Facebook addresses political controversy in India, monetization opportunities, startup investments

At the beginning of the previous decade, Facebook had a tiny presence in India. It had just started to slowly expand its team in the country and was inking deals with telecom operators to make access to its service free to users and even offer incentives such as free voice credit.

India’s internet population, now the second largest with more than 500 million connected users, itself was very small. In early 2011, the country had fewer than 100 million internet users.

But Facebook ended up playing a crucial role in the last decade. So much so that by the end of it, the social juggernaut was reaching nearly every internet user in the country. WhatsApp alone reaches more than 400 million internet users in India, more than any other app in the country, according to mobile insight firm App Annie.

This reach of Facebook in India didn’t go unnoticed. Politicians in the country today heavily rely on Facebook services, including WhatsApp, to get their message out. But it has also complicated things.

Rumors have spread on WhatsApp that cost lives, and politicians from both the large political parties in India in recent weeks have accused the company of showing favoritism to the other side.

To address these issues, and the role Facebook wishes to play in India, Ajit Mohan, the head of the company’s business in the country, joined us at Disrupt 2020. Following are some of the highlights.

On controversy

A recent report in WSJ claimed that Ankhi Das, one of Facebook’s top executives in India, decided against taking down a post from a politician from the ruling party. She did so, the report claimed, because she feared it could hurt the company’s business prospects in India.

In Mohan’s first interview since the controversy broke, he refuted the claims that any executive in the country holds power to influence how Facebook enforces its content policy.

“We believe that it’s important for us to be open and neutral and non-partisan,” he said. “We have deep belief and conviction that our enabling role is as a neutral party that allows speech of all kinds, that allows expression of all kinds, including political expression, and a lot of the guidelines that we have developed are to make sure that we really enable our diversity of expression and opinion so long as we’re able to make sure that the safety and security of people are protected.”

Mohan said the internal processes and systems inside Facebook are designed to ensure that any opinion and preference of an employee or a group of employees is “quite separate from the company and the company’s objective enforcement of its own policies.”

He said individuals can offer input on decisions, but nobody — including Ankhi Das — can unilaterally influence the decision Facebook takes on content enforcement.

“We do allow free expression inside the company as well. We don’t have any constraints on people expressing their point of view, but we see that separate from the enforcement of our content policy. […] The content policy itself, in the context of India, is a team that stands separate from the public policy team that is led by Ankhi,” he added.

This photo illustration shows an Indian newspaper vendor reading a newspaper with a full back page advertisement from WhatsApp intended to counter fake information, in New Delhi on July 10, 2018. (Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP)

On India and monetization

Even as Facebook has amassed hundreds of millions of users in India, the world’s second largest market contributes little to its bottom line. So why does Facebook care so much about the country?

“India is in the middle of a very exciting economic and social transformation where digital has a massive role to play. In just the last four years, more than 500 million users have come online. The pace of this transformation probably has no parallel in either human history or even in the digital transformation happening in countries around the world,” he said.

“For a company like ours, if you look at the family of apps across WhatsApp and Instagram, we believe we have a useful role to play in fueling this transformation,” he said.

Even as Facebook does not generate a lot of revenue from India, Mohan said the company has established itself as one of the most trusted platforms for marketers. “They look to us as a material partner in their marketing agenda,” he said.

He said the company is hopeful that advertising as a GDP will go up in India. “Therefore ad-revenue will become substantial over time,” he said.

For Facebook, India is also crucial because it allows the company to build some unique products that solve issues for India but could be replicated in other markets. The company is currently testing an integration of WhatsApp, which currently does not have a business model despite having over 2 billion users, with new Indian e-commerce JioMart, to allow users to easily track their orders.

“We think there is opportunity to build India-first models, experiment at scale, and in a world where we succeed, we see huge opportunity in taking some of these models global,” he said.

Facebook as a VC

Facebook does not usually invest in startups. But in India, the company has invested in social-commerce firm Meesho, online learning platform Unacademy — it even participated in its follow-up round — and it wrote a $5.7 billion check to Jio Platforms earlier this year. So why is Facebook taking this investment route in India?

“We wanted to create a program for taking minority investments in early-stage startups to figure out how we could be helpful to startup founders and the ecosystem as a whole. The starting point was backing teams that were building models that in some ways were unique to India and could go global. Since we made an investment in Meesho, they have made a strong thrust in Indonesia. These are the kind of companies where we feel we can add value as well as we can learn from these startups,” he said.

