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Going the OTT way: More regional dating apps are wooing Indians

In a span of five months, two regional online dating platforms have come into existence. After the launch of Arike, an online dating platform for the Malayalam-speaking audience, now comes Anbe which is focusing on the Tamil community.

July 24, 2021 / 12:11 PM IST
 
 
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It's not just the video streaming space that is coming out with language-specific platforms. Even online dating platforms are going the over-the-top (OTT) platform way.

In a span of five months, two regional online dating platforms have come into existence.

After the launch of Arike, an online dating platform for the Malayalam-speaking audience, now comes Anbe which is focusing on the Tamil community.

Vaishnavi Bharathi, 26, and a doctor by profession joined Anbe, the launch of the which was announced on Thursday, because she felt a communication gap on other online dating apps.

"There was always this communication gap with the people I matched with, mostly because I'm from Chennai but live in Bangalore. Since Anbe is for Tamilians, it's easier to connect with almost all my matches on an emotional level. Also, there are a lot of Tamil pop culture references that can be used as ice breakers," she added.

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Able Joseph, who first launched Aisle, an online dating platform six years back, started exploring the regional space and first came up with Arike and then Anbe which means dear in Tamil.

Like Arike, the reason behind launching a regional app like Anbe was that many youngsters from Chennai and Coimbatore are looking for an alternative to matrimony app yet not as casual as the dating apps, said Joseph.

"In Tamil Nadu, we have observed that it is one of the states that prefer high-intent dating as compared to casual dating," he said.

And this is why Joseph is targeting half a million users in six months for Anbe just like Arike.

The target for both the regional apps is to reach a million users in the first 300 days, said Joseph.

However, Arike which was launched in March this year so far has onboarded 1,40,000 users.

Hence, comes the question if these regional dating apps are viable?

The feasibility factor

Snehil Khanor, CEO and Co-Founder, TrulyMadly, an online dating platform, said that while people from tier II and III markets are choosing their mother tongue when it comes to online dating, it's a long-term bet in terms of consumer spending as the ARPU (average revenue per user) is lower.

Pawan Gupta, co-founder, Betterhalf.ai, an AI matchmaking service, said that although dating platforms say they are seeing new growth in paid users, the renewal rate is not high and is around 10-20 percent.

If we take Arike's example, out of the 1,40,000 users it has, only a single-digit percentage are paying for the paid features. Out of that only 10 percent opt for a six-month plan of its paid feature called Notes which costs Rs 2,500.

Notes is a feature which lets users express interest in someone by writing to them directly.

The other two plans including a three-month plan that costs Rs 1,500 and a one-month plan that costs Rs 800 are opted by 20 percent users and 70 percent users respectively.

While the revenue coming from these users is less, Khanor said that the volumes are high which compensates for lower revenue and added that the paying capacity of users from regional markets is improving.

Even Khanor has launched a Marathi micro-verse which is in the beta phase on TrulyMadly two months back.

This doesn't come as a surprise if we look at The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) Kantar 'ICUBE 2020' report which notes that digital adoption is fast increasing in rural India with an increase in smartphone usage.

Digital adoption clocked 13 percent growth over the past year and now there are 299 million internet users in rural India.

Tanya Chaturvedi, Reputation Analyst, Research and Insights, The Mavericks India, a marketing agency, noted that "although foreign dating apps still remain at the top of the market share, home-grown apps are now witnessing a steady rise."

She said, "From constituting less than 10 percent of the market share in 2010s, they now make up for more than 50 percent of the share, according to Statista, which indicates a significant increase. And this is mostly attributed to the increased adoption specifically from the regional population who prefer vernacular dialects. The makers of these apps also benefit from the in-depth knowledge of the culture and lifestyle of the population they intend to serve, creating a platform more suitable for the native audience."

Chaturvedi's point highlighting knowledge of culture and lifestyle is something that can be found on both Arike and Anbe. For example, there are prompts that are used as ice-breakers which are tailored for the people of Tamil Nadu like talking about culture in the state, the actors, and the food.

Also, when it comes to the southern markets, industry players and experts say that there is a need for regional online dating platforms.

South is special

"There is more acceptance in the southern market. In, South India there are many language variations and if you see community-specific marriage bureaus, it is large there," said Gupta.

Adding to this, TrulyMadly's Khanor said that digital adoption is high in the southern markets.

Joseph said that people in the south are ready to spend on lifestyle choices.

But Gupta thinks that only small businesses can emerge out of these trends.

Yet, he thinks there's potential because the market is huge for online matchmaking.

Dating apps are wooing more Indians

"Every month there are 25 million users on matchmaking apps; this includes serious dating to matrimony apps like Matrimony.com's BharatMatrimony. Because of COVID-19 there is 20-30 percent growth year-on-year in terms of users. So, the estimated user base for online matrimony is 10-15 million and the rest is for dating and serious dating apps," said Gupta.

This is probably why Joseph is confident that Arike will break even in a year.

While the market for online dating is growing, safety becomes paramount when more platforms are getting launched, said Gupta.

Dating safely

"In these (regional) markets, it is important to be careful of chances of fraud. One has to be careful when you are designing such products," he added.

The two regional platforms Arike and Anbe currently have three safety features.

One is monitoring profiles. If a profile is blocked often by users then the profile is disabled until further investigation.

Another feature is word check which means that the moderation team on both the apps looks out for words that may be used to threaten or blackmail a user. Such conversations are flagged and the matter is investigated.

The third way to ensure safety is to encourage users to connect with verified profiles. A profile is verified on the two apps when a user takes a selfie which matches his/her profile picture.

International dating apps like Bumble also have many safety features on the platform for Indian users.

This includes photo verification, block + report, banning body shaming by checking for language that is deemed fat-phobic, ableist, racist, colourist, homophobic or transphobic.

In addition, the platform has safety features like private detector which uses artificial intelligence to capture, blur and alert users that they've been sent an unsolicited nude image.

With the right safety features, as experts mentioned, the online dating space is looking at good growth in terms of user adoption.
Maryam Farooqui
first published: Jul 23, 2021 08:30 pm

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