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General News Hotstar to up the ante in 2019 with launch of a slew of original web shows
MUMBAI: Star India’s over the top (OTT) platform Hotstar has decided to up the ante on the original content front. The platform has launched Hotstar Specials to roll-out big-bang web shows to take on the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, ALTBalaji, ZEE5, and SonyLIV.

For Hotstar, the original web content has not been a focus area so far. However, that is about to change with Hotstar Specials. While the platform didn’t specify the number of shows it will create, it has revealed partnerships with 15 top-notch film producers to create original content.

The original web content will be behind the paywall. However, a few initial episodes will be offered for free to enable sampling. The first area of focus will be drama and there are various dimensions to it that Hotstar finds interesting.

The first set of content will start rolling out this quarter. The 15 content creators with whom partnerships have been formed includes filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, Kabir Khan, Nikkhil Advani, Ram Madhvani, Nagesh Kukunoor, Venkat Prabhu and actor Salman Khan.

The aim is to grow the amount of time that people spend on the platform and to also bring in new consumers. Content will be created in seven languages along with dubbing in other languages.

Star India MD Sanjay Gupta noted that the broadcaster has always challenged conventions and have been at the forefront of content reinvention in India. He mentioned that when Hotstar launched in 2015, the idea was to build a very meaningful destination for consumers and today around 15 crore people watch Hotstar every month.

“Today we feel that the time is right to take the next leap from a Star perspective and take the next leap in storytelling and tell the biggest stories that India can tell and reach out to hopefully a billion screens as we move forward in the next three to four years,” Gupta stated.

“With the mobile phone leading an explosion in the number of screens in the country we feel that our content also needs to reinvent and boldly move forward. With Hotstar Specials we hope to create the biggest Indian stories delivered to a billion screens. To bring this vision alive we are proud to partner with a stellar lineup of talent who are headlining our first set of Hotstar Specials.”

Star India president, head Hindi GEC Gaurav Banerjee said that Hotstar users spend 75-80% of the time on the platform in watching entertainment content.

He also stated that the digital format is not constrained unlike movies (two to three hours in length) or television (30-minute episodes). The aim of Hotstar Specials is to be mass in scale and not simply play in a niche area. The projects have been in the works over past six to eight months.

“A lot of consumption of drama in this country has been defined by rules that we first set. In 2000-2001 we created the big fiction appointment days. Now with digital, we have the opportunity to change the rules and make it about what the consumers want. They can watch all the episodes at one go or they can choose to watch one and then come back later to watch the others,” Banerjee stated.

Hotstar Specials will allow Star to experiment with content that TV does not allow. Storytellers can come from any part of the country. The aim is to take whatever is created across the country and across languages.

“There are three to four things that we are trying to do. The first is that this will be digital in every manner of creation and curation. Secondly, in terms of ambition we don’t want these stories to be niche. We don’t want them to be narrow. We don’t want just adults to watch them. Third, we create an environment where the best storytellers do their best work with us. A lot of hard time and resources have been out by us in getting things right. This is the broad spectrum where we see things play out,” Banerjee averred.

When asked if Hotstar is self-censoring content, Banerjee said that the platform needs to be and is careful about what is put out there. “We think of ourselves as being a big mass platform and that does not change with this foray. Every piece of content that we seek to curate we want it to be viewed by large families. But if there is something that we create that is not in that domain then it should be made very clear to consumers.”

Hotstar head original content Nikhil Madhok said that the definition of original content for Hotstar is different. The big question for the platform is that as the number of screens explodes how can it up its content game.

He noted that the range and formats of drama series that will be launched under the Hotstar Specials initiative will be pretty broad. Hotstar is also looking at digital-first movies going forward and there will be a variety of themes.

On the technology front, Madhok noted that Hotstar brought the backend in-house in September. Earlier, Hotstar had been launched with external partners. Now the backend technology work including things like coding has been brought in-house and now there are more engineers than storytelling people.

The user experience, he noted, will only improve and get better going forward. He added that it is a misconception that Hotstar is primarily used to watch cricket and sports content. In fact, drama and movies have a huge consumption on the platform.

“While sports play an important role in the content consumption mix led by the IPL but it is not the only driver. Hotstar has added news and this will be important keeping in mind the General Elections,” he noted.

Airtel Digital HD Recorder / Kerala Vision Digital TV
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