Disney+ Hotstar looks to penetrate deeper into rurban markets with IPL 2021: Sunil Rayan

Ahead of the tournament, Sunil Rayan, Disney+ Hotstar President & Head, talks about the platform's expansion strategies, sponsorships, plans to increase content volume and more

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Updated: Apr 6, 2021 2:42 PM
sunil rayan

Star Disney India's video streaming platform Disney+ Hotstar is using Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 as a linchpin to widen its subscriber base by going deep into the semi-urban and rural areas. Strategically, IPL is important for Disney+ Hostar as it drives both subscription and ad revenue for the platform.

Disney+ Hotstar had put IPL behind a paywall in the previous edition. The strategy paid off as the platform became a driving force in Disney+'s global subscriber acquisition. Hotstar was rebranded as Disney+ Hotstar in March 2020 ahead of IPL 2020 season which got pushed to September-October-November due to the pandemic.

For the quarter ending December 2020, Disney+ had added 21.2 million subscribers globally to take its total base to 94.9 million paid subscribers. Disney+ Hotstar subscriber additions continued their strong growth trend, with Disney+ Hotstar subscribers making up approximately 30% of its global subscriber base. IPL played a major role in driving Disney+ Hotstar's subscriber base.

In an interview with exchange4media, Disney+ Hotstar President & Head Sunil Rayan said that the IPL has a more diverse audience base as compared to pure cricket tournaments, which are male-skewed. "Cricket is generally male-skewed but we have a healthy mix of female audiences given our growing entertainment portfolio. I would say around 20% of our female audiences enjoy watching cricket as well," Rayan said.

Raring to go 'Rurban'

Outlining the platform's expansion strategy for IPL 2021, Rayan said, "We have a big push towards taking IPL to go more rural or, what we call, ‘Rurban’. Our mission is to provide access to all of India as far as possible.  Are we there yet? No. We still have a lot of work to do to make it more accessible. That’s one of the things we have tried. We have made it very affordable with our pricing with the primary objective of wanting to provide access to as many people as possible."

As part of its audience expansion strategy, Disney+ Hotstar is adding a Marathi feed to its offering for IPL 2021. This will take the total language feeds for the season to eight including English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, and Bengali.

"We are now doing a Marathi feed based on feedback on how to get to more Tier 2 and 3 cities. Anything that gets adopted in urban areas then slowly goes to Rurban and then rural. We don’t want to segment who gets access to this. Our goal is to maximise adoption as much as possible," Rayan noted.

Improving access

Despite putting the IPL behind a paywall, Disney+ Hotstar is ensuring that the IPL is accessible to as many users as possible. The platform has inked deals with Reliance Jio, Airtel, and Vodafone Idea to come up with bundled postpaid and prepaid offers for users.

"We have got deals with all three telcos - Jio, Airtel, and VI - which is phenomenal. There is a demand for IPL and we saw that with IPL 2020. People want to watch IPL on digital even when it is behind the paywall. That’s going to continue. There is going to be a little bit of difference in reach when the event is behind the paywall but it is way past our expectations. We are trying to drive as much accessibility for people to be able to buy a subscription and so we have made it easier for them by doing deals with all three telcos," Rayan noted.

Driving cricketainment

In order to ensure that Disney+ Hotstar is seen as a platform that has diverse content offerings, the platform is driving the message of cricketainment. Disney+ Hotstar is being positioned as a premium platform that has diverse content offerings across sports and entertainment.

"Our value proposition is that you get the best of everything. We are calling it ‘Entertainment Ka All-rounder’. It gives users a combination of live sports, cricket plus other types of entertainment content like Hotstar Specials, direct to digital movies, or Star network TV shows that can be watched ahead of when it plays on TV. It gives the user a lot of flexibility on how they want to spend their time as opposed to other mediums where they are pulled to address specific schedules," he stated.

Sponsors galore

Disney+ Hotstar is having a good run with IPL 2021 on the advertising front as well. So far, 14 sponsors have come on board. These include Dream11 (co-presenting sponsor) along with Upstox and Vimal Elaichi who are the ‘co-powered by’ sponsors. Associate sponsors include PhonePe, Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI), Unacademy, Pharmeasy, Livspace, Swiggy, Parle Agro, Amazon Prime, Coinswitch, CRED, and Xiaomi.

"The response has been phenomenal. In fact, we've had such a good run. IPL 2020 happened in different circumstances, so there was a little bit of apprehension about what's going to happen. We have a lot of good brands that have come on board and some new brands that are going to come on board as well. We've closed about 14 sponsors. We are looking to close a lot more. In 2020, we had more than 300+ advertisers. It's looking much better in 2021," Rayan said.

Rayan averred that Disney+ Hotstar delivers value to advertising clients who are spending top dollars on the property. "With IPL on Disney+ Hotstar, advertisers get a very engaged and a very premium audience and the second thing I would also say is cricket as a format allows for advertising to be very integrated as part of the experience."

Disney+ Hotstar has been providing a lot of options to clients on what formats to use depending on their marketing objectives. "We have properties like Super 6, Super Savers which have already been sold out, sooner than we anticipated. We give targeting choices, we give feature choices, we give format choices on display whether it's with a short video or long videos. Combined with the reach and targeting giving them the diversity on how they want to portray themselves. We have a terrific audience platform and at the end of the day, our goal is to meet the advertisers’ objectives and goals."

Going big on big screen

While mobile viewership is growing, the platform is also seeing growth in content consumption on large screens. "We were pleasantly surprised during the last IPL as well. Over the last 6 months, our living room adoption has more than doubled. We see that trend continuing. Whether people are watching with their family or just watching individually on the bigger screen, we are seeing a lot of demand, especially in the covid situation.

"Living room-connected devices have more than doubled and we see that trend continuing. India, as a market, will have a lot more connected devices going forward."

Keeping audiences engaged long after IPL 

IPL, Rayan said, also drives sampling of entertainment content on the platform with users staying on the platform even after the IPL is over. "We have a lot of users coming back to the platform. We see that a lot of cricket users come and watch entertainment. It's not that they just watch cricket and go away. This also increases watch time on the platform which in turn drives stickiness. This is where our value proposition of ‘we are a destination of all kinds of entertainment’ truly plays out when it comes to watch time. As they watch one piece of content they get exposed to something else and they keep watching. So that’s what’s driven watch time as well as stickiness."

Beyond expectations 

In terms of plans for 2021, Disney+ Hotstar will increase the volume and diversity of content to reach more users. Diversity, volume, and differentiation will be key as far as content is concerned. On the product side, the platform wants to make the experience highly engaged.

"So, we're putting a lot of investments into our tech platform to be able to accommodate even more people. We already have a platform that I think nobody has touched in terms of the number of people who can access it. But we're trying to make it even more robust. If you go deeper into the audience we have a diversity of devices, different internet speeds, etc. We're trying to make it stronger when it comes to security etc. I would say deeper user engagement and extreme focus on making sure our content volume, diversity, and differentiation continue to go beyond expectations," Rayan concluded.

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