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Hotstar’s Nikhil Madhok on regional shows, digital original films and collaborating with creators

The platform is releasing the latest series Hostages on 31 May

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MUMBAI: Despite competing with over 30 over-the-top (OTT) platforms, Hotstar is undoubtedly ruling the burgeoning streaming market of India. Though it could boast of premium sports content, a huge array of catch-up content and movie library, the platform was falling short of original content, especially when international streamers already hit the market with shows like Sacred Games, Mirzapur. At the beginning of this year, Hotstar decided to take a “quality leap in storytelling” under Hotstar specials banner. After the big success of Criminal Justice and City of Dreams, the platform is releasing another new series Hostages on 31 May.

While Hotstar has largely been an advertising-based platform, Hotstar Specials were brought in with the aim to build its subscription service. In an interaction with Indiantelevision.com, Hotstar EVP and head original content Nikhil Madhok shared his satisfaction over the success and consumer feedback on Criminal Justice and City of Dreams and how Hotstar Specials helped to boost the subscription service. He also added that the platform will not limit itself to episodic content but will introduce digital original films soon.

Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:

How did Criminal Justice and City of Dreams perform?

There are two reasons we are doing these shows. Firstly, we are taking a quality leap in storytelling and the feedback we have received from consumers whether it is through direct interaction or comments on social media, it has been very heartening. The other reason was that we wanted to start building our subscription business through the shows so we can create enough quality content for people to be willing to pay money and watch the show. And our subscription services started off really well. On both terms, it has done well. If you ask about the pure impact I would say Criminal Justice has done really well. City of Dreams is comparatively new obviously; we launched three weeks ago but that also found a big audience. So there are a large number of consumers who like both the shows and there are people who love Criminal Justice and City of Dreams separately. This is the beauty of this medium, not everyone will like every show; they can make their choice.

From which age groups did you get the highest traction?

Most of our audience is between the age group 18-35. That’s where the performance was great. Youngsters liked the shows.

When are you planning to bring the second season?

For both the shows, there is a huge demand for season two but whether we can do a season two or not actually depends on getting the script right. So, right now we are working on the scripts but it depends on whether they turn out well, then we can start season two. In a few months, we will be able to answer this question.

What is the average watch time for Hotstar?

Overall we get roughly around 45 minutes of watch time, on non-IPL days, from consumers daily.

Have the subscribers increased after the launch of Hotstar Specials?

Yes, very much. I think Hotstar VIP and Hotstar Premium services both have performed quite well. One of the big components of boosting the subscription business has been Hotstar Specials.

How many shows we can expect under Hotstar Specials banner every quarter?

I would say for the remaining six or seven months of the year, for the remaining two quarters now, we should see at least three shows every quarter. Later on, we are hoping to ramp up more than one launch a month from next January.

How do you plan to go into the regional market? Which regional markets are being prioritised?

Currently, we have commissioned shows in Tamil and Telugu. Firstly, all of the Hotstar specials we create, even if we create in Hindi, are dubbed in six different languages. Anyone can watch it in any part of the country. I think our first Tamil show should be ready by the end of the year and Telugu show should be ready early next year.

From a priority perspective, all the markets are important for us and that’s why we are making available all the shows in all the languages. Hindi speaking market has been the big one and then followed by Tamil and Telugu. I think when it comes to original content creation, whether it’s a show which is made in Marathi or Malayalam maybe that will be stage two.

Hotstar has collaborated with big names for Hotstar specials. But will you give a chance to small content creators to showcase their talent?

Yes absolutely. Our philosophy is that we want to collaborate with all the best storytellers in the country. This can be people from the movie world or TV world or people who are completely new and first time creators. We are actually working with all three. It so happens that the first set of few shows had the Bollywood makers. But you will see the next set of seven shows we have lined up is a mix; there are television producers and digital creators as well.

While are you focusing on episodic shows, are you negating the possibility of digital original films on your platform?

We have an initiative for Digital films. We have not made an official announcement but I think by the second half of this year you should start seeing a couple of straight digital films on Hotstar as well.

If we talk about competition, who are your major competitors? Is it international players or local platforms?

At one level in this space, everybody is your competitor when you have 300mn monthly active users. If you look at some of the broadcaster-led OTTs they are in the same field. Netflix and Amazon are also in the same field. So, everybody is competition. But when you have size and scale, it’s your responsibility to create the market. We are consumer focused to go beyond 300 million but we have to create content that they really like, create a subscription business in the country which creates a habit of people wanting to create good quality content and the more these happen, we can create more quality content.

For some time now Hotstar has been leading the market. What has worked well for you?

I think it’s the range of content. We have sports, catch-up, Bollywood movies, now Specials, news. Nobody is providing content of this range. I think the second thing is our technology platform. The product is very robust, it's of international quality. So, the depth of content sitting on a very robust platform is a key factor.

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