The rise and rise of TikTok continues, this time in India, where it forecasts the number of users will grow by over 50% this year.

The next phase of growth in the country, however, will be marked by a focus on turning numbers into revenue, the head of TikTok’s India operations told the Financial Times. The growth would mark a significant turnaround for the video platform after it was temporarily banned in the country last year.

Nikhil Gandhi told the FT that TikTok is looking to cultivate “value” content, with a stress on quality, following criticism in the country of what was described as abusive and explicit content, along with reports of cyber bullying.

Despite controversy, the short-form video app has taken off in India, where it now has an estimated 200 million users, still short of WhatsApp’s 400 million, but growing fast.

“I can safely say it will grow by at least 50%,” said Mr Gandhi. “We’ve seen the projection. We’ve seen the number of organic users we get. We’ve seen the kind of engagement levels. We’ve seen retention rates going up.”

One aim, he added, would be to nurture influencers popular with advertisers. Gandhi cited @hydroman as an example, someone who dubs himself India’s first underwater dancer, and who has now partnered with Pepsi.

Some advertisers are holding back in India while TikTok seeks to improve its image, however. “TikTok is trying to distance itself from the cringe, but it’s going to take a while; it’s hard to replicate brand safety on a digital medium,” the FT quoted one agency executive who represents influencers as saying.

Meanwhile the app continues to attract negative publicity as users go to ever more extremes to win audiences. India Today reported a 22-year-old man was burnt to death after touching a 25,000-volt electric cable while posing for a TikTok video after climbing a pole at a train station in Haryana state. And an 18-year-old died after diving into a canal and hitting his head on a rock while making a TikTok video with friends, the Times of India reported. The posted video of the incident subsequently went viral.

The rise of TikTok globally has been nothing short of meteoric. According to data from Sensor Tower it overtook WhatsApp in January this year to become the most downloaded app in the world with over 104.7 million installs – that’s a rise of 46% from January 2019. India saw the most installs, representing 34.4% of the total.

Sourced from Financial Times, India Today, Times of India, Sensor Tower; additional content by WARC staff