Analysts say sporting events and local content are proving crucial in bringing new users to video platforms and then keeping them online, two areas where international giants are struggling.
Hotstar owns streaming rights to the vast majority of cricket tournaments played in India and by the Indian cricket team. Its strong bet on cricket, the biggest sporting spectacle in the nation, was on display in late April, when 10.3 million viewers, a global record, watched the service to simultaneously view the final game of this year’s IPL tournament.
Last year, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and Yahoo had expressed interest in acquiring the digital streaming rights for IPL cricket tournament in India. Facebook was willing to pay north of $600 million for IPL’s digital rights, a bid it lost to Star India.
How India’s streaming market is projected to grow over the years. Numbers are in U.S. million dollars. Data: Media Partners Asia.
SonyLiv, which is exclusively streaming the FIFA World Cup in India, is observing a similar growth in its viewership. Each game is generating an average of 1 million concurrent views on the platform, Uday Sodhi, executive vice president and head of digital business at Sony Pictures Networks India, told CNBC. To put things in global perspective, Fox Sports said on Tuesday that the game between Mexico and Brazil had an average-minute online audience of 538,000, a new record for the network’s streaming service.
For their part, both Amazon and Netflix have also attempted to cash in on the popularity of cricket in India. The former released a fictional show with cricket as its central plot last year, while the latter is working on one. Amazon’s Subramaniam declined to comment on whether the company planned to invest in sports streaming.
Indians are showing a similar appetite for regional and original content. Alphabet’s YouTube, which had 225 million monthly active users in India late last year, witnessed a surge in demand for content in South Indian languages, according to Satya Raghavan who heads entertainment at the platform.
Following the launch of Reliance Jio, Hotstar saw new users searching the platform for vernacular content, Sidharth Jain, the former creative producer of Hotstar and a current consultant for several internet video services, told CNBC. Hotstar, which exclusively offers several shows from HBO, Showtime, ABC, and Fox in the country, also provides a host of TV shows in regional languages that it has borrowed from more than 55 channels operated by Star India.
The company has shifted its focus to aggressively scale regional catalog, Jain said. The vast majority of movies and shows on Hotstar are in Indian regional languages, according to data the company shared with CNBC.
According to analysts, international companies aiming to make a big impact in India should look beyond their standard playbook, and think more local — sooner than later. That is, the battle for users in the country’s nascent video streaming market is projected to get a lot tougher.
Last week, India’s conglomerate Times Internet acquired MX Player, a video app that works swiftly on dated and entry-level Android handsets, for $140 million. In a statement, Times Internet said the company intends to turn MX Player, used by 175 million users each month, into a streaming service.
Local production house Shemaroo, Chinese giant Alibaba, and Facebook are said to plan entries into the local streaming market soon, too. Eros Now, a service with more than 100 million users worldwide, is also gearing up to make big investments in the nation.