Anirban Roy Choudhury
Interviews

How Disney+ Hotstar plans to build a "deeper connect" with the next 200 million users during IPL

Sidharth Shakdher, EVP and CMO, Disney+ Hotstar speaks about marketing challenges during the Indian Premier League.

Defending champions Mumbai Indians will take on Royal Challengers Bangalore today evening in the first match of the 2021 Indian Premier League (IPL). The domestic franchise-based tournament has, over the years, emerged as the most-viewed cricket event across the globe. The tournament will continue till May 30 and the 20-over matches will play a huge role in deciding the mood of the nation. 

The IPL is already so big in India that it does not need advertisement to catch eyeballs. Yet, there are many challenges that marketers have to deal with. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) releases its own campaigns. Star and Disney India which bought the global rights of IPL for five years in 2017 for Rs 16,347.50 crore, also promotes the tournament in its own way and has its unique problems to solve.

The matches are streamed in India on Disney+ Hotstar. It is the time of the year when the video-on-demand (VOD) platform acquires maximum customers. This year, the challenge for the platform is to not just acquire customers, but 'fans' too. Sidharth Shakdher, EVP and CMO, Disney+ Hotstar, says that they are looking to build a "deeper emotional connect" with the users.  

The platform has released a three-minute-long anthem 'India Ki Vibe Alag Hai', featuring eight languages and ethnic styles. Shakdher says that eight different singers, each belonging to the eight cities where the franchises are based, took part in the anthem. The instruments that are popular in those regions have been used to help the fans find a "deeper connect". It has all been stitched together by leading electronic musician Nucleya.

In an exclusive interview with afaqs!, Shakdher speaks about the marketing challenges, among other things.

Edited Excerpts:

What was the thought process behind releasing an anthem with eight languages?

Our theme is, 'India Ki Vibe Alag Hai', but within that, each city 'Ki Vibe Alag Hai'. So, let's give each city something to cheer about and relate to was the idea. Then, to show that 'India Ki Vibe Alag Hai', we had to put all of that together.

When we did that, they all sat (fit) together beautifully, which we did not expect. Our first intent was to get one (anthem) out for each city, and that is why you can see local languages, instruments as well as singers.

What are the challenges when Disney+Hotstar is planning a marketing initiative for an event as popular as the IPL?

When you talk about anything related to cricket, or sports in general, Hotstar comes instinctively to people's minds. The task is, while they instinctively think of Hotstar for cricket, do they do the same when it comes to entertainment? How do we establish a deeper connection with them?

That is what led to our thought of 'cricketainment' this year. Hotstar has so much that it can fight for consumer's time and that's why in the ads, we even say that Hotstar is 'entertainment ka all-rounder'. We have used a cricket terminology here to say that Hotstar will take care of all your entertainment needs.

"The segments that are over-indexed include the 18-30 and the 30-45 year olds. They are the largest contributors to all viewership numbers,"
Sidharth Shakdher

Has it stemmed out of an insecurity that Hotstar is becoming platform for sports, cricket in particular?

Not at all. It was more on the positive side than negative. We are, by far, the largest entertainment platform today.

But the scope, where another 100-200 million people have an affinity to cricket across India, is huge. The goal is to get them the same deeper connect with Hotstar as an entertainment platform. It does not stem from any insecurity, but from the amazing potential that only Hotstar has.

Sidharth Shakdher
Sidharth Shakdher

How do you plan to retain them once the IPL is over? Will there be an internal communication specific to user interest?

We have an active on-platform marketing plan that actually focuses on retaining the customers. It is based on the same principle... at the end of the day, they need to feel that Hotstar will have something, or the other, for them.

The communication is always directed at 2-3 things, i.e., the customers will get something that is meaningful and relevant. Also, it will be of high quality and delivered at regular intervals.

Talking about the anthem, you shot it outdoors. So, did COVID protocols, like wearing masks, etc., come in the way of creativity?

I know that a lot of marketing people struggle with the fact, i.e., how do you show expressions if you wear masks? How do you convey emotions, or bring a communication alive, when half the face is covered?

'Vibe Alag Hai' was such a good piece, with its music and what it's saying, that the expression on people's faces did not matter. When you see it for the first time, you don't even realise that the facial expressions are missing because of the masks. Also, we followed all the COVID protocols.

In the anthem, you had people of various age groups interacting with each other. Was it your way of saying that Hotstar is not just for the youth?

Yes, we wanted it to become inclusive. Celebrating the culture and heritage of a city, or joining in a dance, is not limited to just the youth. Yes, the youth is our core target audience, but sometimes, they also like it when older people join in their celebrations.

Which age group is more prominent?

With the IPL, it is a very different kind of property, where people from all age group tune in. The segments that are over-indexed include the 18-30 and the 30-45 year olds. They are the largest contributors to all viewership numbers.

What about the male-female ratio?

The realty of digital is that it is much more skewed towards males. It is not just Hotstar, but also smartphones in India. 70 per cent of the smartphone users in the country are males. The IPL has more female involvement than, say, the (cricket) World Cup or other cricket tournaments. One out of the three commentators is female, there are female presenters...

When we do our communication for the IPL, we keep it balanced. So, we don't use male quotes or male colours. We will not use typical patterns that appeal to men. The proof is that in our Tamil campaign, the protagonist is Tamanna Bhatia, a woman. Female viewership during IPL on Hotstar is growing year-on-year.

Talking about the next 100-200 million user acquisition, most of them will most likely come from the hinterland. Will that force you to change the way you communicate?

The other day, somebody asked me, do you believe in doing things differently for 'Bharat' as compared to India? My answer has always been that if we think Bharat expects different things than India, or is happy with a different kind of treatment than what we give to the top cities, then we are mistaken. The product is the same and, I believe, it should be the same (for both). Delhi, Mumbai may be quicker to adopt that product in its final shape, for smaller cities, there may be a step that is required for them to experience. Catch all the highlights, five minutes free is what we will have and at that moment, people in smaller cities will decide to subscribe or not subscribe. In top cities, you are more open to being a subscriber without that intermediate step.

So, the central communication remains the same. I say this with the caveat that we might need to address a different problem. So, during IPL there are always load-shedding and thus we say watch when there is no electricity. In top-cities you have long-commute time and you miss the match here because of electricity you miss the match and Hotstar can save you from missing the match in both scenarios.

With the COVID-induced lockdowns and night curfews, outdoor, as a medium, is under pressure. OTTs use outdoor a lot. Are you missing outdoor?

This year, we are not really using outdoor. Also, we have created our own path with IPL marketing, and have never been heavy on outdoor. We may have done something with our partners - Jio, Airtel... As Hotstar is already looked at as a cricket destination, we never felt the need to do 'impact' or 'reminder', which is what outdoor is generally used for. Our iconic outdoor campaigns have been for shows like 'Game of Thrones' and not cricket.