to clamp down on their rival. Tiktok is easier to chase out with regulatory pitchforks than an Alibaba, he adds. No one’s going to miss another social networking app.

For nearly four months, TikTok has courted popular content creators and edtech companies like Vedantu to generate easily understandable content specifically for its platform. Small lessons like calculating square roots or learning conversational English. 

An image revamp for TikTok, though, is only one motive for the platform’s edtech impetus. TikTok is using Edutok as a dipstick to gauge the appetite for Bytedance’s considerable edtech arsenal, something it could import from China. In light of India’s burgeoning edtech market—estimated to be worth $1.96 billion by 2021, according to a Google-KPMG report—traditional Chinese edtech companies are already eyeing the region.

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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