Hotstar's Varun Narang on driving consumer engagement for IPL 2019

The company will focus on gamification and social

MUMBAI: The nature of sports broadcasting has witnessed a dramatic shift over the years with fan engagement now playing a pivotal role in the strategy matrix of major channels. Technology has enhanced the core product on TV by enabling broadcasters to provide more statistically-driven insights.  

Star India has been at the forefront of this change, offering technology-driven content on both TV and digital for some of its marquee sporting properties like the Indian Premier League. The Select Dugout feed for fanatics on TV and Watch’N play on its OTT platform Hotstar are prime examples.

India has more than 790 million sports viewers, with 740 million of those being cricket watchers. IPL 2018 drew a humongous 700 million plus viewers to the Star Sports Network, with 22 per cent of those being contributed by Hotstar.

The super streamer saw a concurrent viewership of 10.7 million for the finals between CSK and SRH, a record of sorts in the world of live sports streaming.

The company has set its sights on shattering more such records this season as it looks to up the fan engagement levels through innovation. Those running the streaming service believe that two aspects in particular hold the key to keeping fans hooked for longer durations during sessions.

“It’s been quite a phenomenal journey over the last few years for the platform. We are super excited for the upcoming IPL season starting 23 March. We want to make IPL even more compelling and addictive. We think that gamification as well as social are two big areas that will make the enjoyment of sports even more than it already is,” highlighted Hotstar chief product officer Varun Narang.

Star India has not just been quick off the blocks in adapting to the digital environment but also managed to gallop ahead of competition by benefiting from the Jio-led telecom revolution.

India is one of the fastest growing 4G markets in world today. The number of 4G users was five times the number of 3G users at the end of December 2018, according to Amazon Web Service (AWS).

Improvement in internet connectivity, gradually declining data costs and increasing penetration of smartphones has led to rapid growth in online and on-the-go consumption of live sports content in India.

“We thought that how can we make it more fun from a gamification perspective as hundreds of millions of fans are not in the stadium. We built a game (Watch‘N play) that was based on some principles and tens of millions of users played and enjoyed it. We are super thrilled to take the next step and are looking for really cool filters that are built around IPL games. We looked at the entire spectrum including fantasy leagues, percentage of engagement in fantasy leagues with NFL which is the largest fantasy league in the world,” Narang stated.

Fantasy sports has emerged as a big winner in recent times due to the growth of digital infrastructure and the emergence of new sports leagues. Fantasy sports is increasingly gaining more traction in India, with the number of fantasy sports operators having risen from 10 in 2016 to 70 in 2018. That number of users on fantasy sports platforms is expected to cross 100 million by 2020.

Star has demonstrated its success from cricket broadcasting in the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) as well.

“It’s a sport which is well known in India and is played by almost everyone in their childhood. So the challenge was how to make it exciting to watch and then over time finding the right partners for the league to ensure that you have momentum in growing the sport. So one of the trusts is the franchises, until two years ago we had eight franchises and now we have 12. When we brought the next set of franchises, we wanted them to know how to build a brand which will engage the fan and broaden the sport,” pointed out Star India president - new strategy and head of PKL Ipshita Dasgupta

According to her, the fact that 65 per cent of the Indian population is under the age of 35 and 50 per cent is under the age of 25 is extremely crucial.

“I think going from zero to 300 million viewers in the space of four years, there are so many things that can be attributed to this. The thing that we added to that is involving kids and schools into Kabaddi, that was a big difference. Having kids play and making Kabaddi aspirational for children is important. We are one of the longer leagues which is substantial compared to others. To build a sport you need to have coaches, players making money, teams which can build brands - all of these things play a huge role,” she further added.

With the 12th edition of IPL just around the corner, Star Sports and BCCI unveiled the campaign #GameBanayegaName which focuses on IPL as a platform where one’s ‘Talent’ (Game) precedes one’s name.

The TVC opens with a split screen battle between young players in a maidan on one side and established IPL stars on the other to grab screen space. After an entertaining tussle, the film ends with IPL stars acknowledging the maidan players talent and inviting them to show their game. The TVC is a reflection of the core spirit that IPL resonates, a platform for young talent to showcase their game and an opportunity to make a name.

The film is being released simultaneously in 7 languages – Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu, Bengali and Marathi across all platforms, TV, radio, and digital.

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