India’s ban on TikTok and other Chinese apps has opened up the market for a plethora of short video platforms that earlier ceded ground to ByteDance’s social media behemoth.
Shortly after the ban, two things happened: a) Several “TikTok alternatives” that were operating on the fringes gained ground almost overnight. As downloads peaked and video views surged, their servers crashed, and b) Social media incumbents like ShareChat and Instagram ventured into the short video space with new products.
Vidya Narayanan, Co-founder and CEO, Rizzle.tv, tells YourStory, “The India surge following the TikTok ban is an explosion. User projections have gone up 100x."
Vidya and Lakshminath Dondeti, Rizzle’s co-founders, earned their master’s degrees in Texas and Nebraska respectively, before crossing paths at chip-making giant Qualcomm. Later, Vidya went on to work at Google, focusing on mobile products, while Lakshminath cut his teeth in video and OTT at Apalya Technologies.
The founders were obsessed with “a culture of excellence” that defined those companies. They say, “We dabbled in advanced technologies, worked with the best-in-class engineers, and had a deep familiarity with mobile. That helped us bring the UI/ UX excellence to our own product and build a strong team.”
Rizzle.tv was conceptualised in late 2018, when Vidya and Lakshminath realised that most existing short video apps were broadcast-based, where creators posted videos, and the audience interacted with them through text comments.
There was no scope for interactive video discussions. That is what they wanted to change with Rizzle.tv.
Launched in June 2019, the platform lets users create, distribute, and monetise 60-second original videos, talk shows, and mini-series across interest-based channels such as food, tech, travel, sports, dating, lifestyle, fashion, beauty, movies, comedy, and more.
It also allows the audience to respond and interact with creators through videos, making it different from its peers.
Rizzle.tv is headquartered in San Jose, California, with its India office in Hyderabad. About 90 percent of its workforce is based in India.
The startup claims to have witnessed an upsurge in new users from India since the TikTok ban. Without revealing specifics, Vidya says, “Our initial users were from the metros, but now we are starting to see adoption from all parts of India. There’s been a sudden explosion, and we hope to capture top creators in the Indian market soon.”
Product features and differentiation
Rizzle.tv is based on the principle of ‘real people, real talk’, which is strikingly similar to TikTok’s ‘real people, real videos’ tagline.
However, the former distinguishes itself by ditching the usual lip-synced song-and-dance routine on most short video apps. Instead, it focuses on opinion-style conversations and interactive videos on subjects that matter. Additionally, Rizzle.tv allows sharing of original content only.
This means creators cannot post pre-loaded videos from their camera roll. All content has to be shot and edited on Rizzle.tv’s in-app camera.
“While TikTok and others have been very successful in song and dance, we launched with talk shows and opinion videos. Rizzle’s content spectrum lies between video Twitter and YouTube. On Twitter, you need to be polished for your opinion to be taken seriously. Videos on Rizzle.tv are more democratic in that sense.”
She adds, “Rizzle.tv keeps the keyboard warriors and trolls away, and is focused on building a positive community that listens, speaks, argues, debates, and supports.”
The platform counts over six million users in India and the US. More than one million original videos have been shared across interest groups.
Power creators post up to 50+ short videos each day. Rizzle.tv’s goal is to help casual creators generate quick one-minute videos without worrying too much about continuity and editing. The short videos can be stitched later to create a mini-series, which the audience can binge watch from Episode 1 to Episode N.
Co-founder Lakshminath shares, “Our original content feature has been the signature element of the platform. It has made the community very active. With original content, we’re also able take care of issues like legalities and copyrights.”
Rizzle.tv sees thousands of videos getting created every 24 hours. Within minutes of a video being shared, hundreds of users, mostly aged between 17 and 35, chime in. Users can also participate in weekly Rizzle.tv contests and win cash prizes.
About 70 percent of Rizzle creators have been active on the platform from Day One. “We have successfully built creator stickiness, and we also run a creator community on Discord [a messaging and discussion app popular among teens],” Vidya states.
Monetisation and growth plans
Rizzle.tv has raised $1 million in angel funding and $5 million in a Series A round from undisclosed investors. It is looking to close a bridge round of $4 million shortly, followed by a Series B round by the end of 2020.
“Given the current India surge, we’re in fundraising mode now,” the founders reveal.
The startup wants to utilise the capital in building strong quality assessment and content moderation teams, and also looks to double its 90-member workforce.
Content moderation is increasingly becoming important for short video apps globally. TikTok came under immense flak for allowing objectionable content on its platform, leading to a mass downrating of the app before its ban.
To counter such issues, Rizzle.tv has put in place a multi-tier content moderation system, where videos pass through its proprietary AI algorithms, before being monitored by human moderation teams.
“TikTok stars are at crossroads now, and they want to find a platform which will provide them stability and support. Our technical team is listening to these creators and trying to give them the features that can make them feel at home. We’re also A/B testing new features before rolling them out.”
Rizzle.tv operates on a sponsorship-supported model, where the audience can pay for creator channels across three tiers: Silver (Rs 85 per quarter), Gold (Rs 85 per month), and Platinum (Rs 250 per month).
Vidya explains, “This is the Patreon model of sponsorships. On the creation of 30 good quality videos in a month, a creator channel qualifies for premium status, and their viewers can sponsor the channel with a recurring subscription fee.”
Rizzle.tv takes a nominal cut of the creator's earnings. It is also working towards enabling in-app brand sponsorships in a “non-disruptive fashion”. “Right now, creators help us grow, and our focus lies on intense user growth,” Vidya states.
There are an estimated 300 million online video viewers in India. Out of this, the 200 million TikTok users would be scouting for new platforms to park their creative expressions. This means that the market is wide open for new players like Rizzle.tv.
The founders sum up with, “It is clear to us that video is the future. We’ve committed ourselves to building an interactive video platform that can be the home for global scale discussions.”
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)
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