The partnership with Jio Platforms follows a different rationale. “The transformation we talked about in India in the last few years, Jio triggered it,” he said. Other than that, Facebook is exploring ways to work with Jio, such as with its partnership with Jio’s venture JioMart. “It can really fuel the small and medium business that is good for the Indian economy,” he said.

Mohan said the company continues to explore more opportunities in Indian startups, especially with those where the teams think Facebook can add value, but he said there is no mandate of any kind that Facebook has to invest in, say dozens of startups in three to four years. “It’s not a volume play,” he said.

But would these firms, including Reliance Industries, which operates Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, will receive any special access on Facebook’s services. What if Amazon, BigBasket, Grofers, or Flipkart want to integrate with WhatsApp, too? Mohan said Facebook platform is open for every firm and everyone will receive the same level of access and opportunities.

In the interview, Mohan, who ran the Disney-run Hotstar on-demand streaming service in India, also talked about the growing usage of video in India, the state of WhatsApp Pay’s rollout in the country, what Facebook thinks of India’s ban on Chinese apps, and much more. You can watch the full interview below.

#ajit-mohan, #apps, #asia, #disrupt, #disrupt-2020, #facebook, #facebook-india, #hotstar, #meesho, #social, #techcrunch-disrupt, #unacademy, #venture-capital, #whatsapp, #whatsapp-pay

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Indian fantasy sports app Dream11’s parent firm raises $225M at over $2.5B valuation

Dream Sports, the parent firm of fantasy sports app Dream11, has secured $225 million in a new financing round as the Mumbai-headquartered firm builds what it calls “end-to-end sports tech company” in the cricket-loving nation, which is also the world’s second largest internet market.

Tiger Global Management, TPG Tech Adjacencies (TTAD), ChrysCapital and Footpath Ventures financed $225 million in Dream Sports through primary and secondary investments, the 12-year-old Indian firm said.

The new round values Dream Sports at over $2.5 billion, two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. Dream11 has raised about $325 million to date.

Dream11 has cashed in on the popularity of cricket — a game that has attracted serious attention from several major firms including Disney and Facebook. Dream11 explores the fantasy part of it, allowing gamers to pick their choice of best players for an upcoming match. They can win cash prizes depending on how their selected team performs.

This year, Dream11 is also the title sponsor for the 2020 season of Indian Premier League cricket tournament, one of the most popular sporting events in the world. The startup won the rights, which was previously held by Chinese smartphone vendor Vivo, by bidding $30 million for it. Vivo had to abruptly back out of the sponsorship amid geo-political tension between the two nuclear-armed nations.

The new season of IPL kickstarts later this week after months of delay due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“The sports sector has high growth potential in India. There is a significant opportunity to enhance the fan experience and we are excited to partner with Dream Sports to leverage technology in ways that will deepen the connection between Indian fans and the sports they love,” said Akshay Tanna, Managing Director at TPG, in a statement.

In recent years, Dream Sports has expanded into additional categories such as merchandize. Harsh Jain, chief executive and co-founder of Dream Sports, claimed in a statement today that the startup had amassed over 100 million users. (Dream11 app is not on the Google Play Store and the startup relies on people either using its mobile web or sideload its Android app on to their phones.)

“As a homegrown Indian company, we are proud to continue adding value to our 10 crore Indian sports fans, investors, employees and the overall sports ecosystem in India. In the last two years, we have grown beyond fantasy sports to sports content, merchandise, streaming, experiences, and there is much more to come. Our vision is to ‘Make Sports Better’ for India and Indian fans through sports technology and innovation,” he added.

Avendus Capital was the financial advisor to Dream Sports on the transaction.

Dream11 isn’t the only firm building a niche in the fantasy sports space in India. Sequoia Capital India and Times Internet-backed Mobile Premier League is also a major player, which has expanded to traditional mobile games in recent months. Twitter-backed ShareChat also quietly began experimenting with fantasy sports earlier this year.

But fantasy sports is still facing some regulatory hurdles in parts of India. Several Indian states, including Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Telangana, have banned fantasy sports betting.

“It doesn’t help matters either that the fantasy sports business’ attempts at legitimacy involve trying to be seen as video games — a cursory glance at a speakers panel for any Indian video game developer event is evidence of this — rather than riding on its own merits,” said Rishi Alwani, a long-time analyst of Indian gaming market and publisher of news outlet the Mako Reactor, in an earlier interview with TechCrunch.

#apps, #asia, #chryscapital, #cricket, #dream11, #funding, #hotstar, #india, #ipl, #sports, #tpg

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Netflix’s latest effort to make inroads in India: Support for Hindi

Only about 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people know English. Yet, scores of firms operating in the country offer their services only in English. Netflix, one such company, said on Friday it’s aiming to break through the language barrier.

