On 8 October, Bollywood actor Disha Patani uploaded a 13-second video to Instagram pretending to be starring in the superhit DC comic film Wonder Woman. In the video, Patani’s face was swapped out with that of Hollywood star Gal Gadot who is seen fighting and performing stunts. Soon enough, Patani’s 30-million Instagram fans were speculating that she’d be the next Wonder Woman. Not quite yet. 

Patani was promoting the launch of a new deepfake application Noizz, which lets users realistically morph their faces with film or TV characters by uploading selfies. The Chinese app remaps your face into a limited number of scenes from Indian TV shows in under 10 seconds. Actress Patani’s paid Instagram post as Wonder Woman garnered over 2 million views since the promotional upload, while Noizz stockpiled over 80 million downloads.

There have been growing concerns over deepfakes using artificial intelligence to look genuine, but for Chinese firm YY Inc., this was its latest attempt to crack virality and capture the attention of Indian neophiles. The AI-powered face swap feature of Noizz tried to replicate the success of Zao app, a deepfake application that went viral in September topping the charts of the Chinese app store (Zao is owned by Momo Inc, a Chinese rival of YY.)

Noizz is the latest in a string of products that the Nasdaq-listed YY has launched in the two years since it entered India. The Chinese conglomerate is the leading live-streaming social media company in China with a 170+ million monthly active user base. It is now looking to capture markets outside its home base.

YY has rapidly grown its presence across different categories of social media—short-videos, live streaming, and gaming—and has built a formidable presence in India away from the gaze of media. The parent entity owns a suite of apps including Bigo Live for live-streaming, Likee for short videos, HAGO for social gaming and imo for HD video calls, each among the top five applications in their respective categories. 

India is the most popular geography by downloads for YY’s apps, as per app market intelligence firm Sensor Tower, accounting for over two-thirds of Likee’s 100 million monthly active users (MAUs) and over 60 million of Bigo Live’s 200 million registered users worldwide. And YY’s immediate goal for India is to diversify and increase those numbers. Strategically, YY is focussed on growing its user base and “is not keen on monetisation in India for the next 6-12 months,” said a person with knowledge of the firm’s strategy.

Likee allows users to shoot, edit, add filters and upload videos of 15 seconds upto a minute.

It’s feasible.


Nilesh Christopher

Nilesh Christopher is a journalist who reports and writes on technology and startups. In his last assignment, he was a staff writer at FactorDaily, an online technology publication. Over there, he wrote long, deeply reported feature stories. Prior to that, he was a daily news reporter for the Economic Times. He tweets @nilchristopher and can be reached at [email protected]

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