Anirban Roy Chaudhary

"Right now I don't think India is quite ready for an SVOD model": Karan Bedi

MX Player launched its OTT avatar and announced its 'Original' shows; CEO, Karan Bedi discusses the platform's new stance.

A media conglomerate launching its digital video platform in India is nothing new. Streaming platforms launching original shows for netizens to stream has also become a norm. However, this is probably the first time a platform will launch with 175 million monthly active users and 70 million daily active users in India. Times Internet recently acquired one of the largest local video players on the market - MX Player and has formally launched its OTT avatar.

"Right now I don't think India is quite ready for an SVOD model": Karan Bedi

(L-R) Gautam Talwar - Chief Content Officer, Karan Bedi - CEO, Vivek Jain - Chief Strategy Officer

In June 2018, Times Internet invested about Rs 1000 crore to acquire a majority stake in South Korea headquartered MX Player. MX has been an extremely popular video-playing app for Android devices since it is capable of playing all possible video formats. Times Internet claims that the app is installed in one of every two smartphones in India. Later, in October 2018, MX added streaming technology to the app and users were offered content licensed from various platforms like - SonyLIV and TVF Play among others.

"Right now I don't think India is quite ready for an SVOD model": Karan Bedi

Starting tomorrow, the platform will release original shows which can be streamed for free. Karan Bedi, CEO, MX Player is excited about the new avatar and shared his thought with us in a quick interview:

Edited Excerpts

How has life changed for MX Player after its acquisition by Times Internet?

After the acquisition, we have had to build a team from scratch. The streaming technology was put into place first and then the content team got in on the action, followed by the sales unit. It was a 10-member engineering team before MX Player was acquired by Times Internet and now there are 230 people spread across offices (Mumbai, Gurgaon and Bangalore). The last 12-15 months has been a tough, but very exciting journey.

While you had a huge number of people using MX Player, for them, it is a video player that plays downloaded videos; how big a challenge is it for you to change their perception as you are now positioning MX as an OTT platform?

We thought it would be a big challenge, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. The app has been live for a few months now, we had done a soft launch in 2018 and we have passed all our conversion targets. The whole thesis behind buying MX was - people are spending so much time-consuming video; can we offer them content so that they can stream instead of downloading - and I would say we have done it very successfully. We are already one of the biggest OTT platforms in the country.

There are already more than 30 OTT platforms producing 'Originals'; there is user-generated content on YouTube and Facebook; how do you plan to differentiate?

We are not following the same crime-crime-crime route. We will offer differentiated content which lives up to our tagline - 'Jaisa Mann, Waisa Manoranjan'. So, the first aspect that differentiates us from others is our differentiated content offering. Second is the scale; the scale at which we deliver is certainly far bigger than others in this space. Different audiences like different kinds of shows. If you look at the statistics, after the introduction of the Internet and digital, the time spent on media has only gone up. Digital did not cut into TV or films, but it has added to it; so I don't see the clutter as a problem.

With MX Player's new avatar, which are the markets you are going after? How will you define your target audience?

Language-wise we are going after lots of markets. We have announced Originals in Hindi and Tamil; we have Marathi, Bengali, and Punjabi among many other vernacular languages as well. We have content spread across genres like - Politics, Biopics, Romance, Comedy etc., so we are targeting a wide range of audiences. In the initial stages, we will target the 18 to 30 age group - the millennials across India.

You defined your shows as premium content and you are making it available for free...

Right now I don't think India is quite ready for an SVOD model. We want Indian consumers to watch premium content for free. That is also our big differentiator. The idea is to let the Indian streamers land on the platform, sample and experience what it is about. Eventually, we will see if it is SVOD, TVOD or any other new model that works well in India.

The genres you are playing are not familiar grounds for advertisers; crime and politics are not genres advertisers endorse on TV?

The other way of looking at it is that such shows were never put on television. This is what the youth - the millennial is watching today. Also, none of our content is offensive; they are all brand safe.

Do you have enough advertisers willing to spend on digital video for your investment to make economic sense?

We already have more than 30 brands on our platform advertising in many different ways. We have Google, SBI, and Nerolac among others; from BFSI to FMCG. We will have brands integrated into the content, we will have ad breaks within our shows and we will have other inventories too. The perception that you cannot do premium shows on AVOD is because others do not have the scale. If you have scale, you can make money on AVOD.

Your rivals in the AVOD space very much ride on catch-up TV and content around content; you do not have the luxury of catch-up content...

We are partnering with broadcasters for catch-up TV on our platform. We have all the content from Sony Pictures Networks Limited. Yes, catch-up TV drives a lot of consumption and we are in talks with other networks too. Apart from that, we have 150 channels across various categories like News and Music and all are simulcasting live on the platform. Another advantage that we have that others don't is Gaana. MX Player consumers can access the entire Gaana library within the MX interface - so, this is us saying, hey, why do you need to go elsewhere when you can have everything here.

Where would you like to see MX Player at the end of 2019?

By the end of 2019, I would like to see MX Player as the number one OTT platform in the country.

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