The American on-demand video streaming giant today rolled out support for Hindi, a language spoken by nearly half a billion people in India, across its platform. From the sign up page to search rows, to collections, synopsis and payment, Hindi language is now baked in across the platform, the company said.

“Delivering a great Netflix experience is as important to us as creating great content. We believe the new user interface will make Netflix even more accessible and better suit members who prefer Hindi,” said Monika Shergill, VP-Content at Netflix India, in a statement.

Netflix’s global competitors, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar also support Hindi language, though the latter has deployed Hindi in limited capacity (not for a movie or show’s synopsis, for instance).

The focus on Hindi illustrates the level of traction Netflix believes it has received in India. Most international firms tend to localize their services in India after they have fully tapped the population in urban cities across the country where English is a common language.

More to follow…

#amazon, #amazon-prime-video, #apps, #asia, #disney, #entertainment, #hotstar, #india, #netflix

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Streaming service Hooq shuts down, ends partnerships with Disney’s Hotstar, Grab and others

Hooq, a five-year-old on-demand video streaming service that aimed to become “Netflix for Southeast Asia,” has shut down weeks after filing for liquidation and terminated its partnerships with Disney’s Hotstar, ride-hailing giant Grab, and Indonesia’s VideoMax.

Hooq Digital, a joint venture among Singapore telecom group Singtel (majority owner), Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros Entertainment, discontinued the service on Thursday. It had amassed over 80 million subscribers in nearly half of the dozen markets in Asia.

“For the past 5 years, we gave you unbelievable thrills, heartrending drama, roaring laughs, awesome action, and more. Our goal was to bring you the best entertainment from here to Hollywood. Our hearts are full of gratitude for all of you who shared the journey with us,” it says on its website.

Hooq publicly disclosed that it had raised about $95 million, but the sum was likely higher. News outlet The Ken analyzed the regulatory filings last month to report that Hooq had raised $127.2 million, and its losses in the financial year 2019 had ballooned to $220, suggesting that it had received more capital.

The streaming service said last month that it could not receive new funds from new or existing investors.

Homepage of Hooq

The service counted India, where it entered into a partnership with Disney’s Hotstar in 2018 and telecom operators Airtel and Vodafone, as its biggest market. The company also maintained a partnership with ride-hailing giant Grab to supply content in its cab, and VideoMAX in Indonesia.

Hooq brought dozens of D.C. universe titles including “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Wonder Woman” and other popular TV series such as “The Big Bang Theory” to its partners. In India, users began noticing last week that those titles were disappearing from Hotstar.

A spokesperson of Hooq told TechCrunch today that its tie-ups with all its partners including Hotstar have closed. A Hotstar spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Mobile operator Singtel first unveiled Hooq’s liquidation in an exchange filing last month. The Ken reported that the filing left hundreds of employees at Hooq stunned who thought the firm was doing fine financially. Nearly every employee at Hooq has been let go, with select few offered a job at Singtel, according to The Ken.

In an interview with Slator earlier this year, Yvan Hennecart, Head of Localization at HOOQ, said that the company was working to expand its catalog with local content and add 100 original titles in 2020.

“Our focus is mostly on localization of entertainment content; whether it is subtitling or dubbing, we are constantly looking to bring more content to our viewers faster. My role also expands to localization of our platform and any type of collateral information that helps create a unique experience for our users,” he told the outlet.

#airtel, #apps, #asia, #disney, #entertainment, #grab, #hooq, #hotstar, #media, #mobile, #netflix, #singtel, #southeast-asia, #vodafone, #warner-bros

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India’s lockdown is making life hard for its most popular apps

The coronavirus pandemic, which has forced billions of people to stay home, has led to a surge in new downloads of several consumer and enterprise focused apps in the west. But in India, the biggest open market globally, things have taken a slightly different turn.

Daily downloads for several popular apps including TikTok, WhatsApp, Truecaller, Helo, Vmate, Facebook, Google Pay, and Paytm have either remained unchanged in the last three months or taken a dip, according to a TechCrunch analysis of figures provided by research firm Apptopia.

Additionally, several popular apps that offer in-app purchases have seen their revenue dramatically drop in the last four weeks as most companies in India recommended employees to work from home and New Delhi imposed a 21-day nationwide lockdown — now extended to May 3.

TikTok was downloaded 20.2 million times in India in a 31-day period ending April 12, down from 21.6 million times it was downloaded in the month of January, for instance. During the same period, WhatsApp’s download plummeted to 12 million from 17 million; Hotstar fell from 9.8 million to 3 million; and ByteDance’s Helo dropped from 10.5 million to 7.5 million.

