MediaMerx founder leaves ESPN for online video venture
By Martin Desmarais
From the file
Position: Chief executive officer
Education: Bachelor's degree in computer science from Columbia University in New York.
NEW YORK — MediaMerx Chief Executive Officer Tejpaul Bhatia was lucky enough in his professional career to have a dream job that he could see himself being in for years at sports media giant ESPN — but then he left it.
"It was difficult on a logical level; it wasn't difficult on an emotional level," said the 31-year-old Bhatia. He spent five years at ESPN, first developing ESPN360, the company's broadband video service, and then rising to senior manager of international business strategy, focusing on launching new media business in Latin America, Asia and Europe.
Joining Bristol, Conn.-based ESPN in 2002, Bhatia cut his teeth on the ESPN360 project, which has become a massive Web hit for the company and is now available in over 50 million homes in the United States. However, his involvement in ESPN's international strategy would prove to be the catalyst for his next venture as the exposure to the global media industry and emerging markets, in particular, set his mind awhirl at the possibilities.
"I started looking at emerging markets as a very viable business market, as the next area of growth in the media industry," Bhatia said.
Chasing this thought as 2007 came to a close, Bhatia set out on his own and started MediaMerx out of New York City. The company has developed a software system that helps businesses reach emerging markets with online video content.
MediaMerx is already working with content providers such as A&E and Meredith Broadcasting and has recently connected with media-download and social-networking service www.urfilez.com to provide video content to Zain, a telecommunications company in Bahrain. MediaMerx has developed a number of consumer video Web sites for customers that target audiences in emerging markets, such as www.fanz.in, www.sportspass.tv and www.filmpass.tv.
The Internet opened the door for entertainment companies to reach mass audiences in other countries, but particularly when it comes to online video there are many challenges that lie between content providers and consumers in emerging markets. MediaMerx focuses on eliminating those challenges and breaking the barrier between content and emerging market consumers.
Using India as an example, Bhatia points out that the country has many infrastructure problems that keep large U.S. media companies from simply being able to offer online video to it. "The problem is access to raw bandwidth," said Bhatia. "To deliver high-quality video in emerging markets you can't just rely on the Internet."
MediaMerx software system works to bridge the gap with servers in other countries to which online video content can be sent before distributing it out on a country's Internet network. As Bhatia explains it, the real Internet infrastructure problem in a country like India comes in connecting from other countries to India, not in connecting once inside India's network. MediaMerx's system focuses on getting the online video content to the networks in emerging countries where it can then be accessed easily and quickly.
This is the most efficient way to deal with the problem of getting online video to emerging markets, according to Bhatia. "We are not fixing the problem — our software exists to work around the problem," he added.
MediaMerx's solution is not a trade secret. Content providers have known that strategically placed servers in emerging markets would go a long way toward successful streaming of their online video, but many do not want to tackle the logistics of managing these servers, or face concerns about their copyrighted content sitting on servers managed by foreign businesses.
Bhatia says MediaMerx can alleviate these concerns because customers know exactly where the content is and that it is sitting on a network completely managed by MediaMerx.
MediaMerx has about a half-a-dozen customers so far and Bhatia says the biggest challenge is in sales and convincing companies, many of which are already doing some sort of business with emerging markets, that they need a company like MediaMerx to streamline that business.
MediaMerx makes money as a software company using the software-as-a-service model, with a monthly licensing fee for its clients.
At this time, MediaMerx has a handful of fulltime workers and some part-time workers and came close to closing a venture capital funding deal, but is still trying to decide if outside funding is a necessity.
Bhatia's executive team consists of Chief Operating Officer Michael Hallinan and Chief Technology Officer Vikash Mishra. Hallinan has experience planning, installing and operating over 20 voice, data and satellite networks in Australia, Kenya, Kuwait, Japan, Korea, Phillippines, Iraq and Louisiana, as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corp. Mishra came to MediaMerx from MTV Networks where he helped develop the channel's first Facebook application. He also worked at ESPN and was the lead flash developer for ESPN360.
All share the same belief in the explosive potential of online video in emerging markets.
"[Emerging markets are] going to exceed the developed markets very soon," he added. "We see a major tidal wave coming and we wanted to establish a company right in that space."
According to Bhatia, MediaMerx's main sales focus will be on companies trying to reach India, Latin America and the Middle East.
"It is very hard to make money now. A lot of media companies need to look for more answers to make money," said Bhatia. "The only place where there are untapped people is emerging markets."
MediaMerx is banking on the widespread belief that the future of entertainment, perhaps overall but most definitely in emerging markets, is through digital platforms and on all kinds of devices. In addition, as these services become accessible to a wider demographic slice of the population of emerging market countries the real market opportunity will erupt.
"Once it actually starts trickling into the middle class — forget it — it is going to be the biggest market anyone has ever seen," Bhatia said. "And when it hits the masses we want to be there."
Bhatia believes the online video industry must become more progressive in its video usage in order for companies servicing this market to succeed — and the main way this will happen is if an online video business really takes off and starts to make money, as an example of how the market can deliver. He is confident that day is coming.
"When it goes it will be fast," he said. "It is not a question of if it — it is a question of when."
A native of Long Island, who studied computer science at Columbia University, Bhatia admits to always having an interest in the entertainment industry. He said his background in computer science gave him a way to work on the technological side of the industry.
After graduating from Columbia in 2000, he joined now-defunct Internet consulting company Scient and worked on the notable Major League Baseball account helping develop the online video service for MLB.com. He also worked at Sekani, another pioneer in the development of online video usage.
In 2001, Bhatia co-founded Media Strategy partners, a media asset management consulting firm that is still operative today. However, the challenging economy in 2001 led Bhatia to join ESPN, seeking fulltime employment.
"It was a way for me personally to learn about the cable television model, but using my Internet experience," Bhatia said about his early days at ESPN.
Though the potential of the emerging media markets drew Bhatia away from ESPN, he does admit that he was also drawn to start his own company with the desire to be on his own again. He said that he had reservations about working within such a big organization and had come to see the limitations of doing so in his time at ESPN. For him, the only way to be part of a company that would be able to make the moves and decisions necessary to chase emerging media markets around the world was to start it himself.