Abid Hussain Barlaskar

Can Gaana HotShots fill the vacuum left by TikTok?

CEO Prashan Agarwal believes that Gaana’s music legacy will give it a big edge. To get things going, the app has got some top TikTok influencers to cross over.

Until yesterday, Times Internet’s audio streaming platform Gaana was competing with platforms like JioSaavn, Amazon Music, Wynk, YouTube Music and Spotify. With the launch of ‘HotShots’, its user generated short video arm, Gaana would now also compete with platforms like Roposo, Instagram Reels, Chingari, HiPi, MX TakaTak, Mitron, Moj, Trell, among others.

As a result of the recent ban on TikTok by the Indian government, several platforms have cropped up in the vertical short video space. These apps are trying to salvage the 200 million-plus users who were suddenly cut off from TikTok due to the ban. A recent Sensor Tower report says that the ByteDance-owned video app (TikTok) saw 611 million downloads in India alone.

Back in April 2019, when Prashan Agarwal, CEO of Gaana, was launching its video arm ‘Gaana Videos’, he wouldn’t have imagined that a year on, he would be trying to fill TikTok’s ‘big’ shoes. Although the shoes are big, there are (good) many feet that are trying to fit in.

In an interview with afaqs!, Agarwal had already expressed his ambitions to drive Gaana’s ‘video’ efforts further. This past week, Agarwal and his team at Gaana were busy putting together a product to make the most out of TikTok’s absence, and the opportunity fit perfectly with his plans.

HotShots is built within the Gaana app. Users have to tap on the newly added HotShots tab to hop into a TikTok-like domain. Most of the content on HotShots will remind one of TikTok, like the song and dance, along with lip-sync and educational videos.

“With the opportunity that opened a few weeks back, we quickly brought forth our experience from video, and put the machinery together to launch HotShots. Gaana Videos was also a vertical video format, but it was restricted to singers. We were trying to connect singers and users on our platform. We also had queries about allowing users’ videos, which we started about six months back. Along with the singer, there would be a few influencer-led videos, too,” Agarwal says.

Prashan Agarwal
Prashan Agarwal

Unlike most other platforms in the race, Gaana is in a slightly better and safer position. It has already raked in over 150 million listeners over the past decade and is deeply entrenched in the Indian music scene.

Also, the distribution of users across age groups is aligned with TikTok. While 60 per cent of Gaana’s users are in the 15-25 age bracket, the 18-24 age group accounts for over 70 per cent of TikTok’s users. Like TikTok, Gaana's users also come from the top cities.

Gaana Hotshots
Gaana Hotshots

However, it would take more than the similarities to stand out. The number of downloads of its new competitors has been increasing by leaps and bounds. While Roposo recorded over 50 million downloads on Google Play Store over the last few days, Chingari, Mitron, Trell and Moj clocked in 10 million-plus downloads each. Over that, Gaana’s users also overlap TikTok’s user base to a certain extent. TikTok’s user friendly tools for creators are often cited as the reason behind the platform’s success.

And, what if the ban is lifted in the future?

“It was an opportunity for us, and we are here to stay. The risk is to the ones which are more of a single platform. We had overlaps with TikTok’s user base, but getting downloads is not the game here. People will be trying multiple apps, and so the download numbers will look high. But, the quality of the content on the recently launched apps isn’t as good. The aim is to get users to stay, create long-term engagement and retention,” Agarwal responds.

He also says that apart from getting the platform and its tools right, much of the effort of the week has been to get the content machinery rolling. HotShots has onboarded a large group of popular influencers from the TikTok world. Influencers like Riyaz Ali, Avneet Kaur, Jannat Zubair Rehmani, Awez Darbar and Nagma Mirajkar have already made a presence on the app. Ali, for example, had over 40 million followers on TikTok.

Then there are singers like Neha Kakkar, Darshan Raval, Tony Kakkar, Jass Manak, Parmish Verma, Maninder Bhuttar, Sunanda Sharma, Mankirt Aulakh, Karan Aujla, among others.

Can Gaana HotShots fill the vacuum left by TikTok?

While Gaana is relying on healthy conversion from its existing user base, it is also expecting big TikTokers to attract the rest of the TikTok crowd.

“Most top influencers haven’t worked with any of the new players. That’s because they don’t trust the companies which were launched recently, as the quality of content there wasn’t good. Every TikToker was pretty much looking up to the top 10 influencers on the platform. They might try 100 other apps, but they’ll come to Gaana to experience it,” says Agarwal.

Like its podcast, which was launched in October last year, HotShots will also be built around Gaana’s primary identity as a music platform. Gaana’s podcasts see around 40 million minutes of consumption every month. “Music is 80 per cent of what HotShots will be. Think of us like an entertainment super app, with music at the core, and podcasts and hotshots as additional experiences,” adds Agarwal.

He mentions that a major investment in setting up a platform like this is for the AI/ML based recommendation infrastructure. Gaana has already been building it to recommend music, and 25 per cent of its listenership happens through recommendation. “It’s going to customise the HotShots feed. I already know what are the song and genres that a Gaana user likes, and I can customise my feed accordingly.”

Can Gaana HotShots fill the vacuum left by TikTok?

Another aspect that Gaana plans to borrow from its ‘music’ background is the increasing share of regional music on the platform. The consumption of regional music on Gaana today is around 35 per cent (it was 10 per cent three year back). Another 15 per cent is English, and 50 per cent is Hindi.

“So, what was the biggest promotion medium on TikTok? It was basically music. It could be any song, from a ‘Haryanvi Moto’ to a ‘Despacito’. We have a big opportunity for promotion of music, in my opinion, and it will unfold over the next six months. Most of the singers are already with us. They conduct live streaming sessions as a part of their launches. The integration of HotShots and the core music experience could take promotion to a whole new level,” Agarwal says.

HotShots isn’t the only TikTok-like app from Times Internet’s stable. Its launch also coincides with the launch of MX TakaTak, a social video by Times Internet’s OTT arm MX Player. Users can create short music videos, or dub movies dialogue, dance videos, etc.

However, when Times Internet launched OTT on the then offline video app MX Player, it faced a unique problem. Offline users wouldn’t sample the streaming service, which was only a tap away. Could Gaana face similar hurdles?

No, it seems. “It was a case of converting an offline app to an online app. But, we are an online app already,” Agarwal says.

Gaana is also loosening control over its content... It would impact its promise of providing a brand safe environment for advertisers. Agarwal assures high standards, saying, “Our curation standard is already very high. And one of the biggest things that we plan to do with this is to take content moderation to another level to ensure quality and safety. That would be a big priority.”

(We tried to speak with MX Player, since it also belongs to the Times Internet stable. However, the platform chose not to participate at the time of filing of this story.)

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