Television

James Murdoch bets big on Star India; expects $1 billion EBIDTA by 2020

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MUMBAI: The country’s leading broadcaster - Star India is betting big on the future. Star India, which has made a mark in the general entertainment as well as the sports broadcasting space, is looking at turning the company into a billion dollar entity by the turn of the decade, said 21st Century Fox co-chief operating officer James Rupert Murdoch.

 “We love the India business. It has now evolved enormously from Hindi entertainment to regional language broadcasting and now we are a national platform. The sports business for us is a new pillar and we are looking at the business in a long-term time frame. And if we keep innovating and investing in putting more creative and innovative content on screen, Star India will become a billion dollar EBIDTA by the turn of the decade," said Murdoch at the just concluded Asia Pacific Pay-TV Operators Summit 2015 held in Bali.

Addressing the gathering at APOS, Star India CEO Uday Shankar said, “Media content has a huge role in shaping the sensibilities of the society and this role should not be underestimated.”

Stressing on the role of sports, Shankar added, “I am prejudiced towards aspirational content and cynical about cynical content. This is something we have always kept in mind while creating all of our content and it is the same philosophy that we are bringing to sports as well. Sports has a huge role to play in empowerment, especially in a country like India, where we need to make the society believe that even an uneducated person can aspire to something greater if he is talented in a sport. This is what has worked with Kabaddi in a big way.”

Star has applied the same entertainment business philosophy into sports. “We are creating content with deep local affinity using the audience aggregation power that cricket gave you. Sports broadcasting has been plagued by laziness and lack of innovation, treated merely as a distribution agent of acquired rights, which is what we have tried to change with multiple local leagues. If it is your team that's playing, even if it is not the best team, you would be deeply passionate about it. Creating a hierarchy of leagues across the country can be huge empowering phenomenon,” opined Shankar.

Speaking about content creation and regionalization, he said, “India is a giant country with varied cultures and tastes. We used Asianet as a beach head for the south and elevated the quality of content dramatically with sharper storytelling, involving the best of the creative fraternity and breaking the caste divide between film and TV. For logistic reasons outsourcing production might make sense, but unless you internalize the core creative skill, you will not be able to sustain success, which is why we have build a robust internal creative team to ensure this.”

Star India’s recently launched video on demand (VOD) platform Hotstar has become a talking point of sorts. “Our objective behind Hotstar was quite simple actually - a lot of audiences were consuming our content on other screens, but we were unhappy with the inability to control their viewing experience. We realised we own all of this IP and so came Hotstar. I do not think that this is a ‘free model.’ We need to keep the consumer at the center while thinking about this and in a market like India, where data costs are still pretty high, the consumer is still paying a lot for the data - so it's not particularly consumer friendly to have them pay twice, especially at such a nascent stage.”

Shankar is also buoyed by the over-the-top (OTT) services space as it allows for democratisation of creativity. “However this is not the same as saying that anyone can create content,” he said.

He also stressed on the use of big data and analytics by the network. “At Star, we use a lot of data and we value it deeply. However, let's not become data monkeys. Data helps understands patterns but to understand these patterns and take a leap to what should be created next, will still require creativity. No matter how much data we have, I don't believe we will be able to automate the definition of the next blockbuster,” concluded Shankar.

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