The head of marketing and business partnerships for MX Player, speaks about the marketing challenges…

Abhishek Joshi

Abhishek Joshi

Head of marketing and business partnerships, MX Player

Imagine a unique scenario when you have 175 million monthly active users and 70 million daily active users in India before you even launch. Times Internet (TI) acquired one of the largest local video players in the market – MX Player – and formally launched its video-on-demand avatar in February this year. In June 2018, TI invested about Rs 1000 crore to acquire a majority stake in South Korea-headquartered MX Player. MX has been an extremely popular video-playing app for Android devices, being capable of playing all possible video formats. TI claims that the app is installed in one of every two smartphones in India.

About the unique challenges, MX Player had to worry about not losing its existing users because of the OTT launch, while others in the market were spending to acquire users. For context, Hotstar claims it has 300 million monthly active users (MAU), YouTube says 275 million in India and MX Player, even before completing a year in the business, says it already has 175 million, making it number three in the country.

AVOD platforms and their user base in India

Not all who downloaded MX Player are streaming shows; many don’t even know that there is a streaming service available in the app. That is where marketing comes in. Abhishek Joshi, who joined MX Player as head of marketing and business partnerships says that the conversion is a process that will take time. Joshi has close to two decades of experience working across print, television and digital media businesses. His last role was at Sony Pictures Networks India where he was SVP and head – Marketing, Subscriptions and Content Licensing – Digital Business.

We quizzed him on the challenges of marketing for MX and here is what he had to say:-

Edited Excerpts

While most of the other OTT platforms are actually advertising to acquire viewers, you already have the app downloaded; what difference does this make to your marketing approach?

In terms of marketing, we have two segments of viewers – one is existing and one is new. We catch a new user’s attention with the diverse range of content that we put on the platform. We put a lot of effort into content marketing to acquire new users.

When it comes to existing users, we constantly improve our in-app features to give them a superior experience. Having various modes and providing features like subtitles help us retain our existing users. For the users who downloaded the app to use it as a local media player, our video-on-demand offering is an additional mode of entertainment.

How big a challenge is it to let MX Player users know that it is not a local media player anymore but a VOD platform streaming original content?

Consumer habits are very hard to break. It takes a lot of time and reinforcement to effectively communicate it to the existing users that the app downloaded as a local media player is now a streaming platform. There are two approaches that we have taken – one is to generate awareness and the other is to educate them.

We are using multiple mediums to educate our user-base – digital, ooh, social, and PR. It is critical to clearly communicate that we are not taking away what users downloaded MX Player for, we’re just adding to the experience. You might call it a challenge, but the player being an offline utility is actually a big opportunity for us.

Have you managed to convert your users into streamers?

Given the large user-base we have, it would be incorrect to say we have successfully converted 100 per cent. Conversion is a process that will take time as that is a consumer habit and it takes time to change habits. Have we successfully communicated that video is streaming on the platform? Yes. We communicated it through various platforms and also within the app.

While MX Player always maintained that it is a platform for the mass while marketing, you must have certain key markets…

We have always tried to provide content for age groups across segments, demographics and geographies. The app gives people access to Hindi, English, as well as local language content. We have users not only from the top six cities but all across the country. What we have witnessed so far is that wherever the internet penetration is higher, the adaptation of MX Player is higher too.

Similarly, in areas where the penetration is not that good, we are used offline, as a player. Also, the marketing efforts depend on the content we are releasing. If I launch a Tamil show, most of my efforts will be in that particular market; I will not promote a Tamil show in Punjab or a Punjabi show in Mumbai…

Does that mean all your marketing initiatives are wrapped around your shows?

No, some of it is about the shows we are launching. But, the trends that we see among our existing users in particular markets also play a vital role in shaping our marketing initiatives. There are two ways to look at it – you spend on strengthening where you are strong and then you identify opportunities where you can grow and spend there. It is a combination of both for us.

What role does marketing play in content? Do you have a say in which show should be commissioned?

Both the teams work closely. It is not a one-show-exception. The ecosystem is changing thick and fast and so are consumer habits. We keep analysing insights – it is a 24/7, 365-day job and we keep sharing it internally. Marketing plays a role even before the show is launched or even greenlit. If a show is made with a particular audience in mind, it is important for both teams to stay aligned.

What are the mediums you use to promote your shows and how do you decide?

It varies from show to show; there will be some shows where we will only do performance marketing with digital and social. There will be others which will demand outdoor and television. As much as I wish there were a template, the reality is, there is no one template that you can follow.

Sometimes it is driven by the show we are launching; the market we are targeting with the show plays a vital role in determining the marketing plan. If it is a regional show, we will have a completely different approach, while for a Hindi show, we might follow a completely different route and the entire communication plan will change.

What happens to your agency partners, especially if it is a regional show?

If it is a regional show that we are creating a marketing plan for, we try to hire talent with experience of working in that market, who belong to that market. At the same time, if the show is targeted towards the pan-India audience, we will work with a mainline agency. It is a mix of both. Even if we hire local talent for a regional show, we would like the mainline agency to continue its work on the brand front.

How much of an advantage is it to be a part of a large media organisation; do you get free front-page ads in TOI?

I can’t comment on the commercials of various inventories. Being a part of the media conglomerate is a massive advantage. It helps us exactly how a broadcaster’s TV presence helps its OTT platform. It helps build a larger reach.

You have challenges too… many broadsheets do not write about your shows as they do about others, because you are part of the Times group…

You will always have challenges; what matters is how you work around all of it to do the best for your brand. Earlier, when I was with a broadcaster’s OTT, when I wanted to advertise on a rival broadcaster, I would pay a premium. It is the same kind of a challenge here and I don’t think it is something to worry about.

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