BY: Yohan P Chawla
Hotstar is all set to release its new Hotstar Special, Hostages, the Indian adaptation of the Israeli show Hostages. While the adaptation formula has worked very well for Hotstar, with Criminal Justice, the platform has created a good variety of originals with two adaptations, one docudrama and one Indian original in the bouquet of Original content offerings.
Hostages is directed by Bollywood director Sudhir Mishra with a caste which includes Ronit Roy, Tisca Chopra and others. The show will be available to the subscribers of Hotstar for binge watching from 31st May, 2019.
Medianews4u caught up with Nikhil Madhok, EVP and Head of Original Content, Hotstar to understand Hotstar’s special plans, the new show and a lot.
How has been the response for earlier three Hotstar Specials? What sort of numbers has Hotstar seen interms of viewership and subscriptions?
We are very happy with the response to the first three Hotstar Specials. There were two important things that we were looking to do, one was taking a leap towards the quality of storytelling is concerned and other was also to use Hotstar Specials to build our subscription business. I think from a quality point of view, the viewer response that we got weather it is direct feedback or their behaviour on the platform and comments on the social media, all the three releases have landed quite well.
Criminal Justice ofcourse has been an out and out hit. So we are happy in particular but the other two have also done very well for us and it has also made a big improvement in our subscription numbers. We don’t share the number but if you would ask me about 2 months we are in a very happy position.
What growth has the platform seen in its MAUs?
I think as of end of April our monthly active users have grown to 300 million from a 150 million which includes IPL as well. It is a platform which is growing every month and it becomes little difficult to attributes its growth to a particular thing. It’s all the things News, Hotstar Specials, IPL and Jio TV content. All this growth happened from February 2019.
How did the VIP subscription plan work for Hotstar?
Very well. It’s just two months old, and started extremely well. I would say by the end of two months we were very happy how it has performed. It’s really creating a subscription market in this country with the proposition of live sports, subscription all TV content before TV at an attractive price of rupees 365 per annum. I think this is the service which will become a bridge between people who watch content for free and people who want to start paying and then top up their Hotstar Premium account which has all the benefits plus the mega English library as well.
Was it a strategic decision to release Hostages along with the ICC Cricket World Cup?
The reason we introduced Hotstar Specials,just before the IPL was because we felt that, in the first four months of the year between March to July; first is the IPL and then the World Cup. We have so many people from 150 million MAUs to 300 million MAUs on the platform, by far the largest OTT in the country that this is the best time to launch a new initiative to inform people about it, give them a chance to come and sample different shows. So the first 3 shows have benefited on the back of the IPL and Hostages is going to benefit and ride on the back of the World Cup.
Speaking of the ICC Cricket World Cup… What are Hotstar’s plans for the same? Should we expect any record breaking viewership numbers?
I think the World Cup is one tournament Indians are concerned with no matter where you are you will find a way to watch it. It is an unmissable one. So we are very confident that we will do well, and I think what the IPL has shown us is that live streaming is very difficult thing to do and in the IPL finale we got a viewership record of 18.6 million people watching it together which is a phenomenal global record much bigger than anybody else.
So the product robustness is very important and the IPL has shown us that not only the right product or engineering but also the greatness of the product for live streaming is of extreme importance.We feel very confident and are ready for the World Cup. Will it break records?Well, obviously the last World Cup happened 4 years ago, so it’s not strictly comparable then to now, and life has changed, the platform is so much bigger so of course we will get a much bigger viewership.
But more than the viewership record our endeavour is always on how can we create a great viewing experience for the viewers,so they should feel like there is something special that has happened in terms of the quality of streaming and Hotstar’s additional offerings. For example, last year in IPL we introduced the watch and play game. This year in the watch and play game we introduced a social function where you can play with your friends, comment and chat. In the ICC Cricket World Cup we will introduce more features which will make whole process more social but you should wait for the announcement.
Okay, coming back to the original content in the OTT space. Don’t you feel criminal thrillers are bombarding the OTT scene? Isn’t there too much of edge-of-the-seat content for viewers to watch? Is it going overboard or you see it people actually wanting and that’s why this type of content is doing well?
Let me separate that in two parts. One is the shows which are high on crime and second are shows which want make people want to binge watch. The second aspect of the show wanting people to binge watch was actually a good thing. We want all shows to be binge watched.
I think on the first part that you know in the initial few shows there are lot of shows which are heavy on violence come on the OTT space, I do tend to agree to that and that’s why I think see the stuff that we have done weather it is starting with a sport docudrama or a Criminal Justice which is look into Indian criminal system or City of Dreams which is a political drama or now Hostages. These are not violent shows, the themes are different.Hopefully in a few weeks we will launch The Office which is a comedy show so the palette of Hotstar has tried and the variety is much better and focus on just going after a particular dark and violent genre is not where we are going to, we may have a few shows there but the range is really broad and interesting.
How did the story come about for Hostages? I know it’s an adaptation of the Israeli show… But what’s your understanding of the audience? Have you got a better response for City of dreams which is Hotstar’s Indian Original or Criminal Justice which is an adaptation? What trend do you see here?
As far as the viewers are concerned, for them every story is original. There will be a very tiny proportion of the audience who would have watched the English adaptation of The Night Off. So for majority of the people both Criminal Justice and Hostageswill be original series.
I think for us in the first couple of yearsthere will be a mix of shows which are created here and a few which are formatadaptations because I think if the story is good and you have seen that it has worked globally. There is something about that story that connects emotionally with the people and it would definitely like to tell that story as long as it is relevant for the country. There are some International shows which are so local to that country of origin that it becomes difficult to Indianize them.
For Hotstar where is more emphasis laid on? Production quality or contentand story? Or it’s a mix of both?
It’s a good question. No one has ever asked me this before.
I would say it’s a mixture because the first and foremost content must be strong, storytelling should be something which gets people completely hooked. Sometimes when your storytelling is good, people forgive the production values up and down because they are so invested in the character on the other hand if you have great production design but your story doesn’t hold then it sort of fades away. We want to get a great story but we want to make sure that there is a minimum quality upgrade that Hotstar Specials provides.
What’s the regional content plan for Hotstar Specials?
All Hotstar Specials we have launched till date including Hostages is available in 7 different languages, original language plus 6 dubs so people can watch it in their preferred choice of language from anywhere in the country.
There are also some shows in the pipeline which we have been commissioned which are not originally for Hindi probably in Tamil or Telegu and I think those shows you should start seeing it in the Hotstar towards the end of this year.
How many more Hotstar Specials are we going to see in this year?
I will say from the time we started in March. Our ambition is launch one show every 4 to 6 weeks and hopefully towards early 2020 it should be more than a launchin a month.