Hotstar Specials: 8 months in Hotstar’s original content game decoded

Hotstar content strategy

Gaurav Banerjee, President & Head – Hindi GEC, Star India and Sameer Gogate, Business Head, BBC Studios India speak about Hotstar’s Specials’ association and the content strategy to spearhead the competition in the originals space.

With 6 original shows (Roar of The Lion, Criminal Justice, City of Dreams, Hostages, The Office, Out Of Love)  and two feature films- all catering to different genres- in a span of 8 months, Hotstar Specials is racing to deliver variety to Indian audiences.

Hotstar announced the launch of Hotstar Specials early this year with a mission to provide an extensive variety of Indian stories, mounted on a big scale, unconstrained by format. The company’s ambition is not to make this a narrow or niche play but to explode into the consciousness of the country in an unprecedented way.  

In an official release shared in January, the company claimed that the launch of Hotstar Specials is yet another moment of disruption for Hotstar, which has been at the forefront of change in the space of digital content in India with 350 million downloads and over 150mn monthly active users. 

Hotstar Specials – Viewers’ response

Gaurav Banerjee, President & Head – Hindi GEC, Star India takes pride in sharing that in a short span, the platform has managed to deliver a variety of content panned across genres-  a sports documentary, a sitcom, social drama, a thriller, women-centric drama, marriage infidelity.

“We are very excited by what the first 8 months those have been. These are still early days for us and there is a lot to do. Hopefully, we also have a very exciting slate coming up so we keep building momentum that we have,” he added.  

Hostar Specials is an important strategic initiative by Hotstar. Through this, it believes that they can make an impact on the quality of drama which will come with a wide range of stories. 

All about ‘Out Of Love

The latest on the block is Rasika Dugal and Purab Kohli starrer ‘Out of Love’ – A drama series about a marriage poisoned by infidelity. An official adaptation of multi-award-winning series Doctor Foster, Out Of Love raises a key question – when faced with infidelity what would you do. Forgive, Forget or Fight?

According to Banerjee, Out Of Love is very distinct from what has happened in the streaming world so far as largely the drama has been male-centric and there’s been a lot of thrillers, action, and adult themes.

Here is a woman in the center where we are talking about the very deep, emotional issues- the sanctity of marriage and infidelity. What is the right take, how do we deal with it? This is the theme which he thinks is deeply relevant to our country and Hotstar sees a great opportunity there.

Sameer Gogate, Business Head, BBC Studios India too believes that infidelity and revenge have always worked in India- from Silsila to Khoon Bhari Maang. “There we identified a space where Hotstar was very keen on working and Doctor Foster and Out Of Love fit in very well”.

He further shared that Doctor Foster was coming out like a massive hit in the UK. The opening night delivered around 10 million viewers which are like half of the UK has seen Doctor Foster. The total television household there is 25 million and compared to India which is about 180 million.

As per Gogate, to get Doctor Foster to India was actually an easy part because the genre works very well in India and this was the primary candidate to build in.

On Digital Censorship

A long-standing debate on censorship on digital content has been buzzing the internet space for quite some time now. When quizzed Banerjee about his views on the topic, he commented, “All freedoms go with a sense of duties. And we as creators and platforms need to be sensitive to that. We do content on digital and TV as well and we understand that there is no censorship on television but we also need to be respectful and aware that there are lines that we shouldn’t cross. There is no reason for irresponsibility. That is something as a company we are deeply aware of”.  

He doesn’t feel that anything comes in the way of telling a strong story properly and boldly. One of the shows that Star India did on TV was Satyamev Jayate which featured extremely bold statements.

“Viewers appreciated our frankness, boldness, and desire to raise uncomfortable questions because nobody believed that we were doing it for any reason except to provoke a conversation.  That’s the business we are in. Our content should create a lot of buzz. Our content when it’s responsible can, should and does spark some amount of change and thinking- that comes from a show like Criminal Justice and is equally possible through Satyamev Jayate. If we manage this consciously, I think then we are not here to offend people and make it uncomfortable for them neither to create a scandal. We are someone to watch and engage”.  

Also Read: Turning consumers into paid members is Hotstar Specials strategy: Nikhil Madhok, Hotstar

Weaving Regional tales

Out Of Love goes on major Indian language – Bangla, Marathi, and all the south Indian languages. On creating more regional content, Banerjee asserted, “We are not here to create Hindi or regional content but Indian content and that will be across many Indian languages. We are here talking about a show which has been produced originally in Hindi but we will be available across languages”.

He further revealed that there is a lot coming up in the new year and Hotstar has already started work on its first Tamil show.

Hotstar Specials is a big driver for Hotstar VIP which is the platform’s subscription service. “If we keep building VIP then I think we are doing well in the business dimension,” Banerjee said.  

BBC Studio’s association with Hotstar

With the Star group, Gogate claimed to have had a fabulous working relationship for many years with masterstrokes like Criminal Justice and The Office.

The brief for Doctor Foster was to keep it real, authentic and stick to the format. “Hotstar saw the vision. The show needed to be set in a small town – not in Mumbai or Delhi. Then Coonoor was selected. It is very close to the original but the adaptation you will see in the nuances,” he shared.

Devising content for Indian Market and Adaptations

Gogate feels that there is no one single formula for adaptions. “If you look at other shows we have done- for instance, Criminal Justice- British Legal System works very differently”.

According to him, when you are adapting it, you need to be very mindful of what you are adapting and for whom. Its all about how you are treating it.

He further claimed that the advantage of BBC is that it has become a very rich catalog of content and its vision is to take the best of British content into multiple markets and that’s what the BBC studio business is all about.

The company is primarily present in seven markets, US, UK, France, Germany, South Africa, Australia, and India. These are the production setups for the BBC Studio and all it’s entities’ primary focus is to promote its formats and end up producing them.

Also, sometimes, he believes that you need to spoon-feed the audience which is not in the case of Out Of Love. The audience will travel along with Dr. Mira Kapoor as they unravel what she is going through. So it’s created differently which is almost like a drama shot like a thriller.

“Female centric dramas have definitely taken center stage in India. We are very keen on developing Happy Family, The Split back home”, he added.

TV or Digital?

As per Gogate, both are here to stay in India. “Television is not going to go anywhere. It is still a family-centric viewing that works. Both will co-exist at least for a couple of years and I don’t think so it’s going to be a replacement market so soon,” he signed off.