May 18, 2017 10:00 am JST

Hotstar scores big with its gamble on smartphone cricket

Hotstar's success is often attributed to its gamble that people would watch four-hour cricket matches on their smartphones. These events have turned into the service's "killer content."

But Chief Executive Ajit Mohan recalls how nobody was sure whether cricket, internet streaming and smartphones would grab anyone's attention. "There was a belief people would watch sports only on a large screen," he said.

Since Hotstar began live-streaming cricket matches for paying subscribers in the early part of last year, smartphone downloads of the company's app have quadrupled to over 200 million.

Enabling millions of people to simultaneously watch the same video stream has not been easy. "Scale is one of our big achievements," Mohan said. Earlier this year, more than 3 million smartphone users concurrently watched a game via Hotstar. "That is larger than the Super Bowl's simultaneous stream watchers," Mohan said, referring to the championship game of the NFL in the U.S.

But sports account for only 15% of Hotstar's total viewing hours. TV shows and movies make up the other 85%. The service offers live, delayed and archived sports matches, as well as new and old movies and TV shows, "all on a single platform, which I think is a unique model globally," Mohan said.

In India, mobile data used to be notoriously expensive, but that all changed in September when Reliance Industries' Jio launched a data services discount war. It ended up adding more than 100 million 4G subscribers in six months. Now that data plans are affordable, video is really catching on with subscribers, as Hotstar's accelerating user growth shows.

"Combining our efforts for the last two years with mobile carriers' efforts for the last six months, we are opening up a whole new category," Mohan said. Asked about the possibility of overseas expansion, Mohan replied, "There is nothing to share at this moment." That likely means he is thinking about it.

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