Livestreaming apps take off; some see red

The surge of live-streaming apps that host content mostly by women — gyrating to film hits, doing their makeup, lounging around speaking about their day and sometimes enticing their audience with the promise of private time on video calls — is leading to a sharp spike in viewership for these platforms, according to industry consultants. The higher downloads and engagement that “this model” offers is leading other platforms to take to live-streaming as well, they added.

Three of the 10 top-grossing apps on Google’s Play Store are live streaming apps — Chamet, Tango and Boloji Pro. All of these apps offer content that often borders on the Not Safe for Work category and have women who are a lot of times available for video calls, experts said.

The top-grossing apps are those with the highest number of in-app payments made through the Play Store.

Meanwhile, apps like Chingari, which began as a short-form video app, introduced the live-streaming model as an additional feature a few months ago. It is now among the five top-grossing apps in iOS India “…overtaking Facebook India”.

Micropayments for apps

“It is the ninth top-grossing app in Playstore, overtaking Twitter India in revenues,” Sumit Ghosh, CEO of Chingari, tweeted recently.

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Even as these apps claim they have tight controls in place, experts argue that they could be violating laws.

“Live streaming is becoming more popular because as a feature it is more engaging,” Manish Maheshwari, co-founder of Fanory, told ET. “It leads to interactivity and a real-time response. It can be an extremely powerful tool but like all technologies how it is used or misused is up to people.”

He said that for instance, if a teacher uses it to live stream lectures for students in remote locations, it can be very beneficial, but at the same time, he said he can imagine “unscrupulous elements” misusing it. What makes live-streaming even more lucrative is that it drives micropayments for apps.

For example, viewers on these apps can gift creators virtual kisses, donuts, lollipops, hearts and a number of other things, all at a cost — paid for by micropayments that range from Rs 100 to Rs 4,000.

In a report on May 5, Mohit Rana, Partner at Redseer Strategy Consultants, said live-streaming generates 10X more engagement in the form of live chat and comments for creators. This means that the likelihood of virtual gifts and monetisation increases. However, the platforms take about 50% of the earnings and the rest goes to the creator.

“Virtual gifting on Indian short-form video platforms is expected to reach $1.7 billion by 2030 (from $0.1 billion in 2022),” Rana said. “The projected spend on virtual gifting in India is expected to increase as more users claim that they are willing to spend on virtual gifting in the future.”

Live streaming has risen as a popular option for apps also because most of the market for short-video apps is fairly cluttered already.

“The market for short-video apps was getting a bit consolidated between Reels, Josh and Moj,” Rana told ET.

Meta-owned Instagram is incredibly popular in India. A ban on TikTok saw the rise of Instagram Reels three years ago which is now the fastest-growing segment for Meta India. A staggering six million Reels are produced in India every day, the company said.


Then there are homegrown competitors like Josh and Moj which are also growing at a healthy clip. In April 2022, Josh claimed it had 150 million monthly active users. Moj in December said it had close to 300 million monthly active users and witnessed three million content uploads every day that garnered close to six billion views daily.

In such a cluttered market, the “model” of live-streaming is helping these apps grab eyeballs as well as notch higher downloads and payments, allowing them to break out of the herd.

Chingari is a case in point. While pointing out that “Chingari has been more experimental and had earlier introduced blockchain-based app-specific currency”, Rana said it has “now added paid video calling to drive micro payments”.

In fact, Chingari told ET that its daily active users (DAUs) are 5 million while its monthly active users (MAUs) are around 40 million, with total downloads being 175 million.

Rana, however, clarified that the model itself is not new to the Indian market and apps like “Tango and Bigo (Chinese app that was banned in India) have been around for a long time”.

Globally, there are platforms like OnlyFans which provide a platform for paywalled content. Creators make and post exclusive content, for which their subscribers pay and OnlyFans takes a cut of those payments. While one can put up any kind of content on the platform, OnlyFans has become synonymous with being an adult streaming platform. Its popularity skyrocketed during the pandemic as it provided an easy way for people to monetise sexual content.

