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Hotstar beefs up premium offering with CBS deal

MUMBAI: Star India-owned over the top (OTT) platform Hotstar is scaling up its premium subscription-based offering as it takes on global giants Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

After HBO, ABC and Fox shows, Hotstar has bolstered its premium offering by bringing the US cable brand Showtime to the country through a deal with US media conglomerate CBS.

The agreement will provide Hotstar Premium subscribers in India access to future Showtime series such as the new comedy ‘Smile’, the new limited series ‘Escape At Dannemora’, starring Oscar winners Benicio Del Toro and Patricia Arquette, and Golden Globe nominee Paul Dano, and the new show ‘Twin Peaks’. Also available to Hotstar Premium subscribers are hundreds of hours of series including ‘The Affair’, ‘Billions’, ‘Ray Donovan’ and the recently premiered, ‘I’m Dying Up Here’.

Hotstar today is the biggest OTT platform in India offering sports and entertainment content in multiple languages. While most of its content is free, the OTT platform is building a subscription model around premium content like English shows, Hollywood movies, international sports and local content including Bollywood/regional films and Cineplay, which showcases classics and contemporary stories from the theatre world presented in a cinematic fashion.

The premium service, priced Rs 199 a month, was rolled out in April 2016 on the back of HBO Original content like ‘Game of Thrones’. It has since been enriched with international sports content like EPL, Bundesliga, F1 and Tennis. Hotstar had also inked an SVOD deal with international studios Disney/ABC Studios to bolster its premium content. The premium service also includes Fox Studio content.

Comparatively, Netflix has three subscription plans in India priced at Rs 500, Rs 650 and Rs 800. Amazon Prime Video is available free to Amazon Prime subscribers for an annual fee of Rs 499. Amazon Prime is a customer loyalty programme that offers best offers and fast delivery of products to its subscribers. The Prime Video service comes complimentary with Prime subscription.

While Netflix has been slow on building local content, Amazon Prime Video has taken the Indian film market by storm by paying huge sums to producers to secure rights to stream the films ahead of their TV premiere. It has also lined-up 18 originals shows starting with ‘Inside Edge’.

Directed entirely by director David Lynch, ‘Twin Peaks’ is an 18-part limited event series that picks up 25 years after the inhabitants of a quaint north-western town were stunned when their homecoming queen Laura Palmer was shockingly murdered.

‘I’m Dying Up Here’ is an English comedy series starring Melissa Leo, RJ Cyler and Ari Graynor, and executive produced by Jim Carrey. The series explores the struggles of ‘making it big’ in the 1970s L.A. comedy scene.

Hotstar Premium now becomes the one of the few services in the world with exclusive content partnerships with the best global studios like Disney, Fox, HBO, and, now, Showtime.

“Over the last year, we have established Hotstar Premium as the most exciting destination for American TV shows and movies in India on demand. We have been continuously raising the bar on what is already the best streaming service for an Indian audience interested in international stories. The deal with CBS is in line with our strategy of bringing the best of new shows and movies from around the world to our Premium subscribers. Today, Showtime joins an exciting slate on Hotstar. It is clear that there is no equivalent service like this in India, or, frankly, anywhere in the world. It is clear that we are building Hotstar Premium as the most compelling subscription service that will showcase the best storytellers from around the world,” said Hotstar CEO Ajit Mohan.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Hotstar to bring critically-acclaimed programming from Showtime to Indian audiences. Thanks to this agreement and other partnerships with top platforms around the world, the footprint of the Showtime brand and programming continues to expand in the global marketplace,” said CBS Studios International president, CEO Armando Nunez.

Star India’s move in the premium offering space got a boost when it did a deal with HBO in December 2015. Star India got the rights to air on its TV channels and also stream on Hotstar HBO shows like ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Veep’, ‘Silicon Valley’ and ‘True Detective’. A few months after that deal in 2016, Hotstar launched a subscription service priced at Rs 199 a month. That launch was timed to coincide with the launch of the sixth season of ‘Game of Thrones’. The deal was enabled because HBO decided to shut down its channel HBO Defined in the country. It also helped that Turner which runs the flagship HBO channel decided that HBO’s shows did not fit into its India strategy.

Meanwhile, Hotstar also streams shows from ABC and Fox like ‘Last Man Standing’, ‘Modern Family’ and ‘American Horror Story’, though not all the shows streamed from them are in the premium category. Some are available for free. Hotstar has also benefited from the fact that Disney does not have its OTT service in the country.

As had been reported earlier by TelevisionPost.com, Hotstar garnered revenue of Rs 185.7 crore in FY16. Subscription revenue accounted for Rs 24.2 crore. More deals like the one with Showtime should certainly help the subscription revenue rise.

In the premium English space, there is Netflix, which offers many shows along with documentaries and some movies for Rs 599 a month. There is Amazon Prime Video, which, while offering original American shows like ‘Transparent’ along with a growing list of local content, has a much lower price point of Rs 499 a month in a bid to boost its e-commerce business. Hotstar’s price of Rs 199 is in the middle, with one difference being that some sports content like the EPL is also a part of the subscription mix.

Hotstar has a portfolio approach. “If you look at the scene globally, it is sports, high-end fiction content and catch-up TV that drive subscription. Hotstar is having a portfolio approach by having different buckets of content that appeal to different sets of subscribers. The clear aim is to catch them all,” a media analyst said.

The analyst also noted that the future of OTT platforms in the country will rest on subscription and how well they are able to monetise premium content. “Hotstar is focusing on having the best-in-class content, which is a good thing. Right now, some platforms are focusing on content and audience aggregation and have ads. Eventually, subscription is a must and for that English content is a must have.”

Meanwhile, for CBS, similar agreements for Showtime have been announced with Fox Networks Group in Asia, Canal+ Group in France, along with Sky UK, Germany and Italy, Bell Canada, Stan Australia, Movistar Spain and other output partners around the world.

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