Entertainment's big digital push

Star, Zee, Eros, Shemaroo, and T-Series have been among the top destinations for Indians on YouTube for a long time.

Last year, Star started to gradually move out of YouTube. Earlier this year it launched Hotstar, a mobile app. It offers content from Star India's phenomenal library — 20,000 hours of top-selling TV shows and films across seven languages and rights to every major sports property there is in India today — in football, tennis, cricket and kabaddi. At 16 million downloads and 50 million unique users, Hotstar has seen "the fastest adoption for any digital service in the world," claims Star.

Earlier this year, Star launched Hotstar, a mobile app. It offers content from Star India’s phenomenal library 20,000 hours of top-selling TV shows and films across seven languages and rights to every major sports property there is in India today. This then is the new name of the game in the world’s most prolific, noisy and colourful media market. Representation Pic/Thinkstock

Earlier this year, Star launched Hotstar, a mobile app. It offers content from Star India's phenomenal library 20,000 hours of top-selling TV shows and films across seven languages and rights to every major sports property there is in India today. This then is the new name of the game in the world's most prolific, noisy and colourful media market. Representation Pic/Thinkstock

This then is the new name of the game in the world's most prolific, noisy and colourful media market. While TV, print and films remain the biggest parts of the Rs 1,00,000-crore Indian media and entertainment industry, their consumption online is finally getting the big daddies to react.

At Rs 4,350 crore in advertising and over 40 per cent growth rate, digital is now big enough to merit serious attention. India is among the world's largest markets for online video consumption (59 million says ComScore) and has a fast-growing smartphone population (70 million and growing). The rise of online video and the rising penetration of devices are the critical triggers here.

In 2012, India's largest film studio, Eros, launched its streaming service ErosNow. In the same year Zee Entertainment launched its online service, Ditto TV. In 2013, Sony launched its Sony Liv. And in February, this year, came Hotstar.

These are among the most critical forays into the digital space for two reasons.

One, because entertainment remains the biggest driver of online traffic.

Two, these forays are by some of the biggest entertainment firms, not just in India, but globally. Zee is part of the largest media group in India. Star is from Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, and Sony is part of a huge global conglomerate with large interests in entertainment. Their success or failure could set the ball rolling for online entertainment in India. More than 60 per cent of YouTube's traffic and revenues come from content generated by professional media firms — stuff that companies such as Star, Zee, Eros are experts at understanding and creating.

The trouble? The online media world is dominated by Google's YouTube or Facebook. They don't create content but aggregate it. Their algorithms determine the future of everything that is put out there. They set the rules of the game. Google gets two-thirds of all searches globally and a mind-boggling one-third of the $133-billion global online ad revenues. Many large media corporations have had to bend to its power. In 2009, Murdoch called Google a "content kleptomaniac" and "parasite". News Corporation, the publishing arm of his group, blocked it from indexing content from its newspapers, The Times and Sunday Times. Two years later it was back on Google.

The other issue is the pathetic ad rates. Online content gets Rs 100-300 for a thousand people compared to Rs 150-1,000 on TV. So, while Hotstar or ErosNow will get audiences, their main business will continue to subsidise their online one for long.

Eventually much of this should get sorted out. For now, the good news is that the big online push by the big boys has begun in one of the world's largest entertainment markets.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik

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