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‘Something big is happening in India’ with aggregated video content on Hotstar

A unique content aggregator platform in India, which has generated 175 million downloads in just two years, could in the future expand to other parts of the globe in what could be a game-changer for the industry – its chief executive officer has claimed.

Speaking to Mumbrella Asia at the CASBAA OTT Summit in Singapore today, Hotstar CEO Ajit Mohan revealed that announcements on new territory launches would come eventually. “The model can be global with mobile viewing and tech at the heart of things,” he said.

Hotstar is owned by parent company 21st Century Fox and uses its intellectual property as well as licensing content from other providers and creating unique content. Viewers have access to video-on-demand dramas, movies and livestreamed sporting events – in nine languages. Some 80 per cent of the audience watch the content on mobile devices.

Users can either subscribe for $3 per month for the premium product, with fewer adverts, or use the service free but accept that “personalised” ads will be shown too. Those using the free service simply pay their mobile phone provider for data, although this can be very expensive in India.

Despite the high cost, Mohan revealed that last month alone the app attracted 60 million active users thanks to its mix of national and international content. “It was a big bet for us to bring all the content together in one place, but that is what the consumer wants. India was ready for it but nobody had invested to connect up the dots before.”

The exponential increase in the number of viewers had left the country’s infrastructure “creaking” at times, said Mohan. He cited a recent cricket test match between India and England, which saw three million people using Hotstar at one time. “We are pushing the envelope with the telcos infrastructure at times when it comes to sports,” he admitted.

“We are seeing rapid growth on a dramatic scale; something big is happening in India. That’s clear in the numbers. It’s an exciting story for curated high-quality content and we now have massive brand equity. So we do see an opportunity to take Hotstar to other markets.”

However, Hotstar faces a crowded marketplace abroad and at home with Netflix and Amazon having already launched in India not to mention a number of local competitors. In addition, illegal downloads are also on the rise. As mobile data gets cheaper in India, the piracy problem may well be exacerbated as users become less concerned with loyalty towards established and reliable legal providers.

“Piracy is not new, it has always been there,” said Mohan. “It happens because people do not have easy access to content and we are addressing that issue.” He claimed that Hotstar was also adding value by providing interactive elements in relation to live sporting events, which pirates could not replicate.

These innovations include a ‘fan graph’ displaying how many viewers watch an event with you and votes for the most dramatic moments. Mohan said the company was also looking at introducing a live dialogue box allowing people to talk to each other on screen remotely while watching the content. “It will be like watching a sporting event with a group of your friends, only you’ll be doing so virtually from different locations so that there is that social element.”

Hotstar would not reveal how much investment had gone into the company or which countries were being looked at as the next markets in the global expansion plan. But Mohan did reveal that the company would remain flexible in its thinking.

“We will look at other models too,” he said. “It may be that some of our customers want to pay to receive no ads whatsoever. And where we do run ads, we try to ensure they are personalised and not disruptive. So, for example, with the cricket the ads run during the break between overs.”

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