As the world enters a new year, Hotstar—India’s most popular streaming platform—is hit with a strong sense of deja vu. Sanjay Gupta, the current managing director of its parent entertainment channel Disney India-Star, is leaving the company after a decade to take up the role of head of search engine giant Google India in 2020.
Gupta’s exit—announced in November—mirrors the departure of Ajit Mohan, ex-Hotstar CEO and a direct report to Gupta, who moved to social media leader Facebook to run its India business in January 2019. Google reached out to Gupta after losing its long-time India head Rajan Anandan to VC firm Sequoia in August—Anandan moved to manage Sequoia’s early-stage startup program, Surge. (We’ve written about Surge before.)
But why would Google look to Hotstar for a replacement? It’s doing something right. At least in terms of video consumption.
Hotstar’s quick rise to 300 million monthly viewers, since its launch over five years ago, has made it a prime target for poaching by deep-pocketed global tech companies in search of talent. Mohan, for one, is said to be earning around $2 million plus stock options at Facebook, according to a report from The Times of India. That’s “significantly” more than what he previously made, the report claims. It is not clear what Gupta’s salary at Google will be.
Gupta’s impending move to Google also comes at a pivotal time for the US technology giant in India. YouTube, Google’s video platform, is the company’s crowning jewel in the country—its largest and fastest growing market with 275 million active users—but its run as a more-or-less monopoly has been legitimately challenged. Not only by Hotstar, but also the rapid rise of TikTok, the vertical, short-duration video app from China’s ByteDance, the world’s most valuable startup with a reported label of $76 billion.
YouTube, to take a larger bite out of India’s growing internet market, needs a better local focus in India. With an estimated 451 million active internet users—second in the world to China—and 829 million more to come in the coming year, according to a report from Cisco, India makes for an awful lot of eyeballs and advertising dollars up for grabs.
Enter Sanjay Gupta.
Gupta is credited with pivotal deals for Star, which include its sports programming and the launch of Hotstar itself. Experience he could bring to YouTube. A former executive with consumer goods retailer Hindustan Unilever and telco Bharti Airtel, Gupta is known for his sales prowess and strong relationships with content companies and telecoms business.
But where YouTube gains Gupta, Hotstar is short of another leading executive. But that may not be an impediment, according to a senior executive in the digital entertainment industry.