STAR vs ZEE's aggressive battle for viewership is on OTT platforms now

Two of the country’s biggest media firms — ZEE Entertainment Enterprises (ZEEL) and STAR India — are competing aggressively for viewership in the digital space. The over-the-top (OTT) platforms of the two — Hotstar and ZEE5 — are ranked one and two in the pecking order, according to subscriber data. 


ZEE5 has a monthly active user (MAU) base of 41.3 million for September, according to its latest quarterly results. This is second to Hotstar, whose MAU stands at 150 million. While Hotstar’s subscriber base is over three-and-a-half times that of ZEE5’s, what is important is that the latter has pushed past players such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to No.2 spot. Industry estimates peg Netflix and Amazon Prime’s subscriber base at 5 million and 22 million, respectively.  

ZEE5 was launched only six months ago, replacing ZEEL’s DittoTV and OZEE OTT platforms. Subscribers of the latter were migrated to ZEE5, though industry sources say that the base was not huge.


Experts say ZEEL and STAR are using different tactics to approach the OTT market in India. Hotstar is banking on its sports streams, thanks to the consolidated rights to Indian cricket, Indian Premier League, and ICC tournaments that it holds for the next five years. ZEE5 is heavily skewed towards entertainment and lifestyle, offering content in 12 regional languages, including original shows and live TV channels.


On Tuesday, ZEEL revived its content-sharing deal with Reliance Jio, two months after pulling out all its shows from the operator’s platform over pricing issues. The firm had admitted this was done in keeping with the telco’s huge subscriber base, which was 227 million, pushing it to iron out differences with the latter. The new deal would see ZEEL provide 37 live TV channels and over 200,000 hours of video-on-demand content to Jio. ZEEL also has a content-sharing deal with Airtel and so has rival Hotstar (with both Airtel and Jio) for its sports feeds.


The two OTT platforms are also tying up with smartphone companies, offering to be bundled with new phone models, with e-tailers such as Flipkart (with Hotstar) and EZMall (with ZEE5), and with allied operators such as travel sites and hotel aggregators.


Hanish Bhatia, senior analyst, devices & ecosystems, Counterpoint Research, says, “The reason for the aggressive push into the OTT space is linked to the growing use of smartphones.”


TVs are stationary devices, more suitable for family watching while smartphones are non-stationary devices, suitable for individual and on-the-go entertainment. Quality content at minimal cost is also keeping audiences hooked.”