Anirban Roy Choudhury
Media

Disney+Hotstar bets on adaptation, big-budget shows to go beyond "Juhu-Bandra" to the "heart" of India

Star and Disney India's video on demand platform announced its new programming slate, will roll out fresh subscription packs

Star India's digital video on demand platform Hotstar was conspicuously late in entering the 'Originals' bandwagon. It, instead, relied on live sports to take on Netflix and Amazon, which were spending more than Rs 100 crore to release the likes of 'Sacred Games' and 'Inside Edge'.

Hotstar is a transitioned version of StarSports.com, which only streamed live sports for a fee. In February 2015, Star India announced the launch of Hotstar and, till January 2019, there was no 'Original' released on the platform. So, the name changed from Star Sports to Hotstar, but sports always remained the hot seller. It is something that the new avatar now intends to change.

Hotstar is now called Disney+ Hotstar. Backed by the deeper pockets of The Walt Disney Company, the streaming platform has announced a slate of shows that, Sunil Rayan, president and head, Disney+ Hotstar, says, "has been mounted at an unprecedented scale." Adds Gaurav Banerjee, president and head, Hindi and English Entertainment, Star India, "The shows are getting funded at an extraordinary level, like never before."

There are stars like Ajay Devgn, Sushmita Sen, Saif Ali Khan, Kunal Kapoor, Pratik Gandhi, Kirti Kulhari, Shabana Azmi, Shefali Shah, Richa Chadha, Sathyaraj, Sarath Kumar and Siddharth. Then, there are award-winning directors and showrunners, including Nikkhil Advani, Neeraj Pandey, Ram Madhvani, Vipul Shah, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Habib Faisal, Nagesh Nagesh Kukunoor, Rajesh Mapuskar, Siddharth Kumar Tewary, Mitakshara Kumar, Vikrant Pawar... There are also shows in multiple languages, and direct-to-OTT movies.

After announcing this new slate, Banerjee says, "We are clear, we don't want to be just a 'Juhu-Bandra' conversation. We're going for the 'heart' of the country."

He explains that Disney+ Hotstar is commissioning content with the large Hindi heartland of India in mind. "Three years ago, when we started this journey, we decided to put scripts and writers at the heart of everything we do. It is believed that Indian shows didn't become as big as they should have. Perhaps, it is because we as an industry have ignored good writing and, with Hotstar, we wanted to change that," says Banerjee.

Gaurav Banerjee
Gaurav Banerjee

As far as good scripts go, Banerjee and his team looked at global hit shows and books, and started their 'adaptation' journey. Starring Devgn, 'Rudra - The Edge of Darkness', the Indian version of the successful British show 'Luther', is one such adaptation among many others that will be released on the platform soon.

If sources are to be believed, then this is the most expensive Indian show that Disney+ Hotstar has ever streamed.  Historical fiction 'The Empire' is another adaption created by Advani. It is based on 'Empire of the Moghul' by Alex Rutherford.

As per industry estimates, Disney+ Hotstar has around 150 million free users and over 25 million paid users, who watch entertainment content. To put things into perspective, the platform claims to have crossed 300 million active users during the (streaming of) Indian Premier League (IPL). It basically means that entertainment is still limited to a small section.

Starting September 1, 2021, Disney+ Hotstar will roll out its new subscription packs. "All the subscribers will get to sample all our content," informs Rayan.

Sunil Rayan
Sunil Rayan

Currently, the platform has two packs, VIP and Premium. The VIP subscribers only get to watch the Hindi content and live sports. The English shows and movies that are exclusive to the parent studio Disney, can be sampled only by the premium subscribers, who pay Rs 1,499 for a year or Rs 299 per month.

Mobile-only package costs Rs 499 per year. Super pack will be available at Rs 899 per year (access to two devices). Premium pack will continue to cost Rs 1,499 (access to four devices across mobile, web and living room).

"We will intensify our regional content offering in languages like Tamil, Telugu...," says Rayan. It is yet another move to penetrate deeper.

A blessing in disguise for Disney+ Hotstar is the remaining part of the 2021 IPL season. Owing to the second COVID wave, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had to suspend the IPL mid-way. Normally, the T-20 tournament causes a spike in the number of users once a year. This year, it is going to be twice a year. Analysts believe that this will enhance retention "significantly".

IPL will be followed by the World Cup and that will again bring back sports fans to the platform. Most of these fans are currently glued to rival SonyLIV, as it streamed UEFA EURO and Copa America football matches. It is now streaming the ongoing Olympics in Tokyo, the India versus Sri Lanka cricket matches and, soon, the India versus England test series.

"We are excited to have the two cricket tournaments, along with the new slate that we have announced," says Rayan.

Also Read: Hotstar eyes billion screens by 2023; launches 'Specials'

In 2019, when it announced the launch of 'Specials', an umbrella under which it said it would release all its Hotstar-only shows, the target set was a billion screens by 2023. The COVID pandemic saw people resorting to entertainment streaming platforms. Now, the 'heart' must be a little more than a billion screens for Disney+ Hotstar.