Falling in love has always drawn mixed reactions in Indian society where arranged marriages have always been the accepted norm. However, Gen X feels dating is the in-thing, thus pitching matrimonial sites against dating apps. An evaluation by BestMediaInfo
Akansha Mihir Mota | Mumbai | May 19, 2016
Recently, I met a friend of a friend, a school teacher from a middle class background, who chose to look for her prospective partner on a dating app over a matrimonial website. Tara Sharma is a next-door girl with not much inclination to dating, otherwise. But her preference really took me by surprise.
It brought me to the reality of the evolution of the Indian social mindset and the acceptability of ‘dating’. The growth chart of the dating app market, their advertising efforts, digital presence and more players venturing into the domain are testimony to the growing business vertical.
Will they eventually replace the matrimonial websites? Or will they carve out their own place and co-exist? Or are they just a bubble of the western concept of ‘dating’? BestMediaInfo.com caught up with industry experts and market players to get an insight.
The Changing Dynamics
With a spurt in the number of newcomers in this vertical, the growth and scope have been vouched for all the players in the market. After TrulyMadly and Woo launching in 2014, Tinder came up with a storm in January 2016 and destabilised the market to some extent. However, these aren’t the only players; a quick succession of launches has resulted in many players, including Frivil, Thrill, Aisle and OKCupid.
With the country’s youth increasingly embracing western concepts, dating is entering Indian households gradually.
According to media reports, Tinder saw 97 per cent growth in active user base in the last few months and 400 per cent increase in app downloads since its launch in India. As per figures given by TrulyMadly, the company gets new users every day and they spend around 45 minutes daily on the app. Woo too has amazing numbers to flaunt with about 2.5 million current users.
While the players in the segment have shown a lot of confidence in the shift from matrimonial websites to the dating apps, a few digital experts point out crucial differences which will only help in co-existence of the two.
Sachin Bhatia, CEO of TrulyMadly, said, “We are looking at a major disruption in matrimonial websites in the section of users who are looking to date. Due to lack of options before our entry in the Indian market, one had to be dependent on these sites or friends and family to look for a partner.”
So, while Bhatia is a strong supporter of the replacement theory, Sumesh Menon, Co-founder and CEO, Woo, believes in co-existence and symbiotic survival of the two formats.
Menon explained, “I think dating apps are going to co-exist, at least for the next 15-20 years. Eventually, the younger audience will stop using these websites. I don't think the country is in a situation that anything is going to get replaced soon. In future, they will be using products like ours to connect with like-minded people and matrimonial sites might not be relevant to them. But it's not an overnight change.”
Aditya Save, CMO of Shaadi.com, seconds the co-existence theory. He said, “I don’t see dating apps as a competition. In fact, in many ways, it is the biggest task to expand the consumer base online. To that extent, anybody who is able to get new consumers on board for a variety of needs is always helpful. Anything that helps people to enter online is always something that works well for us.”
Save elaborated on how he thinks that dating and matchmaking are two different life stages. “When one wants to explore, that’s where dating comes in. Matchmaking is far more intent driven which means there is a sense of what I am looking for and trying to find. Therefore, it guides people far better than what dating tends to do.”
Quite similar to the views of the players, digital experts have mixed feeling about competition and co-existence. Harish Bijoor, Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., feels that the two will co-exist. He said, “As of now, everything co-exists. More, the merrier. The younger you are, the more you are inclined to dating apps over matrimonial sites. Matrimonial sites are considered staid and tacky versus zingy dating apps. Tinder is a big story as are the myriad other apps that dominate India. However, the credibility of the matrimonial websites is much more than the apps. There seems a lot of misuse of the purpose of these apps as well, as most end up as casual dating links rather than serious matrimony explorations.”
Eklavya Bhattacharya, Chief Strategy Officer, Alt Entertainment, is sure that dating apps are in an evolution stage and they are tapping into matrimonial websites’ market. Explaining his theory of a clear competition between the two platforms, Bhattacharya said, “The matrimonial services business came up in India because the mindset was to marry someone of the same religion and caste. At least in urban areas, people are getting educated at a level to realise how these things play a small role in deciding for life partners. So, here I see a trend, rather than the parents finding ‘matches’, youngsters are looking for ‘partners’ themselves.”
