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Star India's Gaurav Banerjee on Hotstar's content diversity, SVOD uptake & nurturing talent

The platform is ready to stream Out of Love from 22 November

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Hotstar has consistently outperformed some of the global over the top (OTT) platforms in India with the help of a mix of TV show content, sports and the recently-added originals. After Criminal Justice, the next original to launch under the Hotstar umbrella will be Out of Love. Launching 22 November, the series is based on BBC’s award-winning series Doctor Foster.

Star India Hindi entertainment president and head Gaurav Banerjee attributes the platform’s success to its content mix. Compared to traditional TV, the digital space provides flexibility to creators to play with content narratives, style and direction.

On the sidelines of the Out of Love launch, Banerjee spoke about Hotstar’s upcoming content strategy, feedback to Hotstar Specials, viewership ratio, online content regulation along with other topics in a freewheeling chat with Indiantelevision.com.Edited excerpts:

Hotstar Specials entered the market at the beginning of this year when one of the main goals was to turn AVOD consumers into SVOD base. How has been the initial response? How has it helped to increase the SVOD base till now?

It has been an incredibly good journey. We are very excited about the response we got. People have liked the shows. Our attempt at creating different types of content has been noticed. Sports documentary, a big edgy legal kind of drama, thriller, comedy and now a female-centered drama – we have it all. We have been overwhelmed by some of the responses we got from viewers and critics for shows like Criminal Justice. Obviously, we are doing this to power up Hotstar VIP and that strategy is playing out well.

This is just a start. Everything takes time, consistency, effort and a series of quality content. For all digital content in our country, this is day zero. We have a lot to learn.

What does your inside data say about viewership demography?

Hotstar as a platform skews twoard the younger Indians. We have a great opportunity with all these types of content which are edgier and varied. The second opportunity from the creative point of view is very interesting; we can play with season length and episode length. In television, over a period of time, the format gets settled. Whereas here it can be led by the kind of stories we have such as the right point to finish a particular episode. This allows for a lot of flexibility for creative people.

You have worked with renowned production houses or studios for Hotstar Specials. Are you considering giving a chance to young producers like you did for television business? 

Yes we do and thank you for noticing that about Star India and that's something we are deeply proud of that we are that platform where new voices can come in and tell big stories. But we are just starting out. This is like a startup and there is a lot of content with new filmmaking, stories and talent. Hopefully, there will be a lot to talk about in the coming weeks and months.

Now many of the platforms are launching a number of originals to build a loyal subscriber base. When do you see SVOD monetisation actually turning easier?

Brands, including Hotstar VIP, are already attempting this. This will happen as the per capita and GDP grows and people will want to be discerning about the choices they want to make. They would want to watch higher quality and they will be willing to pay for it.

Cinema prices have gone up but viewers are willing to pay. As a content creator platform, we have to create the experience that people really like, whether it is the technology experience, marketing, talent or stories. All of that has to combine to create something which you say that you like and makes you agree to pay more for it.

Do you see a model emerging in the future where viewers can go for a bundled model in OTT like cable TV?

It’s hard to tell. But I think that having an incredible content asset should be any company’s priority. Even with so many OTT platforms, viewers have a lot more choices today. So, people can decide where they want to spend. Essentially everyone is competing for time.

What is your content strategy for 2020?

Our first goal is variety. We want different stories and keep expanding them. This year we did a sports documentary, thriller and a social drama. A lot of OTT drama has been male-oriented. Out of Love is breaking that. It’s female-centric, emotional and about marriage. We want to keep experimenting and attract the best talent in the country. We want to work with the best actors, directors, showrunners all the time and we will do everything we can to create the right culture and figure the right scale of ambition so that Hotstar will be their target destination to work.

Lately, online content regulation has been the talk of the town. What is your take on this?

My team and I, across TV and digital, believe that we don’t want to do anything irresponsible. We won’t do edgy content just for the sake for it. That’s an ethical choice we all need to make. We need to figure out a method so that people don’t think of this as a chaotic classroom where there are just unruly kids and they need a class monitor or a strict supervisor. That’s the maturity needed from the creative community, platforms and the entire ecosystem and I feel if we do that we are all going to be fine.

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