Chingari firmly maintains that it is building products which can give more monetisation opportunities for creators and that all of this is happening with “intense moderation” both with AI tools as well as manual human moderation.

“We check any kind of skin show or anything else that could violate our rules and ban the profile. Even comments are filtered. We also give creators the power to remove any viewer or commenter. So there’s constant moderation happening,” Deepak Salvi, COO and co-founder, Chingari, told ET.

Queries sent to Chamet, Boloji Pro and Tango remained unanswered till press time on Tuesday.

Salvi said Chingari’s growth has been “good” but added that it was not purely because of the launch of the Live Video feature.

“Our live audio feature, Chingari Audio Rooms, is also doing very well,” he said. “It’s balanced and not only one product that is driving our revenues. Both Live Video and Live Audio are performing well and we will focus on both but we want to make it safe. So we’ll also focus on aspects like improving the safety of the users. Right now, only those who are 17 years of age and above can tip creators and they need to have their KYC in place. But they can use the app and go online.”

However, there is a flood of suggestive advertising on these livestreaming apps that is raising concern amongst industry watchers.

Chingari’s Salvi said the company has third-party affiliates who run such advertisements and whenever it is being promoted by anyone within the community or outside the community, it is “taken down”.

“We don’t want to promote this and that’s why we stop working with those ad agencies also. We want to build a platform where people can come and enjoy,” he said.

A review of these apps depicts a range of women who could be singing the Pathaan chartbuster ‘Besharam rang’, while another gyrates to the superhit item song ‘Oo Antava Mawa’. At the same time, there are others who speak nervously about their college exams or let you watch as they do their makeup.

While these are all seemingly mundane activities that people routinely share on their social media profiles, it can appear very different when livestreamed. Several such posts depict scantily clad women, lounging around or making suggestive gestures.

For instance, on registering with Boloji Pro, a user is bombarded with messages from a number of accounts — all with female names — and with fairly explicit display pictures saying things like – “Hello meri jaan, aap mujhe kya dikhana chahenge?” or “richaarj karen aur mujhe kol karen.”

In order to reply and ask for the contact details of the user at the other end, a user has the option to choose from various plans that go from Rs 200 to Rs 1,100. To “explore” profiles, users can scroll through and on choosing a person to speak with, the app urges a recharge in order to get on a video call.

On Chamet, which is the top-grossing app on Play Store, a user can choose to get on a private call with a host of other users and also has the option for people to livestream and gain rewards like a ‘lucky kiss’, lollipops, cookies, cakes and more — all of which can be gifted through micropayments.

A user can pick up 9,000 diamonds for Rs 95 and 510,000 diamonds for Rs 9,500. And a lucky kiss would cost a user 177 diamonds while a kiss would be 19,999 diamonds while the lucky fortune costs 77,777 diamonds.

On joining a livestream, Chamet clearly states: “Pornography, violence, vulgarity, juveniles and other related situations are strictly prohibited during the live broadcast. The AI system reviews it 24 hours a day. Once {found} violating the regulations, it will be punished severely.”

Legal experts are of the view that this does not necessarily absolve platforms of their responsibility.

Salman Waris, founder of law firm TechLegis, said: “It (this kind of content) could be considered a violation of the content moderation rules because ultimately it could be deemed as a socially unacceptable depiction of a woman.”

“If it falls under pornography, the individual users are violating the rules and are liable. Platforms are required to monitor that content and not have any content that is obscene or objectionable be posted on their platforms or livestreams,” he added.

All three stakeholders — the creator, user and platform — can be found liable but the violation of content norms rests more on the individuals. “Obscenity is not when women are unclothed. Bodily gestures and actions could also be considered obscene,” Waris said.

However, Megha Marik, PhD research scholar at TISS Guwahati, said that if the women are willingly using these apps, then it should be regarded as an expression of their sexuality and independence and should be welcomed.

“But there is a fine line in understanding the context and level of women’s agency in using such apps,” she said, while adding that “a much more aware and socially educated audience is required for the safe use of such expression digital spaces.”

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