With 10 million downloads in the 40 days since its launch, Star India's mobile application Hotstar is undoubtedly the hottest digital media product today.
Launched on February 1, it outdid apps such as Facebook (10 months), Instagram (2.5 months) and Twitter (one year), to become the fastest to cross the million download mark in six days. And thanks to the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup and Star's robust line-up of drama shows, the app has managed to clock an average TSV (time spent per viewer) of 24 minutes a day.
The app's acceptance and use has been driven by two factors - it offers cost-free content availability and technology solutions for bandwidth and content discovery. Star India COO Sanjay Gupta explains, "In India, bandwidth issues are very common. So, with Hotstar, which has been developed specifically for mobile, we resolved these by making it possible to operate even at as low as 50 kbps. If the bandwidth decreases, the app will start providing only audio, but the streaming will not stop."
He adds that in a market like India's, another challenge is to make the content available in a way that it is easy to discover. Unlike in the US or the UK, Indian shows run into hundreds of episodes and there is no concept of seasons. Hence, often the library interface may look cluttered to the user. To counter this, the content on the app has been divided into chapters, making it easier for the user to browse and view specific episodes from a particular show.
Additionally, the app development team has made sure that Hotstar can run on as many as 7,000 variations of operating systems and screen sizes, considering the proliferation of handsets in the country.
It was Star India's bet on the mobile medium that led to the development and launch of the app. Gupta says, "In the US, the average content consumption per day is close to six hours while in India, it is three hours. The main reason why it's so high in the US is that there are multi-TV homes there and everyone watches stuff according to individual choice. In India, we still have a majority of single-TV homes, and television viewing is not an individual exercise."
Mobile phones, on the other hand, are accessible and hence can be used as the second or third screen in a household. "As content creators then, mobile becomes a very important medium. We believe that mobile can be used to unlock content consumption in India in a dramatic way," says Gupta.
He asserts that instead of eating into television, the app's success has expanded the scope of content consumption. Citing the example of the India-Pakistan World Cup tie on February 15, Gupta say that mobile will further help unlock content consumption. The India-Pakistan match in question got ratings of 14.8 TVR and a reach of 288 million on television and 25 million views on digital.
"While it is too early to observe any user trends, I can say that most of the time spent is on dramas. People now have the option to catch their preferred shows while travelling or on the move otherwise. How this trend shapes up will also depend on how telcos mould their data plans and charges because right now, that is the only cost incurred while using the app," says Gupta. A user may end up using Rs 60 to Rs 100 worth of data per hour of viewing video content using mobile internet.
Star India had launched starsports.com a couple of years back where it experimented with the pay model on online content consumption.
However, the network realised that while sports aficionados did not mind paying for content, there was resistance to using a credit card for transactions. Thus, Hotstar was launched as a free service. While Hotstar will provide sports and entertainment, starsports.com will continue to exist as the mutli-sport platform from Star India.
Since it is a free app, Hotstar's monetisation will depend solely on advertising and this is where Gupta sees scope for innovation. Currently, the app is equipped to provide ad space in the pre-roll (before the video) or mid-roll (between the video). Considering it has managed to have a TSV of 24 minutes on the back of drama content, advertisers would find it an attractive avenue for advertising online.
"Online advertising, globally, has seen little innovation. Markets like the US and the UK are subscription-driven and the need to innovate with advertising has never been felt. Here we have the scope to innovate and when the time comes, we will do so," says Gupta.
Apart from television shows and sports content, Hotstar also has movies and news related to Bollywood for its users.