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NEW DELHI : With around 50 million subscribers, Disney+Hotstar is the leading video streaming company in India, but its dominance is constantly being threatened by the 60 platforms, which are upping their game by investing in content and marketing. In an interview, Sidharth Shakdher, executive vice-president and chief marketing officer, Disney+ Hotstar, shared his insights on establishing the brand in India and how it is looking beyond sports to establish a connection with audiences across segments: Edited excerpts: 

It’s been two years since Hotstar was rebranded as Disney+Hotstar in India. How has the brand journey been? 

We are now at par (with Hotstar) in terms of recognition and top of mind recall, and the perception has grown more positive with Disney+ coming in. It has opened up new segments and found broader acceptance, for example, among people with children. While earlier, it used to be young adults, families have now come into the fold. So, in that sense, there’s been a positive addition to our brand equity, thanks toDisney+.

How did your marketing strategy evolve during the pandemic as more subscribers came into the OTT fold?

What has been very clear and important for us from the get-go has been the fact that Disney+Hotstar should be meaningful to people’s lives. Our goal in the past six years has been to be a purpose-driven brand that helps you talk to all audiences in a similar fashion. Otherwise, you are talking to different people in different ways in your brand positioning, and recall and equity go nowhere. The other cornerstone of our marketing is being meaningful to people’s lives in not just one or two segments, or metro and urban areas, but across India. When we marketed in the first two or three years, it was more about building the category—talking about modes of convenience, mobility, control, and so on. Over the years, it has changed to being a more experience-related, meaningful life-driven push. We have clutter-breaking stories across Indian and international content. Plus, we are spreading regionally. 

With more people coming on OTT, we started looking more at micro-markets, and things like micro-influencers and regional print became a much more important part of our agenda. And while for four-and-a-half years, we never thought of getting a celebrity on board, we did get Shah Rukh Khan. 

You have done promotional films with Shah Rukh Khan. Is he your brand ambassador?

He’s not a brand ambassador in the typical sense. I feel he’s somebody who brings to light the message that this is the platform that has the best quality content and adds to your life in terms of you being exposed to different things and growing as a person. We’re not going to shoot hoardings or plaster his face on billboards and have him stand and endorse Disney+ Hotstar. The agreement we have is around using him to meaningfully deliver messages in building the purpose of the brand. Because in the end, we want the brand to be the hero, and Shah Rukh is somebody who’s helping the brand become that. I can’t really reveal our other plans with him, but he’s with us for a little bit more, and we will be working with him again. 

How is the overall marketing split between sports and general entertainment? 

I would categorize our marketing efforts into three kinds. At the most functional level, we have specific titles, whether they are entertainment or sport. Then we have category builders like Multiplex, which is direct-to-digital movies. The third is about the purpose of the brand. But we have reduced our reliance on cricket in those communications. Three years ago, cricket would have been 60 -70% of that communication; now, it is 20-30%. Also, while cricket was so big then, we didn’t really have our own originals, and we didn’t have Disney as a library. Now we have the best of international content and local originals. If you’re a sports lover, of course, there’s cricket as well, but we don’t have to hammer that point anymore. What we need to build on is that we are one platform which has the best of Indian and international content, so that’s why there’s a larger skew towards it in our campaigns now. 

Does this become even more important as the IPL media rights are up for grabs again?

Absolutely. We started as a destination for cricket, but we are now a destination for any entertainment that’s meaningful to you. So we shouldn’t be viewed with a cricket lens. When we started with Hotstar, it was a transactional relationship where consumers would come when there was cricket or Koffee With Karan, but when one generally wanted entertainment, it may not have been the brand that popped into one’s mind. Now it’s very different, with the brand being in a meaningful and purposeful space in people’s lives, where it’s not linked to one particular piece of content.

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