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Adding subscribers like never before says Varun Narang as Hotstar shatters IPL records

Gap between IPL consumption on TV and Hostar reducing adds Narang

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BALI: The Walt Disney Company direct-to-consumer and international segment chairman Kevin Mayer termed Hotstar a juggernaut on the opening day of APOS 2019. That description seems rather perfect given some of the insights and numbers offered by the streaming service’s chief product officer Varun Narang on the final day of the summit in Bali, Indonesia on Thursday.

Widely regarded as the home of cricket in India, Hotstar in 2019 has been on a record-breaking spree of sorts.

“IPL always brings in tons of new users. We are just half way through (the 2019 season) and we’ve had over 300 million users watching. Compared to last year, we are already 50 per cent more. Engagement, too, is double. No matter what matrix you look at, it is tending to be double of last year,” said Narang during a one-on-one conversation with Media Partners Asia’s Vivek Couto during a session titled ‘India: OTT drives borderless ambition’.

While the over-the-top platform boasts of over 300 million monthly active users, like most players, it does not disclose the subscriber numbers. Couto-led MPA and other industry estimates peg that number to about 2.5 million.

The former Hulu executive also articulated various reasons that have helped Hotstar add subscribers at a rapid pace of late.

“We have one of the strongest content portfolios in the country. When it comes to local consumers, we have the widest portfolio of content. We have the strongest Hollywood content exclusively in India. If you want tens and millions of subscribers, you have to go after the local language. We have a really exciting slate of content. We are going to raise the bar in production value. We will be investing in all of this content. We will be offering compelling and affordable services. We are adding subscribers like never before. That’s also because we have never focused on the mid-tier mass market before,” he explained.

According to Star India’s latest numbers, the network has seen 411 million viewers tuning in. This is close to the total tournament reach of last year. While the network continues to use all its might on linear television to enhance that reach, more and more fans seem to be consuming IPL on Hotstar every year.

“We always look at what is the percentage of viewership between Hotstar and TV. Every year, we come up with larger and more material percentage number. The gap between Hotstar and television viewership is reducing,” Narang stated.

He also touched upon the initiatives and innovation undertaken by his team from an advertising standpoint.

“When it comes to targeting, not just by age, gender, demography but all types of targeting in terms of formats, measurement, there is literally nothing we are aware of that the majors like Google, Facebook offer and we don’t. In fact, during this IPL we are doing (targeting) live at a scale that isn’t happening anywhere in the world. We have advertising within our social feed. You can order from Swiggy without even missing a single moment of IPL or cricket within Hotstar,” he highlighted.

One of the key themes to emerge out of the dialogue is the amount of work that teams at Hotstar continue to put in to improve systems from every perspective. Providing a better all-round experience to consumers is the main mantra for the streaming service.

“While preparing for large events like the IPL or World Cup, we spend over a million dollars in just testing to make sure all our services work as desired,” Narang revealed.

The streamer has stitched up several partnerships that serve different strategic and business goals. While partners help drive scale, the user experience is always owned by Hotstar.

“We work with telcos very strategically. We don’t shy away from short-term tactical deals. So far it’s worked really well for us. We rely on telcos to drive scale for us. Our unit of distribution is always Hotstar. The content always plays within Hotstar. So we own the user experience. We have one of the largest data platforms in the world. We collect over 10 billion data events every single day. We use that for all types of personalisation and recommendation across the system as well as ad targeting,” Narang stated.

Apart from telcos, the company works with other partners as well in order to build its subscription business.

One of the key challenges for streaming platforms in India remains the ease of payment. Narang, though, is optimistic of making major improvements on the success rate of online payments in the coming months and quarters.

Of late, Hotstar has paid special attention to two key engagement tools – gamification and social. That effort seems to now be paying dividends for the company.

“We have an opportunity to experiment with ideas like social and gamification and see what sticks. I was recently sent a note that said the engagement of comments on Hotstar around IPL is way, way higher than all other social platforms,” Narang added.

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