reliance jio

JioSaavn becomes India’s answer to Spotify and Apple Music

Posted by | alibaba, Amazon, Android, apple music, Asia, China, computing, Dhingana, digital audio, digital media, executive, funding, Fundings & Exits, india, Internet, JioSaavn, Media, New York, Pandora, pandora radio, rdio, reliance jio, saavn, Software, Spotify, Tencent, tencent music, tiger global, Times Internet, Walmart | No Comments

India finally has its answer to Spotify after Reliance Jio merged its music service with Saavn, the startup it acquired earlier this year.

The deal itself isn’t new — it was announced back in March — but it has reached its logical conclusion after two apps were merged to create a single entity, JioSaavn, which is valued at $1 billion. For the first time, India has a credible rival to global names like Spotify and Apple Music through the combination of a venture capital-funded business, Saavn, and good old-fashioned telecom, JioMusic from Reliance’s disruptive Jio operator brand.

This merger deal comes days after reports suggested that Spotify is preparing to (finally) enter the Indian market, a move that has been in the planning for more than a year as we have reported.

That would set up an interesting battle between global names Spotify and Apple and local players JioSaavn and Gaana, a project from media firm Times Internet, which is also backed by China’s Tencent.

It isn’t uncommon to see international firms compete in Asia — Walmart and Amazon are the two major e-commerce players, while Chinese firms Alibaba and Tencent have busily snapped up stakes in promising internet companies for the past couple of years — but that competition has finally come to the streaming space.

There have certainly been misses over the years.

Early India-based pioneer Dhingana was scooped by Rdio back in 2014, having initial shut down its service due to financial issues. Ultimately, though, Rdio itself went bankrupt and was sold to Pandora, leaving both Rdio and Dhingana in the startup graveyard.

Saavn, the early competitor to Dhingana, seemed destined to a similar fate, at least from the outside. But it hit the big time in 2015 when it raised $100 million from Tiger Global, the New York hedge fund that made ambitious bets on a number of India’s most promising internet firms. That gave it the fuel to reach this merger deal with JioMusic.

Unlike Dhingana’s fire sale, Saavn’s executive team continues on under the JioSaavn banner.

The coming-together is certainly a far more solid outcome than the Rdio deal. JioSaavn has some 45 million songs — including a slate of originals started by Saavn — and access to the Jio network, which claims more than 250 million subscribers.

JioSaavn is available across iOS, Android, web and Reliance Jio’s own app store

The JioMusic service will be freemium, but Jio subscribers will get a 90-day trial of the ad-free “Pro” service. The company maintains five offices — including outposts in Mountain View and New York — with more than 200 employees, while Reliance has committed to pumping $100 million into the business for “growth and expansion of the platform.”

While it is linked to Reliance and Jio, JioMusic is a private business that counts Reliance as a stakeholder. You’d imagine that remaining private is a major carrot that has kept Saavn founders — Rishi Malhotra, Paramdeep Singh and Vinodh Bhat — part of the business post-merger.

The window certainly seems open for streaming IPOs — Spotify went public this past April through an unconventional listing that valued its business around $30 billion, while China’s Tencent Music is in the process of a listing that could raise $1.2 billion and value it around that $30 billion mark, too. JioSaavn might be the next streamer to test the public markets.

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WhatsApp hits India’s Jio feature phones amidst fake news violence

Posted by | Apps, fake news, hardware, india, Mobile, Policy, reliance jio, Social, TC, WhatsApp | No Comments

False rumors forwarded on WhatsApp have led angry mobs to murder strangers in India, but the Facebook-owned chat app is still racing to add users in the country. Today it launched a feature phone version of WhatsApp for JioPhone 1 and 2’s KaiOS, which are designed to support 22 of India’s vast array of native languages. Users will be able to send text, photos, videos and voice messages with end-to-end encryption, though it will lack advanced features like augmented reality and Snapchat Stories-style Status updates.

WhatsApp was supposed to launch alongside the JioPhone 2 that debuted last month for roughly $41, but was delayed. Forty million JioPhone 1s had already been sold, and it’s been estimated to control 27 percent of the Indian mobile phone market and 47 percent of the country’s feature phone market. Coming to JioPhone should open up a big new growth vector for WhatsApp as it strives to grow its 1.5 billion user count toward the big 2 billion milestone.Meanwhile, it could make the Reliance-owned Jio mobile network more appealing. It also could strengthen the KaiOS operating system, developed by a San Diego startup of the same name that recently took a $22 million investment from Google. WhatsApp rolls out on the JioPhone AppStore today and should be available to everyone by September 20th. The companu wouldn’t say if the app will come to other KaiOS devices made by Nokia and Alcatel.

Facebook has started to squeeze WhatsApp, replacing its departed co-founders with Chris Daniels, who formerly ran the Internet.org and Free Basics accessibility initiative that got kicked out of India over net neutrality concerns. That doesn’t bode well for him now overseeing WhatsApp’s high-risk/high-reward scenario in India. The massive nation is core to the chat app’s growth strategy, but the attacks it’s spurred have lost it India’s hearts and minds.

WhatsApp has scrambled to safeguard its app after numerous reports of rumors circulated on its app about gangs and child abductors led angry mobs to kill people in the streets. Five nomads were recently beaten to death in the rural village of Rainpada after residents watched inaccurate videos forwarded through WhatsApp about kidnappers supposedly rolling through the area, BuzzFeed reports.

