Amongst the first movers in the OTT space, Hotstar has been building a differentiated proposition for its free and premium users comprising local and international TV shows, movies and live sports, helping it cross 175 million downloads and 60 million users in January 2017. Inking a strategic partnership with media tech company Zapr with a minority investment by Star India, the platform aims to become a tech and analytics company to redefine mobile marketing. BrandWagon’s Chandni Mathur in conversation with Hotstar’s Ajit Mohan learns of the platform’s plans ahead. Excerpts:
What is driving growth for the platform — premium content, live sports or other formats?
Long form content in any category is working quite well and for us it is local TV shows, English shows, new movies and live sports. In fact, Koffee with Karan was watched a lot more on Hotstar than on TV. There is a myth that Hotstar is all about sports alone — it is less than 15% of our total watch time. The consumption on Hotstar and on TV for recent sports events, in cities with more than a million people, is more or less the same. Looking at the last three years, if we do a realistic projection of where IPL is going to be, we are pretty comfortable that in such cities, which are relevant customers for advertisers, IPL on Hotstar is going to be much larger than on Sony.
Other players are betting big on original content. What is Hotstar’s strategy?
Originals in other parts of the world came about because the streaming platforms could not get hold of the best shows or movies in that market on time. That’s not true in India. We don’t have a content problem. The road to originals for us is dramatically different from any other streaming platform in the country. We have always been clear that we will use originals to invest in stories that are not being told at all or formats that have never been explored before and we will invest in them aggressively. Thus, we have only done three originals — On Air with AIB, Cineplay and Tanhaiyaan.
What traction are you seeing on the premium service? Is R199 the sweet spot or will you increase Hotstar’s current
We have seen that consumption is mostly on the large screen through Apple TV and Chromecast, but we are pretty comfortable with the price. It is a two-legged monster for us but we are building a business where there is an opportunity to grow free and premium. Most of our content even today remains free.
The reason to not charge subscription fee in the beginning was the awareness of our expensive data. Three years ago, to stream an hour of video was almost the same price as the entire cost of a DTH subscription with all channels. A year-and-a-half into the service, it was working well for us, but we had the opportunity to create a differentiated offering for more discerning users. That’s what gave rise to the premium service which combines different propositions — the best of international content between HBO, Fox and Disney that is exclusively available on Hotstar and at the same time as the US; and live sports. Everything on premium is live and some properties like the Premier League are available only on premium. We now make our local TV shows available only on premium even before they are broadcast on TV.
Will traction for sports increase on Hotstar in comparison to movies and shows?
The absolute scale of sports has been growing dramatically, but as a share it does not change much because the overall growth on the platform is pretty steep as well. But for big cricket matches, we are starting to see scale almost comparable to television. The India-England ODI recently saw almost 25 million users on the platform and we saw similar numbers for the T20 match. We are discovering that people showing up on digital-on-demand tend to be more affluent users because they are people with access to good data, so there is a natural targeting or segmentation that happens for advertisers. While TV shows and movies in English are ad free, cricket has ads because ads in between overs are not seen as disruptors.
Hotstar is also doing tech innovations for sports, as you did with the Kabaddi World Cup in 3D VR. Will you be doing the same for more sporting events including IPL this year?
I think the Holy Grail for us is to bring the power of community experience first to cricket and then to other sports. In the next few weeks and leading into the IPL, we will roll out that experience.
You will soon see that when you watch a cricket match, we will have a social graph to show how many people were on the platform as the game progressed. It also allows you to see a peak moment and figure out what happened at that point of the match that saw a surge of sports fans, watch that clip and at any point switch back to the
For IPL we are thinking how we can allow people to check in to a game and watch the match together. We have an exciting road map to completely reinvent the experience on digital.
How important is offline viewing for the OTT platform given the bandwidth issues in the country?
We pushed offline or download on Hotstar quite aggressively and we are now working on a solution exploring the possibility to allow peer to peer sharing of content without accessing a network. Currently, all local TV shows and most of the movies are available for offline viewing, and we will be making more American TV shows and movies available for download in the coming weeks.