As growth sputters, Line doubles down on Thailand

As growth sputters, Line doubles down on Thailand

What’s a hit messaging app to do when it can’t seem to grow outside of its core markets? For Line, the answer appears to be strengthening its hold where it’s already immensely popular. Line announced yesterday that it has established a research and development unit in Thailand – its apparent number two market by user base.

Line opened an office in Bangkok back in March 2014, but the new R&D team will be the first outside of Japan, where the company is based. It’s currently recruiting engineers to develop products and services localized for Line’s users in Thailand. According to Bangkok Post, Line plans to roll out a “new mobile app service” for the Thai market early next year.

It’s unclear exactly how many of Line’s 212 million monthly active users (MAUs) hail from Thailand, as the company hasn’t broken down that figure by country since October 2014. At that time, Thailand was Line’s second-strongest market, with 33 million MAUs from a total of 170 million. Thailand as a whole has 40 million mobile internet users, meaning that more than 82 percent are Line users – based on MAU figures that are over a year old.

Don’t leave me

Without breaking the figure down, Line stated last month that 65 percent of its MAUs hail from its four core areas – Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and Indonesia.

The social media and messaging app markets are already saturated, so Line’s additional push is probably meant to retain users against encroaching rivals WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Line was crowned the victor over WhatsApp last year in Thailand, but Facebook has the deep pockets necessary to go into marketing mode if it so chooses. Line’s smart marketing tactics, like TV commercials featuring Thai celebrities and localized sticker sets, helped solidify it as the market leader.

Case in point: A year ago, Line listed Spain as its number four market, with 18 million MAUs. But Spain suddenly dropped out of Line’s top four, according to the company’s data for the third quarter of 2015.

App Annie’s current iOS and Android rankings for Spain don’t even list Line in the country’s top 100 free apps. For both platforms, WhatsApp is sitting pretty at the top, with Messenger number two for iOS and number four for Android.

Globally, Line’s growth has stalled. Between June and September of this year, it added only one million MAUs – whereas WhatsApp added 100 million MAUs in the five months from April to September. WhatsApp now has over 900 million MAUs.

Line offers a host of services outside of its core messenger in Thailand, from music and video streaming to grocery delivery. It also unveiled Line Giftshop there yesterday, which allows users to send presents to their friends and make the payment using Line Pay.