Bedi spoke to exchange4media on MX Originals, why the OTT platform has stayed away from releasing Bollywood films & how 2020 has been fabulous for the brand
At a time when celebrity drug related controversies are making the rounds, MX Player has released a topical show called ‘High’ on the plight of drug addicts. Karan Bedi, CEO of MX Player, in a conversation with exchange4media discusses MX Originals, why their OTT platform so far decided to steer clear of releasing Bollywood films like other rivals at a time when all eyes are on the OTT segment and why 2020 has been fabulous for the brand.
MX’s recent Original ‘High’ has been correctly timed around the drug related controversies plaguing the entertainment industry. Did you advance the release to retain the topicality or was the plan always to release the show at this point?
These shows take a lot of time to create. So this has been in the works for a long time now. But I agree, it certainly was great timing. The subject is being widely talked about today and the show actually gives a very deep insight into much of what is being discussed. Many questions are being raised in the news about how all this happens, what is happening, is this real etc. And obviously, while the show is fictional, you can imagine a lot of these situations are taken from real life and very well researched.
I think that we certainly were not opposed to it in principle, but I think that you need to be very cognizant of what the Maths is going to be like on this. And in some of these cases as per me that wasn’t happening. For e.g. in some cases, the platform that released the films had already paid for the digital rights of those films but in my view they had to pay a lot to convert the digital rights into all rights like one has to do when a film is up for release in a theatre. May be at that time it was a win-win situation for them and the producer but in general, we found that the Math was just not sitting right. Let’s see how Laxmii turns up, but I think the view was that some of these are really large numbers in terms of the economics and it was not clear as to what the outcome would be. But in general, what this did was it opened up the concept of films coming on to ‘digital first’ before theatrical release. And I think that concept is going to continue. We chose not to participate, because we didn't think that any particular deal construct that was happening at the time in terms of the economic value was suitable for us.
Now that the cinema halls have opened up again do you think they will steal OTT’s thunder?
Not at all. The move has happened. People love it and they want more. This trend is definitely here to stay.
2020 has been an aggressive year for you, how much is your user base today?
We are the largest OTT player in India today, and have been so consistently for the last six months. We’ve very much hit our goal, frankly have exceeded it. We had the vision to be the largest, but didn't think it would happen this quickly, we had a slightly longer term framework in mind. It's been done on the back of starting from scratch, we didn’t have any TV network backing us. Obviously Times Group brings a lot of media muscle into the business, but it was primarily a news group, not an entertainment group. Our teams and shareholders managed to really sort of hit it out of the park. Overall the platform has closer to 220 MAU. It's a very large jump that's happened across our different media platforms and this concept of ‘everytainment’ has not only helped us expand our user base, but has also absolutely further retained and reengaged our existing user base that we had at the time (175 million MAU at the time of MX Player’s acquisition).
There are one too many OTT players in the market today offering good content, how are you different from a Sony Liv, Hotstar or Zee5?
Some of these platforms have three originals, some five or eight. But we've got more than 60 over the last couple of years. I think the move away from TV content to content specifically created for these digital audiences, like we call them the mass mobile millennial is the distinguishing factor. These audiences don't have anything to watch on TV barring one or two game shows and we are creating content specifically for them. Also, we've been there on regional from day one MX’s user base is so large and so well represented across all our geographical spread of India that we wanted to be very clear that we will not be a one language platform. Also our Everytainment proposition is very powerful, there's nobody else out there that’s even near it.
One of the first offshoots of MX Player was gaming and the timing of the formal launch was great i.e. just before the lockdown. Eight months later what is the advertiser response to MX gaming?
Gaming is a very high engagement platform and one of the best platforms for advertising as far as clients are concerned. India is still a very AVOD friendly market, and not so much SVOD friendly. So when we show an ad in video or in display the person says, ‘Okay, I need to watch this ad to continue with my video’. On gaming it’s the opposite, gamers want more ads because those ads lead to different positive outcomes in their game. So if you want an extra life, or a power up in your game, the option is to either buy it or to watch an ad, most people go with the latter. Everywhere else people want to avoid ads somehow, here we have had gamers asking for more ads to get a bonus point. If you truly want your brand to resonate with an audience, the right place to put it is where people want to see it in a very friendly manner more than as a compulsion. So gaming has been a very positive rub off on both our engagement and for our revenue growth.
Takatak seemed like an impulse launch just after the Chinese apps ban, can it really replace Tiktok in India and yet stand out as a distinct MX product?
A few different apps popped up around that time and I think that we've actually done very well, because we've had a couple of serious advantages. Out of the top thousand creators that Tiktok had, more than half of them have come exclusively to TakaTak. So there's a lot of exclusive content from cool influencers. There was a cohort of influencers who emerged out of the TikTok era and another that will emerge from our era. The power of short video is that people from ordinary backgrounds can become famous overnight. We are able to extend that even further, by saying that if you come on board you will not only become popular on TakaTak, but then the next step is you star on an MX web show, in a web series with some of our key core Bollywood talent. So that’s the unique aspect and we’re far north of 10 million daily active users on the app. We have the largest distribution of any entertainment app in the country outside of the Google and Facebook ecosystem, so we bring a lot of value to our creators. That’s why I think TakaTak will do really well and will be bigger than TikTok.
How has the year 2020 been as far as advertising revenues are concerned?
We had two great months in August and September and again we expect October, November, December to be very good months. TakaTak and gaming will turn out to be very big for us. Wherever the consumption goes, the money follows, and the money has started following our products. Overall Digital is now bigger than Print, and digital advertising revenue surpassing TV is now not a question of FY24 or FY25, but a question of whether it will happen in FY21 or FY22. Monetization is becoming very strong on our platforms. And as far as the growth of our user base is concerned, I think in three, four years India will have around 800 million broadband connected screens between smartphones, smart TVs, laptops etc and we expect to be on at least 500 million of those connected screens. Currently we have roughly around 200 million users, I think there's room to more than double that in the next three, four years.