Chinese app downloads fall amid border dispute


Popular Chinese apps TikTok, Helo, Bigo Live, Likee and PubG have seen downloads fall in India, one of their largest markets globally, as the border standoff between both the nations has amplified calls for boycotting Chinese products. According to sector experts, brands will remain cautious about advertising on these Chinese apps as they risk upsetting Indian customers. However, the apps are expected to bounce back once border tensions ease, likely bringing back brands back onto the platforms, they said.

“For now, downloading Chinese apps may seem like a grave thing to do but remember that public sentiment is fickle. Social media addiction is like cocaine. You may give it up in anger but then the itch comes back,” said Santosh Pai, Partner at Link Legal, which advises Chinese clients on investments in India. Downloads of live streaming app Bigo Live, short-video app Likee, and gaming app PubG fell in June, while ByteDance-owned TikTok and Helo saw downloads decline from April, according to the data shared by industry tracker SensorTower.

App April May June 1 to 22
Bigo Live 2,500,000 2,600,000 1,800,000
Helo 16,600,000 14,900,000 9,200,000
Likee 6,700,000 7,000,000 4,300,000
PUBG Mobile 9,900,000 12,200,000 6,600,000
TikTok 23,500,000 22,400,000 13,900,000

Source: Sensor Tower (Google + Apple app stores)


TikTok downloads fell 5% from April to May, and 38% from May to June 22. Helo, an India-specific regional social media app, witnessed a 10% fall in May and 38% from May until June 22, the data showed. “Relations with China are strained but these ups and downs happen. The removal of Chinese apps will be a temporary reaction and the drop in advertising will also be a temporary blip. There is no other app like Tik Tok today and, eventually, this will settle down,” said Sumanto Chattopadhyay, chairman and chief creative officer (CCO ) of 82.5 Communications, a creative agency.

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Boycott calls have been growing since March when the Covid-19 virus outbreak, which originated in China, started spreading in India. The public perception of Chinese apps as propagating lascivious, hateful and anti-India content has also only grown over the last year despite attempts by ByteDance to change the narrative. Chinese internet companies are estimated to have about 300 million unique users in India, which means two-thirds of the about 450 million smartphone users in India use at least one Chinese app. Chinese and American companies are battling to dominate the Indian market as the country remains one of the most open and the last large internet markets in the world.

“Brands need not be altruistic and need not be compelled to offer social commentary. If they feel customer anger is coming in the way for selling, then they will switch to other platforms as necessary,” said Karthik Srinivasan, an independent communications consultant and former national lead, social, at Ogilvy. “It is completely short term. I’d also expect TikTok to go aggressive on offers, tie-ups, and incentives to bring people back.”





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