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Hotstar has tied up with 15 filmmakers, including Salman and Shekhar Kapur, to offer original content. Graphic: Mint
Hotstar has tied up with 15 filmmakers, including Salman and Shekhar Kapur, to offer original content. Graphic: Mint

Hotstar adds to streaming drama with originals

Hotstar's original programming foray comes at a time when rivals, including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, are focusing aggressively on this space

Star India’s video streaming service is counting on original programming to boost viewership. Hotstar has tied up with 15 film-makers, including Salman Khan and Shekhar Kapur, to offer exclusive content in addition to the serials, movies and sports programmes licensed from its parent.

Titled Hotstar Specials, the exclusive shows will start streaming by the end of March. The other film-makers Hotstar has partnered with are 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.

Hotstar’s foray into original programming comes at a time when rivals are focusing aggressively on this space. Netflix has announced four web series and seven feature films to be brought out in India over this year, while Amazon Prime plans to double its original content offerings in 2019 from those of last year.

“Given that Star is the leader, it has to be ahead of the curve and the competition is already intensifying," said Abneesh Roy, an analyst with Edelweiss Securities. “Plus, as its record shows, be it Kaun Banega Crorepati or Satyamev Jayate, Star likes to do high-cost shows, so the big names are not surprising. And while sport has seasonal appeal, fiction is required to bring in family audiences and advertisers."

Hotstar’s new shows will come in seven languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Bengali. The company said this content would mostly fall in the drama category, with the shows spanning anything between 10 and 40 hours each.

“We believe the market is changing very rapidly and mobile smartphones are the root to disruption. That’s the big shift we are seeking through Hotstar," said Sanjay Gupta, managing director, Star India.

The change, Gupta said, was being driven by the increase in the number of screens in the country. About two years ago, there were only 200 million screens, including television, movie theatres and smartphones. The number has risen to 600 million, with the mobile phone having emerged as the primary site of storytelling and changing the way people engage with content.

“So far, storytelling was designed from the perspective of appointment viewing on television. We now want to use Hotstar to drive disruption and work with the best storytellers in the country across languages and abroad," Gupta said, without disclosing the budget of these shows but admitting it would be significant enough to make the company the biggest investors in drama content.

To be sure, the viewership on Hotstar is currently driven by its exhaustive movie, sports and television library. The platform has access to all of Star’s general entertainment television channels in India, including Star Plus, Star Jalsha, Asianet, Life Ok, besides the movie content, both acquired independently and produced by Fox Star Studios, the motion picture production and distribution company, a joint venture between US-based 20th Century Fox and Star. Exclusive sports content includes rights to several cricket, kabaddi, badminton and other leagues, including the Indian Premier League. Hotstar has consistently topped rankings of video streaming apps in India.

“The focus on sport will continue and the one on movies is scaling up too," Gupta said. “Hotstar Specials is something we are adding on and which will be a big focus and investment area."

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