What’s next for Xiaomi Mi TV in India? This is the question that has come up way too often. After disrupting India’s smartphone market, the Chinese company forayed into the smart TV market. It didn’t take long for the brand to reach numero uno position. A new report out today from IDC reaffirms Xiaomi’s solid standing in the smart TV market. It shipped the highest number of smart TVs during the first quarter of this year. It has thus emerged leader in India’s smart TV market for the eighth consecutive quarter. Also Read - Xiaomi Mi TV Stick full specifications and price listed online before launch
As we have written in the past, Xiaomi’s success becomes a playbook for others to copy. Its failure is a lesson for others to avoid any treacherous path in the consumer electronics market. While Xiaomi has been the #1 smart TV brand for eight consecutive quarters, it cannot sit on its laurels. There is new competition on the horizon and this time, the battle is going to be a serious one. If this fight for dominance in India’s smart TV market had Daniel Craig starring in it then I would go as far as to say that this will be a “Knives Out” battle. Also Read - Xiaomi Mi TV now offers curated movies and TV series collections in India
Last week, amidst the ongoing boycott against Chinese products in India, TCL launched over half a dozen new televisions in the country. TCL is not alone here. Realme has made its entry into the smart TV market and has plans to launch a new 55-inch model soon. If there is one thing certain about this market then it’s that consumers will jump ship to a new brand with a flinch. Xiaomi, which wrote the original script for this polarization of the market, is prepared for the battle. Eshwar N, Category Lead, Mi TVs told me that it has one big advantage: PatchWall UI. Also Read - Xiaomi Mi TV PatchWall UI now integrates Sony LIV app
PatchWall UI is all about content
In the past three or four decades, we have seen the interface play a key role over time and again. Windows won over Mac on desktop thanks to its distribution model and graphical user interface. Android and iOS became mainstay in the smartphone world due to their user interface and app support. In the smart TV world, it could come down to interface again but with access to content. OnePlus, which entered the TV market in India last year, was slammed for its lack of access to Netflix. Content is the king but user interface could be the driver.
During a Zoom conversation, Eshwar told me that Xiaomi started working on PatchWall UI in 2016. He says the UI is designed with the primary tenet of “content-first experience”. While the service is home to over 23 content partners, Eshwar added BGR India that it plans to expand to between 50 and 100 content partners. “PatchWall is all about content first experience as opposed to app first experience seen on mobile devices,” he told BGR India. Xiaomi has a lot of data to understand what it’s consumers want next on their smart TV.
As part of its effort to bring new content partners, Xiaomi is looking to bring western sources to PatchWall UI. One service that remains a priority for Xiaomi is Mubi. Mubi (not Quibi) is a streaming platform that acts more like a curator. It has a unique take on streaming called “Film of the Day” which showcases a unique film to its subscribers. It is not clear how many people even know about Mubi in India. For Xiaomi, that is not a concern because if there is a good streaming video on-demand service out there then it wants them to call PatchWall as their home.
Evolving Smart TV experience in India
When Xiaomi entered India with Mi TV, the smart TV penetration was at 17 percent. Some of these smart TVs were so basic that they only had a shortcut to YouTube and Netflix. PatchWall UI, on the contrary, opened a gate to a wide array of content services. It did so by blurring the line between linear TV and streaming platforms. Almost 28 months after the launch of Mi TV 4 in India, Xiaomi says the basic use of TV is still to watch content. Eshwar adds that his team’s primary job is to look for a better way to deliver those content on Mi TV.
It is doing so by sticking with one primary operating system: Android TV. The company says it is not exploring secondary operating systems even though Fire TV is becoming an OS in its own right for smart TVs. The second thing being that Xiaomi knows cord-cutting will only be gradual in this country. Similar to how feature phones continue to sell, Xiaomi says cable and DTH services will exist in India for a longtime. As a company building user interfaces for its smart TV, Xiaomi’s real challenge is to surface content from both cable or satellite TV as well as from streaming platforms.
In this context, Xiaomi can be seen as a service provider and not the one choosing between the platforms. On PatchWall, Xiaomi says its customers spent around 60 minutes using streaming platforms. The same customers spent three to four hours consuming content from the cable TV. To simplify the experience, it has introduced features such as universal search where content is even marked with a “free” tag to highlight availability. It is also bringing more cable TV channels to its carousel with 1-click experience.
It has also made customization specifically for the Indian market in the form of Kids Mode and Sports Mode. In a recent update, PatchWall UI got a new feature called India’s Top 10. This is similar to Netflix, where content is ranked based on their popularity in the country. Eshwar says Xiaomi Mi TV customers spent 20 minutes browsing through the content. With India’s Top 10, it aims to eliminate the friction between browsing and choosing the right content to watch. It has also introduced collections, which is curated based on actors and genre with plans to expand across regional languages and celebrity lists.
In the wake of this pandemic, Xiaomi says it is working on cooking, fitness and tech as new content channels. While PatchWall is all about content, Xiaomi has no interest in producing its own content for the platform. Xiaomi says almost 75 percent of its customers who own a 32-inch or 43-inch models content to internet via mobile hotspot. This insight helped the company build a feature called Data Saver, which eventually became a part of standard Android TV release. Xiaomi is not revealing its own plans for new models at this moment. However, it is preparing PatchWall UI has one reason why consumers choose its smart TVs over those from its rivals in the market
Xiaomi Mi TV: Offline is the key
Xiaomi is one of the biggest direct-to-consumer brands in the country right now. It has become a force in the country due to its business model. The company has eliminated a lot of middlemen and by offering its products directly via online retail channels, it has cut costs and passed the benefits to end consumers. However, the same model cannot really work in the traditional TV market. A TV buying experience may originate online but most of the time culminates at a retail shop. Eshwar says “offline is very important for the TV market” and it has plans to capture that segment in its own way.
As Chinese smartphone makers like Xiaomi were growing their base in the country, it had a big counter-effect. The homegrown smartphone makers like Micromax, Karbonn, Lava and incumbents like Sony and HTC started to desert the business. This meant that retailers were left with empty shelf space previously occupied by these smartphone brands. Xiaomi tapped on this opportunity to put its Mi TV at these retail locations. Eshwar adds that display of Mi TV at its preferred partner stores has helped sales. A large number of consumer electronics brands are now modeling this strategy.
The idea is to display their products at a retail location for the consumers to experience and interact with the product. However, they encourage these consumers to order online and avoid the hassle of handling logistics. Xiaomi, which has an online store and offline store by the name of Mi Store, is ready for either of the models. It wants to be different from the pack of smart TV makers with its PatchWall UI. At the same time, it also wants to be widely available at both online as well as offline retail channels. While price remains contentious, Xiaomi has to weather the new competition and growing animosity against its origin.