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We have created a false binary that digital will take over TV: Uday Shankar

On Tuesday, Hotstar released their India Watch Report 2019 that identified the new behaviours of consumers on digital platforms defying commonly held beliefs about consumption trends on OTT platforms. Uday Shankar, President, The Walt Disney Company APAC and Chairman, Disney-Star India was interviewed by Faye D’Souza erstwhile Executive Editor of Mirror Now.

Shankar explained how the habit of consuming long form content on handheld devices did not exist just 5 years ago when they were building Hotstar for launch to coincide with the 2014 ICC World Cup. He said the world was a different place, access to data was limited and the number of smartphone devices was far less.

“People believed they were paying for online content because they were paying for data” was something that the Star India team found through there data while building the Hotstar platform. That largely led to the decision to launch a freemium business model.

Hotstar was trying to create a new habit, and to induce people to pay for content, when the ecosystem was not evolved would have been premature, he reasons. But today, the numbers speak volumes about the shift that is happening in the country, he observed. With 700 million reach on TV and 200 million reach via Hotstar, consumers are seamlessly adopting new age devices.

The India Watch Report found that 63 per cent of Hotstar’s audience comes from the Tier 2 cities and beyond. Shankar used this data point to extrapolate that OTT is no longer an urban upscale phenomenon but has gone mass. The fact that women are contributing to 45 per cent of the consumption on the platform is indicative of a larger trend.

Shankar admitted that global players entering India will bring further headwinds of change in the OTT ecosystem. However, he dismissed that global content will drastically impact consumption trends. “Will that (global content) be the primary driver of content consumption? No that’s not happening. It is the same mainstream drama, sports and news that is going to drive consumption. Suddenly, this imagination we have cultivated from the barrage of market speak from global players that the consumer would morph into a different beast just because global content is available is false. The bulk of the content consumption will come from local content and local creativity.”

Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Marathi content consumption are the fastest growing regional languages on the Hotstar platform. Regional content is leading consumption and is growing much faster than English consumption. Another interesting insight from the report is that 35+ age group comprises of 80 per cent of viewers from Hotstar.

“The people of this country are way ahead. Yes, if anything new comes in, the youngsters are far more open to experimentation. But then it becomes mass. Streaming content has gone deep and mass across strata, region and geographies. That is why you have people older than 35 coming and watching content” Shankar pointed out.

Hotstar has spent crores of rupees in cultivating Cricket fever in India. Shankar stated that along with Cricket, Kabaddi and Football will be the future of sports entertainment. The first step in deepening the connect with Cricket fans had been localising the content now that they have hit a plateau, Shankar shared that the next thing that will unlock growth is interactivity (social and gaming) through the Hotstar platform.

“Cricket has become more accessible and that is the route everyone will have to go through” he added.

IPL 2019 reached 20 per cent more viewers through Hotstar. “People have become seamless when it comes to content consumption on TV and digital. Business models need to evolve with that changing behavior. What we are offering to advertisers is a combined solution that straddles across TV and digital. If viewers are moving from one screen to another why shouldn’t the advertiser have the same flexibility?” asked Shankar.

He admitted that measurement systems are not doing justice to advertisers. “We need to move on to a currency that is scientific, robust, transparent and gives complete visibility to shareholders.”

When D’Souza asked whether the sophisticated targeting will allow digital to take over television, Shankar said, “I don’t think digital will take over television. That is a false binary that we’ve created.”

The main difference between television and digital is that in the latter, the technology product is as much a part of the offering as the content, stated Shankar. So, developments in improving the tech and content synergy are happening on an ‘hourly basis’, he pointed out.

In the next 4-5 years, consumers in India will have access to a billion screens. Shankar predicted a quarter of those will be TV screens and three quarters will be digital. However, consumption trends for TV and digital will not be distinct but rather will overlap as the consumer will shift seamlessly between the two platforms.

 

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