Times Internet

JioSaavn becomes India’s answer to Spotify and Apple Music

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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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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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Tencent leads $50M investment in NewsDog, an app vying to be India’s Toutiao

Posted by | alibaba, alibaba group, Android, App Annie, Apps, artificial intelligence, Asia, Baidu, Fundings & Exits, Goldman Sachs, india, legend capital, Media, Paytm, practo, Princeton University, TC, Tencent, Times Internet, Toutiao, Tsinghua University | No Comments

The growth of China’s Bytedance, an ambitious $30 billion tech firm, and its highly addictive Toutiao news aggregator app has set off a search for services with similar growth potential across the world.

India, second in population only to China with rapidly growing internet access, is an obvious place to look, and would-be pretender to the Toutiao crown has been found in the shape of NewsDog, a Chinese company that stumbled on success in India. Today, NewsDog announced a $50 million Series C round led by Chinese internet giant Tencent.

Toutiao is a phenomenon in China. The app has around 200 million daily users, and it is one of the few new tech products to emerge in a China where Tencent and Alibaba dominate the consumer app landscape. Point in case, it is so mainstream now that it has even run into issues with China’s internet censors. Toutiao is essentially a news aggregation service that lets consumers catch their daily reads and discover stories with an experience tailored to their habits and likes.

That’s very much the style of NewsDog, which claims over 50 million users. The service has branched out to cover 10 of Indians many languages, while it recently established a platform — ‘WeMedia’ — that augments its content aggregation by allowing users to submit stories, too.

This round is a major milestone for the company. In a competitive environment, it is the largest fundraising round from a news app company in India while it more obviously brings Tencent, the $500 billion tech giant, on board with its experience and support. Other investors include Chinese VCs Danhua Capital (DHVC) and Legend Capital as well as Chinese mobile app firm DotC United.

NewsDog’s competition includes Dailyhunt — which is backed by Toutiao-owner Bytedance — Inshorts, which counts Tiger Global among its investors, and NewsPoint, which is owned by media firm Times Internet.

One other competition is UC News, a service from Alibaba-owned UC Web, which, like NewsDog, is Chinese.

NewsDog was launched in 2016 by CEO Forrest Chen Yukun, a computer science graduate from Tsinghua University graduate, and Yi Ma, who holds a PhD from Princeton University and previously worked at Baidu and Goldman Sachs .

Data from App Annie shows that NewsDog is the top news app in the Google Play Store in India — Android is the country’s dominant operating system — ahead of Dailyhunt and NewsPoint in second and third, respectively. According to Sensor Tower, another app download analytics service, the app has 43 million installs and its downloads grew 76 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of the year.

NewsDog plans to use this new funding to pull further ahead of the competition by focusing on adding more languages and deepening its content library.

The company said it is already using machine learning to help produce an experience that is customized to users — the experience that Toutiao pioneered in China — and it plans to double down on that.

“Poly culture and multiple languages make content matching an incredibly hard problem,” Chen said in a statement. “So far, we have made good initial progress but content business is like an endless journey. There is no finish line, you have to just keep running.”

NewsDog is aiming to reach 100 million users as its next milestone as India’s internet population surges. The country is tipped to reach 500 million internet users by June 2018, according to a report from the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Kantar IMRB. That’s up from 481 million six months prior, but internet penetration in rural areas is at just 20 percent compared with 65 percent in urban India which indicates even more growth potential.

For Tencent, meanwhile, this investment is another upping of its pace in India.

Initially, the company was slow to put money to work in India, where Alibaba entered early to buy stakes in the likes of Paytm, but gradually Tencent has got its checkbook out. Its most notable India-based deals include WhatsApp challenger Hike, healthcare platform Practo, and music service Gaana. This year, it is reportedly focusing on finding promising early-stage startups where it can invest $5-15 million.

In NewsDog, Tencent will hope to jump on the news aggregator train that it missed in China, giving Bytedance an opportunity to become a major Chinese consumer brand.

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