With whole nations in lockdown mode in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, Times Internet-owned MX Player is offering free streaming services in India and is expanding into seven new markets including the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. The company, which offers both licensed and original content and has monthly active users of 280 million globally, is the largest entertainment app in India, according to the annual FICCI-EY Report on India’s Media and Entertainment Sector.
MX Player has also launched a ‘Data Saver Mode’ (which restricts streaming on mobile devices to a lower resolution—480p instead of 1080p) to reduce broadband strain. The company said this is now the default setting on all mobile devices.
Fortune India spoke to Karan Bedi, CEO, MX Player about rising traffic on over-the-top platforms and growth opportunities in India’s OTT industry.
What is the kind of growth that you’ve seen in the last few weeks?
With the rollout of the health advisory, many are gravitating towards digital entertainment. We are happy that our wide range of OTT offerings are helping hundreds of millions get their daily dose of entertainment. Over the past few weeks [March 16 onwards], the platform has witnessed seven times increase in time spent across genres as people are exploring web-content, especially our MX Originals that have registered a five times surge in the past 2-3 weeks. Our OTT engagement time has grown as well and DAUs (daily active users) have increased by over 35% as viewers are actively engaging in originals, shows and movies, they are also experimenting with new genres and languages. Interestingly, non-metro cities are witnessing three times more engagement than before. All-day is the new primetime now with traffic surging post 7pm. We’ve also witnessed a surge in traffic from Smart TVs that is effectively activating a newer and premium set of audiences.
Tell me something about the kind of content that people are watching.
Broadly speaking, a few things have happened. One is that there has been a large rise in overall viewership. In general, people are spending more time and watching video. The next interesting thing that has happened is that people are going towards watching more and more web-first content. At MX, a key takeaway that we are looking at is, while obviously there is a large audience that will always be interested in web content, but currently, because of the fact that people are no longer ready to go out because restaurants, malls and workplaces are starting to close down, people who were watching TV or movies, i.e. content they are familiar with, on a different platform have now also got the opportunity to watch content that they would otherwise not have the opportunity to watch- i.e. web content. That has seen a huge jump. The contribution of web-only content from the whole pie has become much more robust. People are now able to watch content that they were not so familiar with, because they have the time to explore and discover.
Would you say that mobile-only content has also gone down as people are not on-the-go anymore?
The choice of platforms is a very individual preference. In general, however, I think smart TV usage has also gone up quite significantly for us. The overall SmartTV user-base in India is quite small. This could present an opportunity for the base to grow.
A lot of events have been postponed or cancelled, do you see that overflow coming into OTT?
There are two major factors here. One is that while earlier our entertainment time was divided across different media like TV, cinema, etc. now, all of that have converged into OTT, because that is where all the content is at. Secondly, the time beyond our regular entertainment/watching time, i.e. time taken to go to a mall etc., all of such activities have come down and have got added on into entertainment time. There is a huge change in how people are spending their time at the moment. While things will surely go back to normal, at this time OTT has got a huge shot in the arm in the terms that while people were earlier reluctant to explore new genres, now they have the leisure to do that.
Are new users or the existing users that are experimenting with the video content?
Honestly, both are up. There are obviously new users on MX and on OTT as a category alone. On the other hand, the existing users who were already there, who may have come and watched one or two shows are also exploring since they have the time to. We are trying to communicate our content to the world so that people have a sense of what we offer and come and join us. So this is also an interesting time for OTT players to get new users on their platforms.
Is there any particular kind of content where you have seen a spike?
The biggest spike has come in web-series, that is the kind of content that many people are now exploring more since they have the time. Our originals are shooting through the roof. Apart from video streaming, packaged entertainment aggregators have also seen a rise.
Do you also believe linear television will also see a spike?
There are 2 or 3 differences. One is that for TV content one has to watch whatever linear content is being shown without much scope of on-demand. OTT that way has a much more wide section of content since it is a massive library and can go through whatever you want. People are changing their consumption patterns based on their preferences, for example, office workers in the corporate sectors who are working from home are now watching content in their own time. In that case, it has expanded the time people spend using our product.
Are there any measures to handle the unanticipated pressure on your servers?
For us, there is definitely one of our core areas of expertise. We are one of the few platforms that have their entire tech-stack in-house. We have done a lot of work to ensure that the amount of data used for streaming is how. But the stack is fully customised and has been created for the Indian scenario. We are doing our bit to ensure that the amount of data being used is as low as possible. There is also a very large amount of optimisation we are doing on the server-side to deal with any spike. We have a very capable tech team and are not facing any issue on that end.
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