Anirban Roy Choudhury
Digital

Hotstar eyes billion screens by 2023; launches 'Specials'

Star India's OTT platform plans to release its first original under Hotstar Specials by March end.

While Netflix and Amazon Prime painted India's top cities with hoardings of their 'originals', Star India's home-grown digital video platform, Hotstar relied on 'Game Of Thrones', the Indian Premier League and the Cricket World Cup to promote itself. Owned by Novi Digital, a wholly owned subsidiary of Star India, Hotstar claims to have 150 million monthly active users and 350 million followers, yet it shied away from joining the 'originals' war spearheaded by the likes of 'Sacred Games' (Netflix) 'Mirzapur' (Amazon Prime), 'Bose: Dead/Alive' (ALTBalaji) among many others.

For Hotstar, 'originals' was the return of Star Plus hits like -Sarabhai VS Sarabhai, Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon and sitcom formats like - On Air With AIB (the first season was also aired on TV).

Hotstar eyes billion screens by 2023; launches 'Specials'

Nikhil Madhok

Hotstar eyes billion screens by 2023; launches 'Specials'

Gaurav Banerjee

Hotstar eyes billion screens by 2023; launches 'Specials'

Sanjay Gupta

"Original Content, for us, is a little different. Star creates 100 hours of original content every day and puts it on Hotstar, Star Plus, Tata Sky etc. The big question was - as the number of screens in the country are constantly rising - it was roughly about 20 crore screens three years ago (television + theatres + mobiles) and is about 60 crore today - how do we up our game, as far as content is concerned, to be ready for this new world. That, for us, is Hotstar Specials," says Nikhil Madhok, head of Hotstar Original Content.

Gaurav Banerjee, president and head - Hindi GEC, Star India, adds, "This label - 'originals' - was created by platforms that had never done any original programming before; it is not the case for us."

Starting "March end", Hotstar plans to release a slew of drama shows under the newly announced vertical - Hotstar Specials. The digital video platform has announced associations with storytellers that include Shekhar Kapur, Neeraj Pandey, Kabir Khan, Nikkhil Advani, Ram Madhvani, Venkat Prabhu, Sudhir Mishra, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Nagesh Kukunoor, Mahesh Manjrekar, Vishal Furia, Rohan Sippy, Debbie Rao, Sharad Devarajan, and Salman Khan.

"The first show will be released this quarter and the list of partners will keep increasing as we progress," informs Madhok. Hotstar will release a series from each of the 15 content makers (listed above) over the course of the next 12-15 months. "Roughly around 15 crore people watch Hotstar every month. So, we thought this is the right time for us to take the next leap in storytelling. With Hotstar Specials, we hope to create the biggest Indian stories, delivered to a billion screens," asserts Sanjay Gupta, MD, Star India.

Hotstar eyes billion screens by 2023; launches 'Specials'

The titles released under the Hotstar Specials banner will be put behind the pay-wall; however, Hotstar is toying with the idea of making a few episodes available to viewers for free, a sample to get them hooked. "75 per cent of the viewership is dominated by entertainment while sports contributes 25 per cent. The average time spent per user per day on Hotstar is 45 minutes and we believe with the launch of Hotstar Specials, we will be able to increase it," says Madhok.

To put it into perspective - the average time spent per viewer per day on television, as per BARC India, is 3 hours 44 minutes. As per the television audience measurement body's survey, India has close 19.7 crore television homes while the television universe consists of 83.6 crore individuals. On the other hand, there are 39 crore internet users in the country, making it the second-largest internet user base in the world. Hotstar claims to have an active user base of 15 crore while YouTube claims 24.5 crore active users in India making these two the largest players in the country.

On a side note, in terms of spends on original content, however, Netflix is rumoured to have spent close to Rs 50 crore on 'Sacred Games'.

Hotstar eyes billion screens by 2023; launches 'Specials'
Hotstar eyes billion screens by 2023; launches 'Specials'

Jehil Thakkar

"For most OTT platforms in India, to have exclusive and original content is the order of the day. There are 30 OTT apps, so library and catch-up TV content is not enough. People are now downloading apps and subscribing to view exclusive and original content which is not available elsewhere. While Sports content tends to be seasonal, if you want to keep your consumer engaged throughout the year, I think original content is a good move," states Jehil Thakkar, partner, Deloitte India.

Thakkar believes that apart from the battle for the wallet, there is a fight for smartphone real estate too, "Consumers won't have more than three to four apps on their phones, so whoever can continue to provide fresh content will get the space and the subscription dollars," he adds.

Most of the storytellers Hotstar has associated with are big names from Bollywood with successful titles. Despite being one of the biggest general entertainment channels on TV in India, it did not partner with any of its existing software providers (in the announced list).

Hotstar eyes billion screens by 2023; launches 'Specials'

Siddharth Kumar Tewary

Therefore, it begs the question as to whether production houses are even capable of creating a cinematic experience on digital.

"Of course we are," says Siddharth Kumar Tewary, founder and creative director, Swastik Pictures (makers of Mahabharat, Porus). "It is a wonderful time to be in the content creation space when so many content creators are looking for premier content. The storytellers Star has associated with have already proven themselves and are big names in the industry; we also need to prove ourselves in the shorter formats and we too will be partnered with. Also, we need to understand that whenever someone is starting out, they like to go with big names as it helps them to market the shows better," Tewary concludes.