Can Times Internet’s new OTT app take on Hotstar, Netflix and Amazon Prime?

Karan Bedi, the CEO of MX player acquired by Times Internet, talks about how differently the company will approach the OTT space

e4m by Neeta Nair
Updated: Jul 4, 2018 3:29 PM

In 2016, Times Internet pulled down the shutters on their first OTT venture and now have plans to re-enter the OTT space, albeit a little differently. They are capitalizing on the vast userbase of South Korean video app MX player- installed on 500 million devices globally out of which 350 million are from India, which the company just acquired for Rs 1000 crore.

Karan Bedi, CEO, MX player talks about how differently the company will approach the OTT space this time and why they have an edge over established rivals like Amazon Prime and Netflix in the country.

Was it always the plan to build on the organic growth of an existing video playback app even before MX player came into the picture during the negotiations?

Honestly it was not as if we went out searching saying, ‘Let’s go buy something and do it like this’. I think it was a very good serendipitous transaction. The Group had video ambitions just like every other media company. And then we zeroed in on MX player because we realized it would be a big asset, as it’s essentially a huge platform for consuming video – we have as many as 175 million daily active users in India. It’s about 260 million worldwide. We get 1.2 million new downloads a day. Today people have to get videos from different sources like downloads, shares, and save it on their SD cards to watch them. We thought let’s extend this and provide them with a bunch of content that we think is relevant for them without touching the existing personality of MX player.

Will there be a big change in the branding and will you be renaming the app now?

We will change it a little, but won’t add a Times Internet to the name. We will be retaining the MX brand. The logo, representation, parts of the app itself will have a slightly different look and feel to it once it goes live, but we don’t want to make a sea change simply to ensure that people don’t stop relating to MX player as a brand.

How many original shows will you enter the market in August?

We will start with more than 20 original shows this year. And these will be of very high quality, with top talent, and very different from what is already available on television. These would be focused on the young, digital first, millennial audience, but with the production quality of a full-fledged movie. We are working with big names across the board from the entertainment industry. We have spent the last 7-8 months acquiring content from hundreds of different sources but the content is premium and relatable to this audience. And it’s not user generated content. And then obviously there is the entire technological stack of recommendation and personalization to ensure you get stuff that you want to watch.

You had to shut down your previous OTT venture at a time when people had just started migrating to OTT platforms. How will you ensure things go right this time?

In general my sense is that it’s a very different time today-- in terms of both data accessibility, consumption and smart phone penetration, it’s a different world. So, I don’t think it’s really a comparison point.

Gautam Sinha, CEO of Times Internet had said that one of the factors that led to shutting down was ‘lack of control over cost of content’. How will you control that this time?

I think the market is far more mature. When you think about the cost of content, the framework in which you think about it is very different today, in terms of what we feel is high versus low cost, what we see is a good return on investment versus not. It was after all a few years ago and I think the way you judge all of those factors are completely different today. The goal posts are very different.

Will the OTT platform be launched in all markets where MX player is currently operational in or just India?

So, this is going to be an India-only launch for the moment. We will think about global at some point but as of now it’s India-only. In the other markets MX player will continue to be a video playing app till then.

How will you monetize the platform and take on established players like Netflix and Amazon Prime

So, it’s going to be free at the moment. We will obviously look at subscription models down the line, but when, what form they will take, pricing, all of that is still far away. I think one of the big differentiators will be the fact that we are building the app specifically for this audience. We are building it for this digital first, millennial, young audience that is dissatisfied with a lot of content that is available to them. I think that there is an opportunity to both create and curate content that is very relevant to them. And obviously the most important part is that it’s at a scale that is hard to match, a scale which was earlier only possible on Television. I think I can go as far as to say that it’s one of India’s largest B2C apps today.

How much do you see MX Player contributing to the overall revenues of Times Internet by the end of the year?

We hope for it to be a significant contributor. The ambition is large. While we are working with pretty much everybody in the industry in terms of content, both from traditional entertainment to new age entertainment to television; we are also working extensively with different parts of the group. TIL has more than 39 brands, many of which produce content and are now producing video content as well. So, we will work with them. We will work with TTN and even parts of the legacy business like Filmfare because it’s so relevant to our overall user base. So, we will work with different parts of the group and hope to contribute significantly to the business by the end of the year.

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