Hot­star to Youtube, he stays in OTT game

San­jay Gupta is the sec­ond Star top boss to move to a com­pany that owns a ri­val OTT plat­form


Ev­ery­one had warned San­jay Gupta that it would be a fa­tal blun­der to set up an over­the-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

A few months ago, Ajit Mo­han, who headed op­er­a­tions for Hot­star, took over as man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Face­book

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 mon­eti­sa­tion 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. Gupta 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.

San­jay Gupta will join Google as coun­try man­ager early next year

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