After conquering smartphones, Xiaomi disrupts India's TV market

If Xiaomi's track record with smartphones in India is any indication of its abilities, TV makers should get ready for turbulent times following the launch of the Chinese maker's ultra-low-budget, 4K LED units in the country.
Written by Rajiv Rao, Contributing Writer

In 2014, Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi was a novelty. It attracted rave reviews for its Redmi line of stylish, value-added phones that thirsty Indian consumers lapped up via its exclusively online sales. But it was still just that -- a novelty.

By 2017, it had done the unthinkable by conquering the Indian market for smartphones by taking the battle to perennial leader and uber brand Samsung, and besting it in terms of quarterly market share by grabbing 25 percent versus Samsung's 23 percent. Now, Xiaomi has decided to launch a new onslaught with an entirely new product and if its experiences with phones are any indication, the television market in India will never be the same.

Simply put, Xiaomi's Mi TV 4 is bewilderingly cheap at 39,999 rupees ($614) for a 4K HD LRD TV -- at least 2.5 times cheaper than an equivalent Samsung TV and even cheaper than other budget brands like Sanyo, Vu, and Cloudwalker if it can be believed.

According to the company, the Mi TV 4 is the world's thinnest LED TV at just 4.99mm (that is, at its thinnest point). This is the fourth generation, first showcased at CES in 2017, and comes with a custom-built Samsung 4K SVA (superior vertical alignment) display panel with a 3840x2160 pixel resolution and a contrast ratio of 6000:1. It sports a brushed metal rear but houses all the drivers and other hardware in the lower half of the display. Powered by 64-bit quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM and 8GB storage along with Dolby audio, this is something no Indian would have thought to be affordable in their wildest dreams.

Then, there's the allure of free content. The company has been busy striking up a whole range of alliances and deals to load a mammoth 500,00 hours of content spread across 15 of India's languages on it, 80 percent of which doesn't cost a rupee. In fact, Chuan Wang, co-founder of Xiaomi and global head of the company's MiTV division, told the Economic Times that content partnerships are the primary reason why the company took so long to launch the MiTV. Otherwise, it could have easily made its debut three years ago in India.

Sure, most of the content is not 4K, but you won't hear any customer complaining for now considering the wealth of free offerings. Xiaomi has installed its own version of Android on it, namely its trademark Mi skin. Like its early phone sales leveraged to produce market hype -- which it did very effectively -- the TV went on sale on ecommerce site Flipkart as well as its own Mi.com site and sold out in just 10 seconds. A second sale in the last few hours met with the same results. These flash sales are a cunning strategy that the company has used since inception to orchestrate hype around the brand and build its mythology -- crucial, considering its mainly online sales strategy. The company hasn't disclosed how many TVs it has flogged in these two sales.

Of course, providing good after-sales service is an entirely different proposition and the Chinese brand could plummet very quickly if word of mouth gets around that the products are not up to snuff or the service is dismal. But Xiaomi's phones have proven resilient to any kind of controversy so far -- indeed their popularity only seems to be growing. Moreover, the company has made a concerted effort to establish its universe offline, where most of India lives and shops today, by establishing service centers and forging alliances with retail stores across tier-1 and tier-2 cities in India.

If I were in the business of selling my brand of TVs in India, I would be very concerned right about now.


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