For millions of people, MX Player is a household name. The mobile app is used by more than 175 million users worldwide every month [Correction: MX Player has 175 million monthly users in India alone, according to a company spokesperson]. It swiftly runs any video file you throw at it – even if your phone is running a dated Android software and has low-end hardware. Now, it is carrying an additional responsibility on its shoulder: a conglomerate’s streaming-media ambitions.
Times Internet, an India-based Internet conglomerate that acquired MX Player for $140 million in June this year, rolled out a software update this week to the popular video app to kickstart streaming service in India. The app now features more than 100,000 hours of movies and TV shows, including some that the firm has produced specially for the mobile app.
The content catalog stretches from Bollywood blockbuster hits such as “Dil Chahta Hai” to a Hindi-dubbed version of “Logan: Wolverine” to shows such as “Indian Idol” (India’s version of “American Idol”). It includes content from local cable networks as well as the UK’s BBC One.
All of these titles, including those produced by Times Internet, are now available to MX Player users in India at no charge, Karan Bedi, CEO of MX Player, told VentureBeat in an interview. Like most of Times Internet’s properties, which include several TV channels and newspapers, MX Player will count on ads to generate revenue.
Betting on ad-driven business model, a popular path in developing markets, could help MX Player quickly convince its existing user base to give the streaming offerings a try as it begins to compete in the Indian market. Star India’s ad-supported service Hotstar, which offers about 80 percent of its catalog to customers for free, currently leads the video streaming market in the country.
India’s online video market is valued at over $700 million, and research firm Media Partners Asia expects that figure to reach $2.4 billion in next five years. More than 40 streaming services, including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, have launched in India in the last three years.
This isn’t Times Internet’s first foray into video streaming. The company launched BoxTV, which aimed to offer Bollywood content in a score of countries, in 2013. The service failed to attract customers and was shut down in 2016.
But as data prices become increasingly affordable in India, in part due to the arrival of new telecom network Reliance Jio, the company saw another opportunity to try its hands at streaming services, Bedi said. “We realized that in context of data today, it was a natural thought in our mind that we can offer this very large user base an enhanced experience,” he said.
Though MX Player already has a significant foothold in several markets, it would need to make serious investments in building its content catalog, Hanish Bhatia, an analyst with Hong Kong-based research firm Counterpoint said. “It will require lots of investment in production/content acquisition, as well as marketing. At the same time, partnerships will be the key for growth,” he said.
MX Player’s Bedi said investments in licensing content and producing original shows is the area where the company is making most of its investments. Times Internet has planned 20 original shows for MX Player, he said. The company will also be bringing live TV channel streaming to the service, he added.
MX Player’s range of content at present includes “all of the titles” from Sony TV and TVF, one of the largest local studios that makes web series. Part of the focus is to also offer vernacular content, Bedi said (India has 22 official languages). MX Player offers content in more than half a dozen local languages. In a marketing conference last month, Rajan Anandan, Vice President of Sales & Operations for Google India & Southeast Asia, said vernacular content amounts to 95 percent of all video consumption in India.
Going forward, Bedi said, the company remains committed to making investments in what made MX Player so popular among customers: The ability to play a plethora of video files on low-end devices.
The company won’t be bringing its new streaming offerings to the paid version of the MX Player app, MX Pro, he said. Additionally, MX Player’s streaming offerings are limited to India, one of its largest markets, for now, although Bedi said the company is working on the right content catalog for other regions.
As data prices have dwindled in recent years in India, smartphone users are showing great appetite for video content. Video content accounts for about 75 percent of all of mobile internet traffic in India, Google Anandan said last month.
Will Times Internet finally see success in streaming — and build a service for the world? We should know soon enough.
Manish Singh is a technology reporter based in New Delhi, India. His work has appeared on CNBC, The Outline, Mashable, and CNET.