Hotstar, which has ruled the OTT space in India ever since very quickly after it launched in early 2015, has come out swinging with a heavyweight announcement of top-bracket original drama series to be created by a spectacular lineup of creative heavyweights. Sanjay Gupta, MD Star India, announced a long list of 15 top names who, in collaboration with Star’s creative team, will create unique dramatic stories created exclusively for Hotstar.
Even from perhaps India’s most innovative content company across TV, Films & Sports, this big leap in content on the back of its OTT, Hotstar, is a bold and ambitious content foray, featuring as it does shows from India’s most acclaimed storytellers, used to creating the best and most lavishly told stories, and this time round, they will think, create and present exclusively for the Digital Content, OTT platform that is Hotstar.
Look at the names, which 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 superstar actor and now everyone’s darling producer too, Salman Khan.
But then, as Sanjay Gupta, MD, Star India, said at the launch, “Star has always challenged conventions and been at the forefront of content reinvention in India. With the mobile phone leading an explosion in the number of screens in the country, we feel that our content also needs to reinvent and boldly move forward. With Hotstar Specials we hope to create the biggest Indian stories delivered to a billion screens. To bring this vision alive, we are proud to partner with a stellar line up of talent who are headlining our first set of Hotstar Specials.”
This entails strong investment, and the two big reasons behind this foray apparently are, one: quality content especially created for the OTT platform, and two: the size of the opportunity. We aren’t talking 180-195 million TV homes here; we’re talking a billion screens.
So Hotstar Specials will feature an extensive variety of Indian stories, mounted on a big scale, unconstrained by format.
The stories on Hotstar Specials will provide variety across genres and formats. In fact, the celebrated makers will not be constrained by any restrictions on format, episodic durations, and, one hears, even budgets, and will be available in as many as seven languages for viewers to consume them in a language of their choice. And they will reach a massive audience, considering Hotstar is the Number One OTT platform in India by far, with as many as 350 million downloads so far, and an active monthly viewer base of more than 150 million. So the company’s ambition is not to make this a narrow or niche play but to explode into the consciousness of the country in an unprecedented way.
And they got straight into business with the launch party. One studies the media and entertainment space, and one hasn’t seen a launch party of such scale, style and panache for any OTT platform announcement, as one experienced Monday evening in Mumbai.
A veritable Who’s Who of the best creative and entertainment superstars were present en masse — like a Top-Creative-Brains-of-Bollywood convention. Directors Shekhar Kapur, Karan Johar, Neeraj Pandey, Kabir Khan, Nikkhil Advani, Ram Madhvani, Venkat Prabhu, Sudhir Mishra, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Nagesh Kukunoor, Mahesh Manjrekar, Vishal Furia, Rohan Sippy, Debbie Rao and Sharad Devarajan. Then there was the ever-young veteran and a personal favourite Mahesh Bhatt along with Soni Razdan, producer Mukesh Bhatt, and the amazing, gentleman director Govind Nihalani.
Some pics from the Hotstar Specials launch party
Coming back to Hotstar Specials: The stories will provide variety across genres and formats and will be available in seven languages for viewers to consume them in a language of their choice.
Hotstar Specials will enable makers to tell their most passionate stories and, considering the platform is the largest in India with 350 million downloads and over 150 million monthly active users, provide them unprecedented reach across length and breadth of the country and also global audiences.
The first set of stories will centre around the genre of drama – Hotstar, incidentally, has also become a favourite platform for viewers to consume long-form drama content.
What is the Hotstar Specials budget? Per a report in Economic Times, it will be Rs 120 crore. Considering there are as many as 15 top directors, many of whom will probably make their web debuts on Hotstar, that’s a sound investment, because while the OTT space frees viewers from appointment viewing in terms of fixed telecast schedules, quality content will have increasing numbers of viewers making their appointments to view the content on Hotstar.
The first Hotstar Special drama will become available in or just before April this year.
Hotstar – born of a disruption, leading with pedigree, performance
In just four years since its launch, Hotstar has grown to become the largest curated content digital video service in the country.
When Hotstar launched, India was the world’s second largest voice market, but considered generations away from streaming on mobile internet. Poor availability of broadband, high cost of data, low penetration of smartphones and high price sensitivity were the reasons for this.
However, Star put its might behind Hotstar, offering all its drama across multiple Indian languages, all its films and sports on the platform for free. In just six days of its launch, Hotstar saw a million downloads, which was the fastest ramp-up for any digital service globally. Today, Hotstar provides more than 100,000 hours of entertainment in more than 18 languages, coverage of major global sporting events, and also engages more than 150 million unique viewers every month.
Leading the Tech
Hotstar is leading the charge not just with its content but also with its robust technology backbone. The platform has set new benchmarks in video quality that ensures continuous video playback even in the most network-constricted environment. Video technology optimisations have enabled device-adaptive video streaming that adjusts itself to deliver the best possible video quality with the available bandwidth. Addressing critical consumer pain points of high data costs and large-scale unavailability of broadband data, Hotstar allows people to download its content on Wi-Fi for offline viewing.
In September 2018, the entire platform was brought in-house, eliminating dependence on third parties. The technological backbone of the platform is driven by a team of more than 100 high-quality engineers in India. This is the largest tech team for any traditional media company in India.
Some more facts about Hotstar
· Launched in early 2015, it is one of India’s most downloaded apps and has attracted more than 400 million followers on the back of a highly evolved video streaming technology and high attention to the quality of experience across devices and platforms.
· It was named one of the most popular apps of 2017 on Google Play Store as well as Apple App Store
· Hotstar was the first Indian service to cross 100 million downloads on the Google Play Store.
· During VIVO IPL 2018, Hotstar hosted 10.3 million video viewers simultaneously. This was the highest ever concurrency for any digital video platform anywhere in the world. With this feat, IPL on Hotstar surpassed the previous record of 8 million concurrent users that YouTube reported on its platform on the live-stream of skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumping from near-space to the Earth’s surface.
· With the launch of the game ‘Watch ‘N Play’ during IPL 2018, the platform has now gone just beyond video to provide an unmatched engaging experience to its viewers
· Sporting tournaments, including Kabaddi and Cricket, had streamed on Hotstar were streamed in 3D Virtual Reality, giving users a 360° view of the action, an unprecedented innovation in Indian sports.
· In 2017, Hotstar first launched its service in US and Canada, followed by UK in 2018. With this, the company took its first steps in taking Indian stories and Indian language content to viewers across the world.