Contradictory to Bhattacharya’s view, Divya Radhakrishnan, MD, Helios Media, is a firm believer that the dating apps cannot compete with matrimonial websites at all since they are a different kind of product. Gopa Kumar, Vice-president, Isobar India, partially agrees to co-existence, quickly adding that some overlap might happen by dating apps.
Radhakrishnan, said, “There is no comparison, I feel. Matrimonial websites cater to people who want to get married and dating apps are for people who are looking for hook-ups. Dating apps can never replace matrimonial websites because the market for such websites is very big. India has a long way to go to change their thinking about dating. Until that's not happening, dating apps can never replace matrimonial websites."
Kumar too agreed, saying, “Both have their own market and audience, despite marginal overlap. But I think the future is bright for both, in particular, dating apps as young people are getting more adventurous and leaning towards having more freedom.”
Another interesting insight is the conversion of matrimonial websites into dating apps. Nilanjan Roy, Head of Strategy, Times Business Solutions (the vertical handling SimplyMarry.com), said, “These are two different markets. One is privileged dating where one dates without commitment, while other one is about serious dating with an intention of marriage. So, will the serious dating market impact the matrimonial market business? Yes. The dating model is still evolving in India. The traditional concept of matrimonial market, where you decide the cast and creed, is slowly going away. The opportunity is for actually serious dating to come in. The way in which traditional matrimonial market is constructed is going to transform into serious dating market and serious dating market will co-exist with the casual dating market.”
Possibly this is why the interest in dating apps hasn't gone unnoticed by the big daddies of the matrimonial world. In April 2015, Bharat Matrimony acquired the dating app Matchify. Early last year, Shadi.com acquired about 25 per cent stake in the Delhi-based dating application Thrill for about $1 million (about Rs 6.3 crore). As part of the transaction, the group’s dating platform Fropper was brought under Thrill.
Explaining about the stake share in Thrill, Save explained, “Because we like to know what is happening in the dating applications market, we have had some investments in the past.”
The communication challenges to woo audiences are as common for players in this segment as in any other. The efforts too are similar.
TrulyMadly last year released a video with the digitally popular group All India Backchod called ‘Creep Qawwali’, which talks about how safe the app is. They also released a video called as ‘Truly Madly Man Parade,’ along with a lot of effort on Instagram.
Tinder also launched a digital film to break the social stigma about dating in society. The video shows approval of a mother to her daughter’s choice of using the app for going on a date. Woo, however, roped in celebrities to endorse their brand. They also made their digital presence felt through the ad ‘Find Magic, Find Love with Woo’ last year.
With considerable following on the social networking sites, the dating apps have also started looking at monetisation quite seriously. The basic version of these apps is subscription free, but they even have premium version to monetise from the user base.
Bhattacharya puts the point straight saying, “But if you start making more money than matrimonial websites, then you can actually talk about the business getting erupted. How will you make money is a bigger question? That will happen in the form of advertising. It's not a competition but basically an evolution.”
While dating is not a taboo in India as it was a couple of years ago, it is still growing and has immense scope of expansion. For generations, the terms 'casual sex' and 'hook up' were taboo, but these apps have inspired a whole set of Indian dating platforms to bandy the words about.
Mostly, the ratio of women to men using the apps is 35:65. However, TrulyMadly’s Bhatia clarified an interesting trend. “Girls are actually initiating conversations, which is very encouraging to note. We expect this to grow at an increasing rate, as most of our communication is directed towards women. The whole purpose is to make the women use the space. It is a trusted platform.”
The evolution of the mindset to embrace dating is still underway, which definitely is a hindrance in growth.
Menon added, “There is still an orthodox view for dating in the Indian society. The only exposure that youngsters have for dating is through sitcoms. They don't take it casually but as a serious relationship. Though the mindset of people has started changing, it will take some time.”