New Delhi: Hotstar, Star India’s video streaming service, completed three years earlier this month. In this period, Ajit Mohan, its chief executive, has seen consumers move towards long-form content because they don’t fear data charges anymore. There is a huge shift from short-format clips and user-generated content to real stories whether its TV shows or movies or sports, Mohan said. In an interview, he talks about the average Hotstar consumer, the response to paywall on the platform and its overall strategy going forward. Edited excerpts:
How has Hotstar’s journey been like?
The big bet that we had made three years ago was that if you put all these great stories together on a single platform and if you invest in technology to create the right experiences, then consumers would embrace it. It would grow the total consumption of content in the country. Fundamentally, the bet was if you increase the opportunity for people to consume stories, where it was not constrained by appointment viewing, then the total basket of consumption whether its TV shows, movies or sports, would go up. That bet has played out in the last three years.
Any big changes that you may have seen?
The one big change is that people’s view of what online video means (has changed). People are no longer worried about missing a cricket or football match when they are not at home. In a very short period of time, the experience of online video and the content available has changed dramatically.
There’s a new generation of Internet users and their assumption is that I will get access to very high quality content that I can watch at my convenience across devices. India has leapfrogged the world on this.
The second part is the consciousness of the role of technology. Earlier, most of the conversations were about content. We had consciousness from the very beginning that what we are trying to do is really reinvent the future of storytelling and that has a central role for technology to play. We made it easy to stream across different kinds of devices in a country that has massive differences in bandwidth.
Who is the Hotstar consumer?
What we have figured is that a regular Hotstar fan is someone who has huge affinity to different kinds of content whether its TV shows or movies or sports, has comfort with using mobile as the main screen and has Hotstar embedded into his or her way of life. People are using us at different points in different ways. TV shows across languages, both Indian and international, bring in stable viewership. That’s the one that has steadily grown, with more people coming in over time.
How has the response to the paywall been?
In many ways the whole subscription market seems like the streaming ecosystem three years ago. There was no belief at that point before Hotstar launched that India is ready for streaming. What we are seeing especially in the last 6-9 months is that when you do offer a differentiated proposition for consumers, they are willing to pay. I do have faith that consumers will be willing to pay if streaming platforms are able to put together a compelling reason for them. It has to be differentiated enough from what is available to them easily or for free. It’s been a year and a half since we launched the Hotstar Premium service. We have seen meaningful traction, a bit of an inflexion point. It gives us comfort that the market is ready.
How will the relationship between streaming platforms and telecom networks play out?
The operators are really moving the needle on expanding access to affordable data in the last year and a half which has been good for everyone. Clearly there is a lot of common ground for both telecom operators and the streaming platforms to work together. It’s good for both and its good for consumers. The meaningful role that the telcos have played is dramatically expanding access. Streaming platforms like Hotstar are invested to make sure that there is a large content catalogue that is available in the market easily. And for us to constantly use technology to improve the experience.
We see a deluge in the number of new streaming platforms being launched in India. What’s your strategy to stay ahead of the curve?
There have been a lot of platforms that have been launched here in the last two and a half years. I think consumers are quite discerning and if you look at where consumers are actually spending time, it is focused on a few platforms. We are proud that Hotstar has been leading in the premium streaming market and consumers are spending disproportionate time and attention on us. The second point in terms of our strategy is we will continue to invest in technology to deliver experiences that our quite distinctive.