Hotstar to YouTube, how Sanjay Gupta stayed in the OTT game and aced it

Topics Hotstar | YouTube | OTT users

Sanjay Gupta will join Google as country manager early next year
Everyone had warned Sanjay Gupta that it would be a fatal blunder to set up an over-the-top channel in the country. “Whoever heard of the idea said to me  — how can a traditional broadcaster like Star TV run a digital platform, which is a completely different ball game? It would be a disaster,” he says.  

But Gupta proved the industry wrong. With an active subscriber base of over 200 million, Hotstar has become a formidable player in India’s OTT space and is way ahead of any of its competitors (the nearest is Zee 5 with 75 million active viewers) in the traditional broadcasting arena.

After 10 years as country manager of Star & Disney India, Gupta stepped down on Friday to join Google as its country head. Ironically, his new gig will be in a company that owns a platform with which Star has been locking horns for years. With over 265 million active subscribers, Google’s YouTube is numero uno amongst OTT platforms in India — although Hotstar does beat it during some cricket matches, when it notches up 300 million viewers.

Gupta is taking over the post that was lying vacant after Rajan Anandan left Google to join Sequoia Capital.

Gupta is the second top honcho from the Star stable who will now play a key role in the country’s growing digital OTT business space.  A few months ago, Ajit Mohan, who headed operations for Hotstar, took over as managing director at Facebook.

India has been an outlier in the digital OTT space, which has been dominated in most parts of the world by Google and Facebook. Both are now being headed in India by ex-Star executives who built Hotstar from scratch and based it primarily on advertising revenues. This model is very different from, say, Netflix, which is mostly based on subscriptions. 

Yet the OTT models that Gupta and Mohan will now oversee are different from that of Hotstar, which produces and controls its own content and leverages the content with its broadcasting channels. For example, YouTube is an open platform for creators of content whose efforts at monetising are supported by the platform depending on their reach and watch time. As a senior executive of the company once said, YouTube is “a supermarket at the confluence of creators, advertisers and consumers”. Even broadcasters use the platform to drive viewership on its OTT as well as TV channels.

Facebook, on the other hands, is looking to expand its user base by focusing on social video, a category that has grown tremendously over the past couple of years because of the rising popularity of apps like TikTok. In fact, the recently introduced “Facebook Watch”, a combination of original programming and user-generated content, has caught on in India.  Managing director Ajit Mohan says, “We will leverage the power of communities, friends and families coming together around video and, therefore, in the future we see us around social media ... making it easier for communities to watch together and for fans to engage together.”         
Needless to say, both Gupta and Mohan will have to battle Hotstar for digital advertising money. And that is why they are racing to woo more subscribers into the fold as well as increase the engagement time — a key pointer to attract advertisers. Facebook, for instance, boasts of phenomenal engagement time: It has over 328 million subscribers in India; add to that 400 million users on WhatsApp who also share videos, and the opportunities for monetization are immense. Despite its subscription drive, Hotstar does not earn more than 3-4 per cent of its revenues from it. The bulk of its revenues is still dependent on advertising. Gup¬ta and Mohan will also have to negotiate growing regulatory challenges. 

Google has a lot on its plate, with the CCI probing allegations of misuse of its dominance in the market and also of misinformation being spread through YouTube. In March, YouTube launched an information panel, informing users about possible fake news pieces when they search for controversial topics

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