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Hotstar.com's Ajit Mohan targets 100 million digital viewers this IPL

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MUMBAI: Star India has long presented itself as undisputed disruptor when it comes to the Indian media and entertainment industry. The disruption wave does not look like settling down any too soon. Star India digital head and president Ajit Mohan is now chasing history: something that The Facebook achieved in early 2015 and India’s largest telco Airtel got to in 2009.

"Our objective is to reach out to 100 million users this IPL for our digital streaming services," says Mohan with a smile on his face.

Star India started the online streaming of cash rich Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2014. The matches were streamed on Starsports.com and as per Mohan's analysis over 21 million people logged on to watch the action on their hand held devices.

A year later, Star India invested a whopping Rs 302.02 crore to outbid then Multi Screen Media or MSM (now Sony pictures Networks or SPN) and Times Internet (TI) bid to acquire the streaming rights for three more years.

 "The reach doubled and we got to over 42 million viewers. Not only that we also witnessed a significant traction when it came to time spent watching,” discloses Mohan.   

Complementing Star's unfettered digital disruption is the improving bandwidth condition in India. The affluent metro youth who are considered to be the biggest spenders and are always engaged with their hand held smart devices. It is these mobile natives that Hotstar is targeting this year.

"The audience we cater to is what makes Hotstar an attractive platform for advertisers. The response we got so far for IPL is overwhelming and we are extremely happy with it. We are selling as per slots exactly how it happens on television," avers Mohan.

The digital innovation of Murdoch's media conglomerate has roped in nine brands so far. Flipkart, Volini, Raymond, Axe have come on board as sponsors, while the other large advertisers include Lloyd, Hindware, Hero Fincorp, Airtel and Amazon.

"The metro is either working or returning back by the time IPL matches start and hence the streaming service is the go-to for cricket lovers. Moreover, with 3G getting better and 4G coming in, the infrastructure is also looking good so the streaming service is becoming more useful," explains Madhouse COO Milind Pathak.

The growth of Hotstar continues unabated as per Mohan, especially its reach. It was at just two per cent of TV a year back. Today, Mohan, says it has multiplied manifold. "Hotstar has already reached 40 to 45 per cent of television audiences,” he points out. “I believe more than compete with TV, what we are doing is adding another screen and forming a consumer habit which is a great benefit for the industry.”

The leapfrogging numbers are not only because of the sacks full of dollars being spent on content, but also on account of an aggressive marketing overdrive. Captain of the Indian cricket team M S Dhoni promotes the platform. And for IPL the media house signed on with ad creative power house Lowe Lintas to unleash a cutting edge campaign.

"With our analysis we found out that affluent male youth in metros are the ones who spend most of the time on their mobile phones and our creative is targeted at them. Also there is a perception that Indian youth are selfish and stay by themselves which is not totally true and that's why it has the tagline Screen Chota hai magar Dil bada," says Mohan.   

The promotional spots focuses on youth and their connection with community. It shows that although they are always in their own world, but whenever needed they become an active part of the society.

Last year Starsports.com streamed the matches along with Hotstar, "This year also we will continue to stream the action on both the platforms. The rights that we have are for a five minute delayed stream; an addition that we have this year is the fact that both Hindi and English commentary will be available for audiences to enjoy," reveals Mohan.

Digital is still perceived as an ancillary consumption medium, mainly for snacking and for small pieces of content, not long form.  Mohan believes Hotstar is paving many a pioneering path. "We broke all such myths, we proved the perception wrong,” he says with a wide grin. “One more wrong notion that we tore apart was that India was not ready for a premium OTT platform. With the time spent on OTT that we witnessed in the past and the way it is increasing now, I must say that the platform is only going to get bigger.”

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