The secret sauce for Hotstar’s success: exclusive partnerships

Image: AP Photo/Channi Anand
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The key to wooing the Indian audience seems to be exclusivity. And Hostar has got it just right.

Star India’s over-the-top platform (OTT) saw 400 million app downloads in 2019, twice the number compared to 2018, according to its India Watch Report released yesterday (Dec. 10). Three key events drove these numbers this year: the Indian election, the India-Pakistan match during the ICC Cricket World Cup, and season 8 of Game of Thrones (GoT). Hotstar had exclusive rights to air the latter two events.

The GoT phenomenon

Indians woke up in time for the 6.30am show last season of HBO’s GoT, aired in tandem with the US broadcast time. The show was the most popular series for people watching Hotstar on their smart TVs or streaming devices connected to TVs.

Before the new season aired in April, up to 57% of GoT fans on Hotstar binge-watched the older seasons of the show, the company said. And while the series did air on television, its viewership on Hotstar was seven times that of TV’s in India. Fans chose to watch an episode as soon as it released, either out of the fear of missing out or to stave off spoilers.

Cricket was perhaps the only other item Indians loved watching online more.

Cricket, what else?

During the India-Pakistan match on June 16, for instance, the Hotstar app saw 8,000 downloads per minute on Indian mobiles. This match alone had 365 million views on the streaming platform, three times that of the Avengers: Endgame trailer on YouTube. The India-New Zealand world cup semi-final match was watched by 25.3 million viewers, five times the population of New Zealand.

Hotstar has a significant advantage when it comes to sporting events because of Star’s tie-ups with major leagues and tournaments. Star’s exclusive rights to broadcast the world cup, for instance, was a direct benefit for Hotstar in cricket-crazy India.

Yet, the OTT platform took its immediate competitor, television, head on. Interactive content, quizzes, and tie-ups with food-delivery apps kept viewers hooked to Hotstar, much more than TV.

The new TV

Hotstar’s strength lies in its ability to offer regional language TV content online. Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, a Hindi TV soap opera, was the most-watched show on the platform. However, Bigg Boss Tamil, the regional version of Big Brother, had 50% more viewers than the Hindi show.

“With affordable smartphones and abundant access to data, the small screen is becoming the preferred medium of entertainment for new consumers,” said Uday Shankar, president of The Walt Disney Company Asia-Pacific and chairman of Star & Disney India.

Hotstar’s expanding footprint points to a trend. “Until a few years ago, online entertainment was restricted to the urban affluent. We now see newer horizons, with non-metro towns driving online consumption,” Shankar said. In 2019, some 63% of online content consumption came from non-metro cities like Lucknow, Pune, and Patna in India.