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Star India adopts Hotstar-only model in US, channels to go off cable TV from 5 January

The decision is bound to drive up Hotstar’s subscription numbers in US

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MUMBAI: There’s a lot happening at Star India at the moment with its integration into the media and entertainment giant Disney underway. A crucial aspect of that arrangement played out on Thursday as president 21st Century Fox, Asia and chairman and CEO of Star India Uday Shankar was named chairman Star and Disney India, and president The Walt Disney Company Asia Pacific as part of an international business unit restructuring.

Another interesting development that has taken place at Star India is the bet it has taken to adopt a digital-only approach in the key US market.  Starting 5 January, Star India’s TV channels will be streaming only on Hotstar in the US. The entire Star India network, including Star Plus, Star Gold, Star Vijay, Maa, Asianet and Movies OK, will no longer be available on any cable TV provider in the US including Dish TV, Sling TV, Comcast, Verizon.

While Star is the first major Indian broadcaster to go this route, others will eventually follow suit, an industry expert told Indiantelevision.com on the condition of anonymity, adding that the decision makes 'complete sense' given the current dynamics of the US market.

The phenomenon of cord-cutting which stemmed from the US accelerated rapidly this year. According to a recent report by S&P Global Market Intelligence, 1.2 million people migrated from traditional cable TV in the 3rd (July-September)quarter, one of the worst quarters in pay-TV history. 

Star’s decision could deliver a huge boost to its international OTT arm by driving up its subscription numbers.

“As an innovative and disruptive media company driven by world-class content and technology, Star India is connected with several hundred million viewers all over the world. Every international market is unique, and therefore our business strategy and approach is customised to each region. We strongly feel that in the US, a digital-only approach would best suit the market, and therefore we have decided to make all channels of the Star India Network available exclusively on our digital streaming platform Hotstar, which is the go-to streaming platform for the South Asian diaspora in the US," a Hotstar International spokesperson told Indiantelevision.com.

Earlier this year, a study predicted that the number of cord-cutters in the US would climb to 33 million adults in 2018.

"However, while we have gone ahead with a digital-only approach in the US, in other markets, we believe that the powerful combination of linear TV and digital streaming provides a robust entertainment experience to consumers,” the spokesperson added.

Apart from Star India channels streaming on its OTT platform, properties like the Indian Premier League (IPL) are likely to be available on cable TV through the Fox network, a Star India executive, who did not wish to be named.

Unlike India, OTT subscriptions are much cheaper in the US when compared with DTH and cable. While most of the OTT apps charge $10-15 per month, traditional cable subscription costs close to $80. Moreover, the use of smart TV is a trend that’s on the rise, facilitating a better streaming experience for consumers.

Notably, Hotstar extended its premium subscription in the US in 2017. At the moment, Hotstar's monthly pack is priced at $9.99, while annual pack costs $99.99 in the US.

While Star's super streamer in India is way ahead of its rivals, the move to go digital-only is bound to help it in gaining ground against Netflix and Amazon Prime in the US, in addition to saving the company high maintenance costs of running a television network.

Be it going all-in on Indian cricket, investing early in digital or taking a position against TRAI's tariff regime, Star India under Uday Shankar has always donned an aggressive and innovative approach. The company's latest play in the US is in line with that very template.

(With inputs from Gargi Sarkar)

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