Hotstar, Star India’s over-the-top (OTT) service, has been quietly readying itself for an international launch. According to a company executive familiar with the matter, the launch could happen as early as June or July this year.
The executive told The Ken that Star India is yet to finalise the regions for Hotstar’s international debut. Based on the response of its web/desktop version, South Asia minus India (Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), the Middle East (ME) and the United States of America (USA) have emerged as the company’s likeliest launchpads. Besides these markets, Hotstar is also expected to launch in high diaspora markets like the United Kingdom (UK), South Africa and Europe.
In November 2015, Hotstar launched a web version of its service, allowing users in the USA, the UK, Singapore, South Africa and Malaysia, among others, to watch some of its content on their desktops and mobile devices through Hotstar.com. The company is currently beta testing its international version and has already begun a soft rollout on Android in the ME, to 1% of its user base. This is a standard operating procedure among app-makers before the product is eventually released.
Hotstar’s global ambitions need context. They come at a time when the company has a lot going for it in India: A spike in user growth, with its foundations in two distinct phenomena. First, the domino effect in data pricing triggered primarily by Reliance Jio’s entry, and second, a behavioural shift among users who prefer to watch live sport (read cricket) on its mobile platform.
During its brief existence, Hotstar has succeeded in generating extensive word of mouth awareness. Not only in India but also internationally. As of January 2016, nearly 20% of its overall traffic came from international markets, with the top five countries/regions being Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the ME and the USA. Thanks to an increase in the Indian online video consumption pie, this number, the Hotstar executive says, would have gone down to approximately 5-10% by the end of 2016.
The Ken could not independently verify these numbers.
Once global, Hotstar is in line to become Twenty-First Century Fox’s flagship and standalone on-demand video product. And Twenty-First Century Fox, through the Fox Entertainment Group, owns 30% of the American on-demand video service Hulu.
Hotstar has put together a market activation team, which is working on its overseas efforts. Getting people to download the app, keeping them engaged and retaining them.
The move does not come as a surprise. In the past, both Twenty-First Century Fox and Star India executives have publicly declared their global ambitions.