For most of February, TikTok saw more than 700,000 downloads a day in India, peaking at 891,000. In the last one week, volume of daily downloads of the app has fallen below 450,000. WhatsApp’s figure has dropped from about 650,000 to below 250,000, according to Apptopia .

Aarogya Setu, an app launched by the Indian government to help people know if they have been in the vicinity of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, is currently topping the chart in India with more than 780,000 downloads a day.

Tinder clocked $319,102 in in-app revenue on the App Store and Google Play Store in India between March 13 to April 12, down from $547,103 in January. Netflix’s in-app revenue fell from $285,562 to $192,154 during the same period. LinkedIn and YouTube also observed a decline.

One app that has seen its in-app revenue improve noticeably is Hotstar, which went from $173,253 to $329,675. Disney launched Disney+ atop Hotstar in India earlier this month.

Grocery delivery apps BigBasket, which raised $60 million last week, and Grofers have surged considerably, while Amazon, Flipkart, and Snapdeal that have halted taking non-essential orders in recent weeks have seen a decline in volume of daily downloads and active users on Android in India, according to marketing research firm SimilarWeb.

Zoom, a popular video chat app, has seen its daily downloads surge to over 500,000 in recent weeks, up from about 9,000 in early February. Ludo King, a popular game in Asian markets, has seen its daily download figure jump from about 150,000 in early February to over 450,000 in India in recent days.

As people stay at home, desktop usage has also increased in India, a mobile-first nation with nearly half a billion smartphone users.

“India has consistently seen mobile web browsing account for the heavy majority compared to the desktop, however from February to March, desktop usage increased its share of total visits to the top 100 sites by 1.6%. While this may seem small, it is 1.6% of 31.32 billion visits, so it is still rather significant,” a SimilarWeb representative told TechCrunch.

#amazon, #apps, #apptopia, #asia, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #covid19, #flipkart, #google, #hotstar, #netflix, #paytm, #snapdeal, #truecaller

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Streaming service Hooq files for liquidation

On-demand video streaming service Hooq said on Friday it has filed for liquidation after it failed to grow rapidly and cover its increasing operating costs.

Hooq Digital, a joint venture among Singapore telecom group Singtel (majority owner), Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros Entertainment, said the company sailed through “significant structural changes” in the on-demand video streaming market for five years but is now struggling to provide sustainable returns to investors.

“Global and local content providers are increasingly going direct, the cost of content remains high, and emerging-market consumers’ willingness to pay has increased only gradually amid an increasing array of choices,” a Hooq spokesperson said in a statement.

“Because of these changes, a viable business model for an independent, OTT distribution platform has become increasingly challenged. As a result, HOOQ has not been able to grow sufficiently to provide sustainable returns nor cover escalating content costs and the continuous operating costs of an independent OTT distribution platform,” the spokesperson added.

The Singapore-headquartered firm said it has not received any new funds from new or existing investors. According to Crunchbase, Hooq has raised $95 million to date, including $70 million the three aforementioned giants pumped into it in 2015.

The company will hold a meeting with its shareholders and creditors on April 13. In an exchange filing, Singtel said Hooq’s liquidation won’t have any material impact on its business.

HOOQ has amassed 80 million users in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines. The company counted India, where it entered into a partnership with Disney’s Hotstar in 2018, as its biggest market. The company also maintains a partnership with ride-hailing giant Grab to supply content in its cab.

The disclosure from Hooq comes as a surprise as just two months ago it was talking about its plans to expand its footprint in the nations where it operates. In an interview with Slator, Yvan Hennecart, Head of Localization at HOOQ, said the company was working to expand its catalog with local content and add 100 original titles this year.

“Our focus is mostly on localization of entertainment content; whether it is subtitling or dubbing, we are constantly looking to bring more content to our viewers faster. My role also expands to localization of our platform and any type of collateral information that helps create a unique experience for our users,” he told the outlet.

#apps, #asia, #hooq, #hotstar, #media, #singtel

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Now streaming on Hotstar in India: Disney+

Disney+ has arrived in India — weeks ahead of its scheduled launch date. The American giant revamped Hotstar app and populated the on-demand video streaming service with Disney+ original catalog on Wednesday morning (local time).

Unlike in most other markets such as the U.S., Canada, and Australia; in India, Disney is launching Disney+ through an existing service. As part of its deal with Fox last year, Disney now owns Star India and all of its properties including Hotstar. The company has said that Hotstar, at its peak, had about 300 million monthly active users and 100 million monthly active users.

