Hotstar, Star India's online video-streaming platform is gearing up for the upcoming Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 cricket tournament (scheduled to start on April 9), for which it has exclusive digital rights.
Cricket fever is in the air with the ongoing ICC World T20 Cup, which is being aired by the Star Network. According to Ajit Mohan, president and head, Hotstar, the T20 World Cup this year has seen dramatic growth, and in terms of viewership, the India-Pakistan match on Saturday, March 19, was the best T20 match on digital until now.
The digital platform has, of course, turned its focus on the soon-to-start Vivo IPL 2016 tournament. Talking about the recently held IPL players auction event, Mohan says, "In the top six cities, Male 15+ AB audience, the main sports target group for this tournament (and what advertisers really value), the IPL auction event viewership on Hotstar is 60 per cent of Sony's viewership on television in terms of 'watch time'."
Elaborating further on this metric, he says, "Due to the absence of cross-platform ratings, the fair metric we look at for viewership on digital in comparison to television, is the 'total watch time' on the two platforms, that is the total cumulative minutes that people have watched a match."
Hotstar expects to cross 100 million viewers in the upcoming IPL, from approximately 41 million users last year. So, what has the platform lined up in order to sustain or attract audiences this year? Mohan replies, "Since a large number of people are expected to consume IPL only on Hotstar, we will have a complete programme offering scheduled around the matches such as special shows, highlights, catch ups as well as the provision to switch between a full screen scorecard and the live match. So, there will be an extension from the straightforward linear feed that you get on television."
Mohan says that the programming will be more data-rich than television and more complete than anything on digital. "The fact that we'll provide data on the mobile screen means you don't look at the live screen for the data," he adds.
The sponsors for the ninth season of Vivo Indian Premier League (IPL) on board on Hotstar include brands like Flipkart, Raymond, Axe, Volini, Lloyd, Hindware, Hero Fincorp, Airtel and Amazon. The platform is expecting more sponsors to join in. Talking about the value return that advertisers will get on the platform, Mohan says, "If you compare Hotstar viewership for large sporting events with Star Sports television viewership over the last six months, it has become 40-45 per cent of TV's watch time in the relevant target group. What it means for advertisers is that if they are to reach the 'very engaged sports audience', they will have to associate with Hotstar, failing which they will leave out a substantial portion of the live sports viewership, who will not be able to access the communication that is shown only on television.
He further adds, "Secondly, advertisers are increasingly aware that the more premium audience, the urban affluent segment, that has access to expensive smartphones and good broadband data, and the ability to spend, is on Hotstar. Moreover, the medium still allows you to do things that television can't -- targeting and measuring."
On the question of whether the viewing experience of a large arena visual sport gets affected on the small screen, Mohan replies, "A lot of people use this platform even when they have a choice between screens. When we talk to consumers and when we see data, we've found that even when they sit at home, they access WiFi, and watch matches on devices, as it's convenient to watch it on a personal screen near you. Access to television is also an issue, as someone else might be watching it."
With matches being aired on Star's competitor Sony's network on television, how does the viewership conflict pan out? Mohan says, "I think TV ratings have more or less become flat in the last couple of years, while we've seen tremendous growth on digital. Between 2014 and 2015, the reach is up from 28 million to 41 million and the watch time grew more than three times. The role that Hotstar is playing is to expand the audience of the IPL."
Talking about Hotstar's target viewership regarding the IPL campaign this year, Mohan says, "We are pretty focussed on who we are inviting to Hotstar. Our campaign targets the urban affluent - the core of Hotstar. 'Screen chhota hai par dil bada hai', which means 'Small screen big heart' -- this is for the audience for whom the main screen is mobile. We are making a statement on behalf of the younger audiences as they've grown up with the mobile, an integral part of their life, and that's where the action is for them."