Star India gearing up to take Hotstar global

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Indian broadcaster Star India is reportedly planning to expand its popular streaming service Hotstar into international markets.

According to Indian press, Hotstar is being launched as a premium subscription service in the US and Canada for around $9.99 (Rs640) a month, ahead of a rollout in other territories. Star India chairman and CEO Uday Shankar told local business paper Mint: “We will launch [Hotstar] in a few international markets in the next couple of months.”

Shankar has been hinting at an international launch for the hugely successful streaming app for the past few years. But last week’s news that Star India has secured global TV and digital rights to the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket rights for the next five years makes the expansion more timely, if not downright urgent.

Hotstar has owned the Indian digital rights, along with the international TV and digital rights, to the IPL matches for the past two years, but sold the international rights on rather than exploiting them directly outside India.

Within India, the popularity of the competition is one of the factors that have propelled Hotstar to become the country’s leading streaming platform. According to a FICCI-KPMG report, Hotstar had 63 million active users in January 2017, compared to 9.5 million for Amazon Prime Video and 4.2 million for Netflix.

However outside India, Star India sold the international TV and digital rights to the IPL competition to Techfront for around $6.3m (Rs400m) per year. At that time, global streaming platforms were still in their infancy so the rights were not regarded as valuable as they are now.

In the recent bidding round, which covers five seasons of IPL from 2018 to 2022, Star India paid a whopping $2.55bn (Rs163bn) for global TV and digital rights, beating competitors including Sony Pictures Networks, which previously held the India TV rights, along with Facebook, Airtel and Reliance Jio.

Hotstar also streams film and TV content from Disney, Showtime and HBO, including Game Of Thrones, but doesn’t own international digital rights to most of this content. It also streams multi-lingual Indian programming from Star India’s bouquet of channels; Indian movies produced by sister company Fox Star Studios and other producers; and Hotstar originals.

Indian press also recently reported that Star India has invested $187m (Rs12bn) into subsidiary, Novi Digital Entertainment, which operates the Hotstar service, as it gears up to improve its technology and create more local content.