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Hotstar set to launch sports subscription service

MUMBAI: Armed with a rich list of sports properties, Star India is planning to launch a sports subscription service on its over-the-top (OTT) platform Hotstar.

Hotstar has already rolled out its maiden premium service for English content. A premium sports service is set for launch in the next few months.

255px-James Murdoch“In India, Star’s groundbreaking Hotstar mobile video product recently crossed 60 million downloads and just launched a premium subscription tier, leveraging our exclusive rights to HBO originals, films and the Fox library. And over the next few months, the service will also include a premium sports offering,” 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch told analysts.

The premium subscription service featuring English content launched by Hotstar is available for Rs 199 per month. It features premium HBO shows including ‘Game of Thrones’ and the movie library of Fox. In fact, the sixth season of ‘Game of Thrones’ is available on Hotstar within minutes of its US airing.

Star India holds top-notch broadcast rights to cricket boards of India, England and Australia. It also has rights to telecast ICC matches, including the World Cups.

In football, Star holds rights to English Premier League (EPL) and Bundesliga. It also has rich repertoire of local sporting league rights including Pro Kabaddi League, Indian Super League, Indian Badminton League and Hockey India League. Additionally, it owns the digital rights to the Indian Premier League (IPL) globally excluding US.

Uday-Shankar01The potential of a sports subscription service could be gauged from Star India CEO Uday Shankar’s recent statement at FICCI Frames 2016 that EPL on Hotstar had outstripped viewership on TV.

“EPL was watched by more people on Hotstar than on television. Even for a mass sport like cricket, in the larger cities, Hotstar’s watch time is now starting to reach 50% of television. I urge you to reflect on the potential of that statistic,” he had stated.

21st Century Fox, which has hedged its bets on the Indian market, is investing heavily in the digital business. The sports business under Star Sports is also witnessing heavy investments.

“We have been investing as you all know in the Indian business, but the sports investment in particular and in the digital investment with Hotstar, and we will continue to do so. That said, the peak investment year is really behind us and actually this fiscal year in 2016, you will see it will have been strong growth for Star overall over the last year and we expect that to continue,” Murdoch noted.

In India, the audience watches soaps, dramas and sports since there is very little short-form video content, he further stated.

“The peaks in usage come not just from sports, but also from the availability of new scripted series. So we’re actually seeing pretty broad-based usage across that and something that’s pretty encouraging and reasonably long session times.”

Explaining the rationale behind keeping Hotstar as a free service on the whole, Murdoch said that the mobile data prices are high due to which content consumption on mobile is happening mainly through Wi-Fi.

“I think that’s going to continue to be a dynamic and that does put a constraint on pricing, which is why the core business in Hotstar is free. It’s just so many people can download and use, because it becomes quite expensive given the data tariffs,” he explained.

Murdoch said it was too early to comment on the scale of the OTT subscription service. “With respect to the premium subscription service that we just launched, I think it is more squarely in competitive dynamic with the Netflix, which just launched there. We wanted to have an attractive price for people, so it’s priced underneath where some of the other competitors are—but with some of the best premium international television in the world,” he said.

Netflix has three subscription slabs priced at Rs 500 for SD streaming, Rs 650 for HD streaming and Rs 800 for UHD streaming per month. Hotstar Premium, on the other hand, is priced at Rs 199 per month.

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