With 14 million downloads and a combined audience of 87 million unique users between Starsports.com website and its Hotstar app, it appears India’s sports-viewing has quietly turned the corner when it comes to digital usage.
“Success in the last two months has given us confidence that India is ready for a mobile app," says Ajit Mohan, head of digital, Star India, adding that the numbers recorded are the “highest ever aggregation of users for a sporting event on digital.”
More importantly, perhaps, is the assertion by Star that 60 brands and advertisers signed up with Hotstar. While Star declined to disclose ad revenues, an independent analyst said: "Star might have earned upwards of Rs 30 crore from advertising revenue across its digital platforms from the cricket world cup."
This analyst, who works with a broking firm, declined to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the press.
Says Star’s Mohan of advertisers: "The message that we hear from them is that they have found a place where they can back premium content.” He expects the viewership for the ongoing Pepsi Indian Premier League 2015 to reach over 100 million views via Hotstar alone.
Hotstar was launched on February 1, just two weeks before the World Cup.
Star also estimates that the World Cup, where India was eliminated in the semi-finals, generated 340 million video views within India, setting some new single-match records.
With the rising number of smartphone users in India, the growth in digital viewership appears to have reached an inflection point. According to a study by networking company Cisco Systems in February, India had 140 million
smartphone users in 2014, and this is expected to quadruple to 650 million by 2019.
“Mobile will be the defining medium for digital media” predicts Jehil Thakkar, head of media and entertainment at KPMG in India.
“There are still 100 million people who (now) have the ability to watch videos,” on their phones in India, estimates Star’s Mohan.
Hotstar’s performance isn’t a true reflection of the entertainment content being consumed on digital platforms in India.
"Star has really put its weight behind Hotstar by giving premium content (live sports) free to consumers. Also, its strategy of launching just ahead of the World Cup has worked as is evident from its initial traction,” says the media analyst at the broking firm who didn't want to be identified. He adds: “What has really worked in favour of Star is that it has chosen to monetise the app only through advertisements which is a significant shift from what other OTT (over-the top) apps in the space do."
Even though this strategy might have not gone down well with the direct-to-home and multi-system operators (MSO), who actually pay for that content, consumers would have loved it as any premium content offered almost live at no extra cost, is very compelling, according to him.
Currently, Star's digital platform team is focused on making Hotstar more user and advertiser friendly with more curated content, and smoother streaming even in low bandwidth.
So does higher viewership on digital mean a bigger share of ad dollars shifting from TV to the digital platforms?
"The overall pie of digital media is increasing. Mobile and videos are the major growth enablers,” said Nitesh Kumar, vice president (North), Resultrix, a digital marketing agency owned by the Publicis Groupe.
Also display advertising or the advertising on the web banners has gone down by 4 per cent, while the same has grown at a rate of 56 per cent for mobile videos, according to Kumar.
According to digital marketing consultancy eMarketer’s latest forecast of ad spending worldwide, less than $1 billion will go toward digital ads in India this year, even though spending on formats served to internet-connected devices, including PCs as well as mobile devices, is growing by double-digit rates.
The report said this year’s 27 per cent growth will bring digital to 14.2 per cent of total ad spending in India. That’s still the third-smallest share worldwide, ahead of only Argentina and Indonesia. But by 2019, when more than a quarter of ad spending in India will be digital, the country will have pulled ahead of several others, including France, Spain, Italy and Brazil, by this metric.
According to FICCI-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment-Industry Report 2015, the Indian digital advertising industry grew 44.5 per cent from Rs 3,010 crore in 2013 to Rs 4,350 crore in 2014.
Star India is owned by 21st Century Fox, which was formed following the split of News Corp into two separate companies. News Corp, which runs publishing education, digital real estate and information companies, acquired the parent of this website in March.