Beyond phones: Xiaomi wants to be an Internet major

  • Sunny Sen, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 04, 2016 18:14 IST
Xiaomi vice-president Hugo Barra with the Redmi Note 3. The company is looking beyond phones in India, and wants to be in services, and even community services (Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

In July, last year Neeraj Roy, CEO and managing director of Hungama Digital Media met Hugo Barra, head of international business at Xiaomi, the Chinese phone maker. That was the only good thing about the “rather boring conference”, remembers Roy. Hungama aggregates content in videos, music, games and other value-added-services and offers it to telecom firms.

Its catalogue of 2.5 million got Barra curious. Xiaomi was looking for content partners in India to offer services over its mobiles – similar to what it has done in China. “We have launched a lot of different internet services on our platform… We have 160 million people in China on our platform… We have 100 million installations, and 30 million daily active users,” Barra said.

Roy had a many hooks for Barra, last year. Of the 800 million internet visitors, 300 million have been serviced by Hungama. India was the largest producer of cinema – five movies a day, versus one per day in Hollywood. Hungama were friends with 400 content creators of international, Bollywood and regional content. Barra was sold out. Xiaomi gets 8,000 films across 17 languages, also from international studios like Disney, Warner Bros and Sony.

Roy was looking for investments. For, Barra just a partner wasn’t enough. Barra decided that they would invest in Hungama. Roy was looking to raise funds, too. With Hungama’s existing investors, Xiaomi became the lead investor to invest $25 million.

The investment comes at time when other larger players like Reliance Jio wants to create an eco-system of rich content (Jio has its own smartphone brand LYF). Phone makers like Micromax has spent Rs 200 crore in picking up stakes in small companies to provide a host of services over its mobile phones.

Xiaomi, too, isn’t new at picking up stakes in small companies – it has done that in China. “We put our money where our mouth is. We are doing our first strategic announcement,” said Barra.

In days to come Hungama will have exclusive content on Xiaomi. Barra claims that having an app (Hungama Play) is just one thing, but since Xiaomi “owns and controls” the operating system, it can provide a much better overall experience.

Xiaomi made its presence felt in India through flash sales – where phones were sold online, and the limited inventory would vanish in just a couple of minutes, sometimes even seconds. In India, it has already sold about six million phones.

Barra wants Xiaomi to evolve in India. That’s a combination of device, community and services. Community? Barra invited 10 tech bloggers opened up the Mi5 (that’s Xiaomi’s newest phone) to pieces, showed what’s inside the phone and assembled it back. Did it work? “Of course, I know what I am doing. No one has ever done this before, and no one can,” Barra said.

There is more to come – maybe investments in areas of healthcare, education, and even in services that make life easy. “There are many mobile companies which are doing interesting things, but they are confined to apps… Why only look at a partnership, we also look at investing in them,” Barra said.

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