A quick dive into Times Internet's widely discussed Rs.1000 crore investment in a Korean video player, through a chat with the man who heads the business.
Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, contributing editor, Business Standard, interviewed Karan Bedi, CEO, MX Player, on our vdonxt asia stage last month. The subject was the unconventional entry of Times Internet into the online video business through its Rs.1000 crore purchase of Korean video player MX Player.
When asked why Times decided to buy a video player for this kind of money, and to discuss the aspects that led to the decision, Karan said, "Core entertainment, and within that video, is an area the group has been thinking about for a while," going on about the basic thought behind the move, "We knew this is an app that 100s of millions of people use to watch video. It just so happens that currently, the video they're watching is sourced on their phones... the thought was: 'Can we use this app, this platform, to serve up entertainment to them, that isn't necessarily from their phone but from a server in the sky?'"
What also helped was the fact that 70 per cent of the company's user base is in India (the app has about 280 million monthly "actives" worldwide). Also, thanks to Jio, the data situation in India was changing dramatically around the time these decisions were being made at Times. "The stars just aligned," he said.
The team has scaled from 15 to over 200 people since the acquisition, about a year and a half ago. Some of the tech and product work is done out of Beijing. The team has been busy building an entire streaming business around what is essentially a video player; it will continue to invest in the "player capabilities" of this product, though.
Karan shared that when the acquisition was completed, this was effectively a tech product with a few engineers maintaining it; from that, the team has had to scale it to a media company or a media tech company, rather. This included building the streaming technology, the recommendation and personalisation technology, the content acquisition (example: Sony, Balaji, TVF, Arré, Dice Media, live news channels like Aaj Tak, India TV) and commissioning strategy (for original content). The platform has content in 10 languages at the moment; the originals will be in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Bhojpuri, Punjabi and Bengali, among other languages.
The player has a ready base of well over 175 million people. "We are slowly converting those users to streaming users..." said Karan. Presently, it's a pure AVOD platform, a strategy that makes sense given the scale it has.
The app went live in October. But who is the MX Player consumer - and what are they watching? He calls this pool of people a cross-section of the Indian internet audience (with a 55:45 tier II, III to tier I ratio). The competitive strength of the platform comes from its penetration in non-urban India, according to Karan. Among genres that work well on MX Player are drama of the "non-TV" type, non-fiction and comedy content.
Times sure adds a "sense of heft" to the case MX Player's sales folk make for the brand in the market, and the advantage the Times Group affords MX Player in terms of advertising space across its newspapers, radio, outdoor and digital (Times Internet has 400 million monthly "actives") platforms is no secret. But Vanita flipped things around and raised an interesting question: Is MX Player Times' way of breaking into the audio-visual market in a big way? Given the history of Times and Zee in the context of video (early days of broadcast television in India), this is, one may argue in agreement to her point, almost like a redemptive move for the former.