This photo illustration shows an Indian newspaper vendor reading a newspaper with a full back page advertisement from WhatsApp intended to counter fake information, in New Delhi on July 10, 2018. – Facebook owned messaging service WhatsApp on July 10 published full-page advertisements in Indian dailies in a bid to counter fake information that has sparked mob lynching attacks across the country. (Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP) (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

WhatsApp recently limited how many people you can forward a message to, labeled forwarded messages, and began a radio PSA campaign in Hindi on 46 India stations warning people to verify things they hear on WhatsApp before acting on them.

“The challenge of mob violence requires action from governments, civil society, and technology companies. That’s why WhatsApp launched a broad user education campaign over radio in India and is working with Jio to educate new users about misinformation” a WhatsApp spokesperson tells me. “WhatsApp was built as an alternative to SMS messaging and we think people should be able to text their loved ones across borders without paying exorbitant charges to do so.”

But it’s clear that parent company Facebook sees spreading WhatsApp as part of its mission to bring the world closer together, even as that comes at a cost. The government has pushed WhatsApp to build workarounds for its encryption to identify the source of rumors and misinformation videos. But a WhatsApp spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that “We believe that building ‘traceability’ into WhatsApp would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp creating the potential for serious misuse . . . we will not weaken the privacy protections we provide.”

Jio’s “transition” phones that offer a few third-party apps but not full-fledged smartphone capabilities, alongside its affordable mobile data, have significantly reduced the cost and friction of being online in India. But with that access comes newfound dangers, especially if not combined with news literacy and digital skills education that could help users spot false information before it sparks violence. Lower income users interested in Jio’s feature phones may have even less access to the education needed to not believe everything they read on WhatsApp. What was once a smartphone problem is becoming an every phone problem.

Increasingly the tech world is learning that connecting people to the internet also means connecting them to the worst elements of humanity. That will necessitate a new wave of pessimists and cynics as product managers in order to predict and thwart ways to abuse software instead of allowing idealists to blindly build tools that can be weaponized.

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India’s Times Internet buys popular video app MX Player for $140M to get into streaming

Posted by | Android, Apps, Asia, digital media, funding, Fundings & Exits, india, Media, mx, mx player, Netflix, reliance jio, Satyan Gajwani, smartphone, TC, Times Group, Times Internet, video hosting, world wide web, YouTube | No Comments

Times Internet, the digital arm of Indian media firm Times Group, is getting into the digital content space, but not in the way you might think.

The company’s previous venture — an OTT called BoxTV.com — shut down in 2016 after an underwhelming four-year period. Now it is taking a radically different strategy by buying video playback app MX Player for Rs 1,000 crore, or around $140 million. The company didn’t disclose its stake but said it is a majority percentage.

The service originates from Korea but it has become hugely popular in India as a way to play media files, for example from an SD card, on a mobile device. It is a huge hit India, where the app claims 175 million monthly users — while the country accounts for 350 million of its 500 million downloads.

From here, Times Internet plans to introduce a streaming content service to MX Player users which Karan Bedi, MX Player CEO, expects to go live before August. The plan is to introduce at least 20 original shows and more 50,000 content across multiple local languages in India during the first year. The duo said the lion’s share of that investment money would go into developing content.

Bedi, a long-time media executive who took the job at MX Player eight months ago, said the service will be freemium and very much targeted at the idea of providing an alternative to television in India. He added that the deal had been in negotiation for the past year, which validates a January report from The Ken which first broke news of acquisition.

There are plenty of video streaming services in India. Beyond Netflix and Amazon Prime, Hotstar (from Rupert Murdoch-owned Star India) is making waves alongside Jio TV from Reliance Jio, but data from App Annie suggests MX Player is way out ahead. The analytics firm pegs MX Player at nearly 50 million daily users, as of June, well ahead of Hotstar (14.1 million), JioTV (7.4 million) and others.

Both Bedi and Times Internet MD Satyan Gajwani explained to TechCrunch in an interview that a big focus is differentiation and building a digital channel for India’s young since the average viewer demographics for MX player are hugely different to Indian TV audiences. Some 80 percent of the app’s users are aged under 35 (70 percent is aged under 25), while the gender balance is skewed more towards men.

“A lot of people aren’t happy with Indian TV,” Bedi said. “There are a lot is soaps and it is not focused on young people. [The MX PLayer audience] is exactly the opposite of the Indian tv demographic.”

That not only plays into growing a place for ‘millennial’ content, but it also means the streaming service may find success with advertisers if it can offer a gateway to young Indians. Beyond audience, there’s also flexibility. Gajwani explained further that unlike traditional TV and even YouTube, the Times Internet-MX Player service will offer different options for advertisers who “work with content creators to create stuff, sponsor a show, or find various different ways to reach scale.”

“India has a $6 billion TV ad market and we think this could unlock some of the money going to TV,” he said.

Times Internet MD Satyan Gajwani

“This audience on here is genuinely different, [rather than cord-cuttters] they’re almost cord-nevers,” Bedi added. “This is a big new audience that’s never been tapped by broadcasters.”

The idea is to gently introduce programming that is accessible to a large audience in India, who might not be open to paying, and then test other revenue models later.

“Further down the line, we might include subscriptions to scale,” Gajwani added. “Subscription is growing but it’s much much smaller today, what excites us is the idea we’ll have 100 million people streaming a show.”

MX Player might not be well known, but scale is one thing it certainly has in spades. The company just crossed 500 million downloads on Android, but Bedi pointed out that many are not counted because they are side-loaded, which doesn’t register with the Google Play Store.

All told, he said, the app picks up 1.2 million downloads per day with around 350,000 coming from the official Android app store, he said. Bedi said that, among other things, the app is typically distributed by smartphone vendors in tier-two and three Indian cities to help phone buyers get the essential apps for their device right away.

The question now is whether Times Internet can leverage that organic growth to build another business on top of the basic demand for video playback. This is certainly a unique approach.

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