By: Yohan P Chawla
Hotstar, the OTT platform that really and truly created the category of Digital Content Platforms in India, has finally announced its foray into original content on a scale not seen in any OTT platform announcements so far. The platform, which claims 15 CR viewers every month, unveiled mega original content plans with its new initiative, Hotstar Specials. Which, reportedly, will cost Rs 120 Crore.
The big investment in quality content is only half the story; the bigger half, if one may coin that term, is the list of super storytellers who will creatively collaborate with the Star India content team which, to my mind, has been the nation’s best content team over the past 25 years, if you consider consistency of great delivery.
The storytellers that Star India has signed up with to create Hotstar Specials, includes Shekhar Kapur, Neeraj Pandey, Kabir Khan, Nikkhil Advani, Ram Madhvani, Venkat Prabhu, Sudhir Mishra, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Nagesh Kukunoor, Mahesh Manjrekar, Vishal Furia, Rohan Sippy, Debbie Rao, Sharad Devarajan and Salman Khan.
The content these creative superstars will create for Hotstar in the language of their specialisation, will be dubbed in six other languages so that ’most everyone can enjoy it in a language of their choice on Hotstar.
Hotstar Specials will provide a wide tapestry of shows, initially across drama – with the first show to appear by end-March-early-April this year – and ultimately across multiple genres.
What’s more, in the evening, Star laid out a massive red carpet for some of the biggest stars from the creative fraternity who included many of the above and others like Mahesh Bhatt, Mukesh Bhatt, the pre-eminent film maker Govind Nihalani and Television production house heads like Markand Adhikari, Sid Tewary and many more, to celebrate the announcement of the Hotstar Specials launch.
“Star has always challenged conventions and been at the forefront of content reinvention in India,” said Sanjay Gupta, MD, Star India. “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 line up of talent who are headlining our first set of Hotstar Specials.”
Star India President & Hindi GEC Head Gaurav Bannerjee said, “Films are made for theatres, and Television shows are made for TV. But Hotstar Specials will provide unique and never-before storytelling opportunities, unrestricted by episode durations or format restrictions, to be created exclusively for the OTT platform Hotstar.”
For instance, Hotstar would give the creators the freedom to create episodes of various durations as per the requirement of the story, and not restrict them to force-fit every episode into a 22 or a 44 minute narrative (the TRT or total running time of a for-television episode made for a half- or one-hour duration). Of course, to extend the on-the-go and at-convenience viewing on OTT, Hotstar Specials will make all episodes of a series available for binge watching.
These episodes, created especially for the OTT platform, would remain exclusive to Hotstar, even though they might appear on television in due course.
Hotstar specials will be made available for all premium subscribers and the platform is working on a fresh pricing scheme with the added offering for consumers. 20% of the eyeballs on the platform are because of the premium sports content which include VIVO IPL, Pro Kabbadi, Badminton, Hockey, ISL and the other international football leagues. The remaining 80% of the viewership is contributed by drama and films on the platform, hence the inclination to create drama specials.
Gaurav Banerjee said, “Hotstar has become a primary drama-watching screen for a large number of people in the country. For instance, the Star Plus show, Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, just completed 10 years of its broadcast on television, but a lot of its consumption happens on Hotstar, where we have a dedicated set of fans who come every day to watch the Yeh Rishta episode on Hotstar. We feel people will watch our Hotstar Specials across all connected devices such as smart TVs and Fire sticks, but that would happen at scale at a slightly later stage. Initially the consumption will happen on smartphones and small screens.”
Hotstar has strategically planned the release of these specials starting end-March-beginning-April, when the platform will have millions of people glued to the 11th edition of the Indian Premiere League. Last year 10.3 million people watched IPL concurrently on Hotstar, so one doesn’t expect anything less than that this time around. Another major property that will act as a magnet for the platform will be the final season of Game of Thrones and a lot of viewers would want to see the exciting stories adjacent to the series.
But with Hotstar Specials, the original content game is now well and truly afoot. Netflix has already burnt more than 20 billion US dollars on original content, but with Star India and the large captive base of OTT subscribers and followers Hotstar has, one expects the network’s content and marketing teams will work to create greater salience for this offering.
The flow of massive sports and international television series that Star India evidently plans to use to give the first Hotstar Original a great audience-flow, should definitely help the new series. After all, more and more consumers prefer watching shows on OTT — mainly because of the convenience of a no-appointment-based watching, which means they can watch their favourite piece of content as and when they like, untethered to traditional television sets and airing timings.
Another big draw would be for some viewers who have been completely put off by the ‘operatic violence’ and oft-times disgustingly graphic depictions of vulgarity, sex and obscenity, even when not essential for the story on OTT platforms. Two recent examples that readily come to mind are Netflix’s Sacred Games and Amazon Prime’s Mirzapur, which had many instances of not-essential graphically vulgar dialogue and video. And the less said of the just essentially vulgar and shocking storylines of ALT Balaji’s Gandi Baat, the better. Fortunately, Hotstar has always practiced restraint in such depictions. As Banerjee said, “As a responsible company, we are conscious of these things, and if at all an episode or series will require (by story) to make an exception, we will make sure that before the consumer watches the episode, they are well informed about the fact.”
So Hotstar Specials is definitely a mega announcement that augurs extremely well for quality content that can be consumed with entertainment, and with very little or no cringing due to embarrassment. How much pleasure it gives to the Star Network depends upon how the series is received by the viewers. But given Star India’s prowess on content creation and marketing and promotions, plus, most important, the creative superstars helming each series, this should be 120 crore rupees well spent.