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Catching The OTT Bus

Late in February MX Player announced the launch of six original shows such as Lol or Hey Prabhu with huge adverts all over. Jaisa Mann Vaisa Manoranjan (Entertainment for all) screamed one such full page ad in the Times of India. “The idea behind the campaign was more to convey to the industry and trade partners (that we had become a streaming service),” says Karan Bedi, CEO, MX Player.

Till it began streaming more than 100,000 hours of content in October 2018, it was a plain vanilla video player with 175 million users. Roughly half of the users of the technology started using the streaming service when it was first offered; and by December 2018, MX Player had just over 86 million unique users making it, along with Hotstar, India’s second largest streaming app according to comScore. YouTube at 274 million users is the biggest.

“We started our advertisements on MX Player the day it was launched in India. We are waiting to review the performance of the campaign,” says Dinesh Menon, chief marketing officer, State Bank of India (SBI). Roughly 3-4 per cent of its digital spends go to OTT platforms.

The campaign aims to leverage MX Player’s numbers to get better yields than the estimated Rs 300-400 per thousand users it gets now. The timing is good. The last two years have seen data prices crash and the streaming video market take off. It currently stands at Rs 4,000 crore in advertising and subscription revenues. More than 35 video apps are blowing up thousands of crores on content and marketing to get to India’s 480 million broadband users in the very first gold rush.

This is the Times’ second attempt at OTT after Box TV. The big question therefore is can the campaign and its determined bid at streaming help the estimated Rs 10,000 crore Group make up in online video what it lost in broadcast?

Late in 1991 Richard Li launched Star TV using AsiaSat1, the only satellite broadcasting over 38 Asian countries including India and China, then. In the summer of 1992 he came to India to hawk a transponder on that satellite. Among those he met were Vineet Jain of The Times of India and the Dalmias of The Sunday Mail; none of them wanted it at $5 million a year. Subhash Chandra did. He used it to launch Zee TV and the rest is history.

At Rs 13,825 crore the Zee Group, along with the Rs 13,448 crore Star, is among India’s largest media firms. More importantly the whole power equation—of print and broadcast media changed hugely after that. In 1993 when Li sold Star TV to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (now Twenty First Century Fox) print’s share in India’s total ad pie was 60 per cent. In 2017 this was down to 21 per cent—albeit on a much bigger base. And the Times Group missed the bus.

MX Player then is clearly its attempt to do with video what it missed with broadcasting—get in fast, aggressively and dominate the category. In June 2018 it bought MX Player from Korea-based J2 Interactive, for Rs 1,000 crore, primarily because half its 350 million users were from India.

MX Player began with an advantage because, “it has been a default video player on most Android phones (the technology that dominates India’s billion-plus mobile user market),” says Kedar Gavane, vice president, sales and partners, comScore. But how do you migrate an audience that uses it simply as a piece of software to download (sometimes pirated) content and doesn’t care about ads?

That is where original content and being part of the Times Group helps. It brings “the ability to communicate, learning and support from group,” says Bedi. On content, though Times Broadcasting (Zoom, Times Now) is a minnow. “Entertainment is not (its) mainstay but there is a lot of lifestyle content,” says Bedi.

For instance shows such as Famously Filmfare are popular on MX Player and now there are the originals.

Bedi says that roughly 60-70 per cent of the 175 million users have sampled the content. The biggest traction is coming from Indian languages, particularly Bhojpuri, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu. Does he miss not having the content back up that broadcaster owned apps such as Zee5 or Viacom18’s Voot has? “In digital you just need an audience, the rest of it is irrelevant,” he quips.―Business Standard

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