As Netflix and Amazon Prime go all out to capture the burgeoning video streaming market in India a country of 450 million internet users a homegrown ‘challenger’ has emerged as the champion.
Hotstar, the two-year-old on-demand video platform from the house of Rupert Murdoch-owned Star TV, has crossed 100 million downloads on Google Play Store. If we count App Store downloads, it would go up to 130 million or so.
To give that some perspective: Netflix took nine years to reach 75 million subscribers. Even after its global launch, it could add only 11 million subscribers. Amazon Prime Video, on the other hand, clocked 63 million subscribers at the end of 2016.
Unlike Netflix and Amazon Prime, Hotstar is not a subscription-only service. There are swathes of free content on the platform. Hence, in some cases a download is as good as a subscription.
There’s something Hotstar is doing really right and that is live sports content a huge driver of video viewership in India. Reports estimate that more Indians watch the English Premier League on Hotstar than on TV.
Hotstar had timed its launch to perfection during the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2015. It managed to secure 10 million downloads and 25 million viewers in a month in cricket-crazy India. It became one of the fastest-growing OTT services in the world.
Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, however, have given sports programming a total miss and they might live to regret that.
Last September, Amazon was reportedly bidding for the digital rights of the Indian Premier League (IPL), an insanely popular cricket league that currently gives Hotstar a viewership of over 100 million. The bidding has been postponed due to IPL’s court troubles.
At the launch of Prime Video in India last December, a top Amazon official told Mashable, We know that India is a sports, sports, and more sports country. We are evaluating various partnerships but nothing official yet.
Both Netflix and Amazon Prime have struck exclusive deals with Bollywood stars and film studios, but that may not be enough. ‘Go local’ is a fine strategy but no sports nearly nullifies that.
Hotstar, on the other hand, is a rich repository of live as well as catch-up sports content. It also houses programming from Star TV’s wide network of 60-plus channels, besides owning films in multiple Indian languages. There are also distribution deals for Fox, ABC and HBO shows.
And all this comes at a price of Rs 199 ($3) per month. It essentially means that a subscriber can watch seasons of Game of Thrones, hundreds of movies, thousands of local television episodes and hours and hours of live sport on Hotstar for just three dollars a month.
In contrast, a Netflix subscription in India starts at Rs 500 ($7.73) per month and goes up to Rs 800 ($12.37).
Amazon Prime seems to be doing better than Netflix on the pricing front. A Prime subscription (which bundles free shipping, video and cloud storage) comes for Rs 499 ($7.71) a year. And the first month is a free trial, like on Hotstar.
But, there is no free content on Netflix or Amazon, something that can be watched without subscribing ot logging in. Hotstar, on the other hand, operates on the freemium (free+ premium) model that has been a total winner.
Live sport on Hotstar is largely free. Cricket, which actually drives the massive sports viewership, is entirely free. Desi television shows and a majority of old and new Indian movies are free too. But American television serials, Hotstar Originals, and a handful of Bollywood/Hollywood films come at a premium.
Hotstar’s only challenge right now is to create a premium viewing experience, where Netflix seems to be scoring at the moment. Hotstar users have complained of excessive buffering and long lags in live programming. Fixing them will augur well now that it plans to go global.
Back in the early 90s, Rupert Murdoch had revolutionized the satellite television space in India by acquiring Star TV. And now, Hotstar, its millennial product, is at the forefront of the video streaming boom in India.
Netflix and Amazon are playing catch-up for now. But for how long?