The service, bundled with Disney+, is currently available at no additional charge to existing Hotstar subscribers — who pay Rs 999 ($14) for a year — though the premium tier carries a new yearly sticker price of Rs 3,588 ($48). (Worth pointing out that earlier the premium tier had a sticker price of about Rs 2,500, though Hotstar has been discounting it at Rs 999.)

In addition to everything Hotstar previously offered — about 4,000 titles — the “Disney+ Hotstar” adds more than a dozen original titles from Disney, including “Diary of a Future President,” “Disney Family Sundays,” “Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings,” “Encore,” “High School Musical,” “The Mandalorian,” and “The World According to Jeff Goldblum.”

“For our India users we’re bringing the world’s best stories from the best storytellers at Disney, Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars. 200+ movies, 100+ shows and 30+ originals!” the Disney+ Hotstar app’s description says.

A Hotstar spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company will have more to share on Friday. TechCrunch first reported about Disney’s plan to launch Disney+ launch in India. Disney former chief executive Bob Iger said earlier last month that the company will expand Hotstar to Southeast Asia and launch Disney+ in the region through it.

Some users have pointed out that the in-app player is not able to stream some titles seamlessly. And that the titles are available in full-HD (1080P), instead of their native 4K (UHD) resolution. Hotstar in India has yet to add support for 4K.

The early rollout of Disney+Hotstar comes at a rough time for Disney that has received criticism for censoring John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” show.

The streaming service, which is the exclusive streaming syndicating partner for HBO, Showtime, and ABC in India, blocked a recent episode of “Last Week Tonight” that was critical of India’s ruling party and its leader, Narendra Modi .

In the most recent episode of the show, Oliver called out Hotstar for censoring his show and said the streaming service had also edited out a few jokes about Disney from some of his recent episodes. The company has yet to comment on the censorship issue.

That aside, India is going to be a key overseas market for Disney+ and one where it already has a perceived lead over rivals Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video and dozens of other services — all of which have lowered their price to win customers in India.

Hotstar has cashed in on the popularity of cricket in the country that has boosted its usage and relevance in the country. Star India has secured broadcasting and streaming rights to most cricket tournaments. In an interview in 2018, James Murdoch, then chief executive of Fox, said, “it’s tough for anyone else in India. They want cricket, but we have left nothing for them.”

Tussle for some of those rights continues.

#amazon, #apps, #asia, #hbo, #hotstar, #james-murdoch, #john-oliver, #media, #narendra-modi, #netflix, #the-walt-disney-company

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John Oliver slams Disney’s Hotstar for censoring his show

John Oliver slammed Disney-owned Hotstar on Sunday for censoring his show, “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”, in India saying the local streaming service has edited at least three episodes in recent months.

A recent episode of “Last Week Tonight”, in which Oliver criticised the Indian government’s recent policies and its leader, Narendra Modi, never aired on Hotstar, which is the exclusive syndicating partner for most HBO content in India. [The same episode is available unedited on YouTube in India.]

Oliver also referenced an episode of the show from late last year where he had mocked Disney, a segment he said was cleverly edited before streaming in India. And then, another instance in a segment focused on China’s one-child policy in which he again joked that Donald Duck’s penis. That was also edited before going up for streaming in India, Oliver said.

“They cut out a joke about Mickey Mouse being a cocaine addict. Why would they do that? It’s hard to say. But it might be because Hotstar is owned by Disney and they seem extra sensitive to Disney references,” said Oliver.

(As part of its deal with Fox last year, Disney owns Star India, and all its properties, including Hotstar.)

Oliver ended the segment with this advice to Hotstar: “If you think that you have to remove anything that reflects poorly on Disney from this show, I have some bad news for you, my friends. I am fucking Zazu right here. Everything that comes out of this beak is a ‘Disney Fact’,” he said.

“If I say that Cogsworth collects Nazi memorabilia, guess what? That’s canon, baby. That’s a ‘Disney fucking Fact’ right there. And for the foreseeable future, Hotstar, you can look forward to learning a lot more of them on this show because we’re going to be sliding them into our stories like Chip and Dale slid into Richard Gere. That’s right — ‘Disney Fact,’ motherfuckers.”

You can bet your money that this episode will not air unedited on Hotstar tomorrow. And that is just the kind of promotion Disney must be looking for in India right now. Disney+ launches in India, through Hotstar, later this month.

We have reached out to Disney and Hotstar in India — but don’t think they will respond. They never do on such matters.

#apps, #asia, #entertainment, #hotstar, #john-oliver, #mickey-mouse, #narendra-modi, #the-walt-disney-company

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