STAR India Chief Talks hotstar, Disruption


MUMBAI: Speaking at the FICCI Frames conference in Mumbai, Uday Shankar, CEO of STAR in India, talked about plans to take the company’s OTT service hotstar to the international market over the next few months, as well as addressed the disruptions taking place in the local landscape and how broadcasters need to respond.

Shankar opened his address by referencing a conversation with a young assistant about the state of the local media business. “On the surface, it does seem that not much has changed in the last several years except for some incremental growth or decline depending on which vertical you are talking about. Cable TV continues to struggle—struggling to improve its business case, struggling to improve its talent and technology quotient and above all to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world. DTH, which set out to revolutionize distribution, increasingly seems to be intent on locking its destiny inside an isolated box in a networked world. Even the story of digitalization that started six years ago remains incomplete.”

Shankar noted that even the “advertising revolution” of the 1990s that brought new brands to Indian television “doesn’t seem to be breaking new ground in terms of what I call brand revolution 2.0. Content creators, a community that I belong to, generally seem to be caught in a time warp with the same themes playing in a loop again and again. Cursed destinies, rebirth and revenge and deference to elders in public while bickering in private pretty much sums up what rules national entertainment.”

Shankar noted that “beneath the surface of entrenched stagnation, quietly—almost stealthily—there is a gigantic disruption playing out. A disruption that’s shifting the ground from beneath our feet.”

This disruption includes All India Bakchod, a group of satirists making waves in Indian media. “As a group, these four youngsters made more headlines last year than probably all of the creative community put together.” AIB has a popular show on STAR India’s online streaming service hotstar.

Shankar said of hotstar: “The most talked about launch in Indian M&E last year was not a new channel, or a new newspaper or a new production house—actually it was a mobile app that had the gall to ask consumers to go solo. A call fundamentally at odds with the concept of content consumption in this country, that believes that the entire family watches TV together in the living room.”

STAR India’s hotstar app has been downloaded more than 50 million times. “More people watched the English Premier League on hotstar last year than on television. Even for a mass sport like cricket, in the larger cities, hotstar’s watch time is now starting to reach 50 percent of television.”

Shankar said that STAR is now positioning hotstar as the “first global media and entertainment product born out of India. The numerous and affluent South Asian diaspora which for the longest time has been frustrated by the lack of access to its favorite content will be able to watch cricket, movies and drama through hotstar.”

The STAR India chief went on to reference the tectonic shifts taking place in the media industry while traditional television is in a state of stagnation. “Even though this change is happening faster than anything we have ever seen, our approach towards it seems to be one of incrementalism. I see an even more obsessive desire to protect the antiquated business models that we have painstakingly built over the years and that technology and the youth are decimating like a bull-dozer rolling over glass bottles.”

Companies have two choices, Shankar said: “We can either continue living in denial, hide back in our artificial walled gardens, watching as the bricks crumble down one by one, or we can arm ourselves with the same weapons that our challengers possess, and venture forth into battle, sometimes even against the same businesses that we have created. Change or perish.”

The power of stories endures, Shankar said, but, “No longer is the story enough, within the commoditized consistency of experience. Technology and creativity are coming together to enhance the experience literally, almost daily. Indians long used to a life of having to start all over again if the power went for a minute are rapidly getting used to being asked if we want to resume where we left off? The new screens have once again highlighted the importance of the story but they have introduced the centrality of the experience at the same time. Design and engineering can no longer be divorced from the story—this is a radical departure from everything that we were taught all these years…. Clearly, we need to change the lens with which we look at talent. In this new world neither technology nor talent will be limited by geographical boundaries. The best engineers are as likely to be in Berlin as in Bangalore. We already know that [the] best designers and animators for Hollywood no longer need to be there—because they are already in Goregaon and let’s not forget our very own Priyanka Chopra, who is the first home-grown star of a truly global show. We are looking at a truly global world. But this global world has no patience for traditional forms of reverence. At STAR, we are grappling with this every day—when we inducted culturally diverse talent we had to create space for that cultural diversity to exist. But that’s easier said than done. Technology going global, talent going global also means adoption of a new tradition.”