Marrying media with tech

SHAREit, a file sharing app, has 1.5 billion users worldwide. Of these more than 400 million are in India making it the Chinese firm’s biggest market. Earlier this year, SHAREit acquired FastFilmz, an Indian over-the-top (OTT) app for a reported $13 million. MX Player, which allows users to watch more or less all video formats, has over 175 million regular users in India. In July this year, one of India’s largest media firms, the Times Group paid about $140 million to acquire it.

SHAREit is a tech company that acquired a content firm and Times Group is a media firm that bought out a large tech platform. As digital expands, data prices fall and over 412 million broadband users come into play, the walls that kept content, distribution, technology, platforms and all such terms separate have been falling quickly. Deals like SHAREit-FastFilmz and Times-MX Player will become more frequent — an EY report lists three similar deals. Film studios, broadcasters and anyone in the content business should pay attention to these for two reasons. 

One, a bulk of SHAREit’s 400 million Indian users are from small-towns in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra. For it FastFilmz was important because, “It is the number one OTT in South India. Their team is very important to us; they are masters of South India. It is very difficult to get a team that understands the Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil and Kannada speaking markets,” says Jason Wang, managing director, SHAREit India. Small-town India usually gets the short shrift in a media ecosystem that thinks that India begins and ends within Delhi and Mumbai. Every young media planner thinks that television is dying in India because they themselves watch Netflix or Amazon.

But TV reaches over 836 million people in India and continues to grow in double digits. Much of this growth comes from small-town and rural India — notice the success of free-to-air TV channels and the rise in movie viewership on TV over the last three years. Most multiplex chains are investing in more screens in tier-II and tier-III markets. MX Player, SHAREit and their ilk have the potential to be huge disruptors in these under-served, media thirsty markets. 

Two, India’s 500 million internet users have not amounted to much so far. Put together subscription and advertising and the digital pie is just about Rs 100 billion. TV, on the other hand, gets over Rs 660 billion in revenues. Except for YouTube, no other video app makes money in India and probably won’t for a long time. “Advertising CPMs (cost per mille or thousand) are very low in India. There is no need to sacrifice consumer experience for such a small income. We may sacrifice revenue in the next three to five years because we firmly believe that income from India will rise as users rise,” says Wang. 

This then is a long haul game not meant for the faint-hearted or the easy-going. The Times Group, which is as mass media as it gets with newspapers, TV, radio and digital brands, has been trying to crack the OTT market since 2013 with Box TV long before Star’s Hotstar or Viacom18’s Voot came in. MX Player is, arguably, its biggest shot at the game. 

TV is a cosy club with five firms —Sun, Sony, Star, Zee and Viacom18 — controlling more than 70 per cent of the viewership in India’s 197 million homes. There is a complacent air of ‘we know what to do’ about it. This then is just the time when any one of these merged entities could totally disrupt the market. Sure, all major broadcasters have OTT apps. But they are too wedded to their own content and formats. None of them has a digital audience anywhere close to YouTube, SHAREit or MX Player. You could argue, rightly, that this is not a fair comparison given they reach way higher numbers on linear. 

However, the market, audiences, technology have got so mixed up that there are no fine distinctions. Platforms, aggregators, distributors, creators are simply terms we use to understand this kaleidoscopic world. The viewer simply looks for a nice video.

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