Filmmakers who have signed up to create content for Hotstar include Shekhar Kapur (“Elizabeth: The Golden Age”), Neeraj Pandey (“M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story”), Kabir Khan (“Tubelight”), Nikkhil Advani (“P.O.W.: Bandi Yuddh Ke”), Ram Madhvani (“Neerja”), Venkat Prabhu (“Biriyani”), Sudhir Mishra (“Daas Dev”), Tigmanshu Dhulia (“Paan Singh Tomar”), Nagesh Kukunoor (“Dhanak”), Mahesh Manjrekar (“Natsamrat”), Vishal Furia(“Lapachhapi”), Rohan Sippy (“SideHero”), Debbie Rao (“Pushpavalli”), Sharad Devarajan (“Chakra The Invincible”) and Salman Khan (“Race 3”).
The expansion into original content comes as the race heats up for online viewers in the world’s second-most-populous country. Driven by cheap data charges, streaming is becoming an important platform in India, with aggressive competition between Hotstar, Netflix, Amazon, Eros Now, Sony Liv and Viacom 18’s Voot. Hotstar is the market leader, with about 150 million active monthly users.
Its move into original content will focus “on big-scale, high-quality drama,” Gaurav Banerjee, President and Head of Hindi General Entertainment Channels for Star India, told Variety. The Hotstar Specials will be a minimum of six episodes each, with longer lengths being determined by the filmmakers, Banerjee said. While the names of the individual shows or their budgets were not revealed, the first of them will begin streaming by the end of March.
“One of the opportunities in digital is that we can keep on changing the format,” Banerjee said. “In television, one of our constraints is [that] the experience is around an appointment viewing, so the show has to start at 9:00 p.m.; it has to be around 30 minutes or one hour in duration. All of that we are seeking to change with what we try and do with all of these shows.”
The commissioning of Hotstar Specials marks a major shift from the regime of former CEO Ajit Mohan, when the company was more circumspect about original programming created exclusively for the streaming platform as opposed to shows created for its sister television channels in the Star Television Network. Past Hotstar originals include news satire “On Air With AIB” and filmed play series “CinePlay.” Hotstar also draws on a library of films together totaling 100,000 hours across 18 languages, and enjoys a near-stranglehold on the rights for cricket, India’s most popular sport.
Hotstar’s owner, Star India, is operated by 21st Century Fox, whose entertainment assets are in the process of being absorbed by Disney. What will happen to Hotstar when Disney launches its own global direct-to-consumer channel, Disney+, is unclear.