Fuelled by increased internet access and falling data costs, digital content consumption trends have changed dramatically over the last few years. The number of viewers who prefer consuming content on TV versus mobile devices has plummeted from 52% to 23%. This signals a massive transition to on-demand, online channels across devices.1
With the rise of global media OTT players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu, traditional network operators have been striving to break new ground with VoD OTT offerings of their own. Hotstar is one subscription-based OTT player that has taken the market by storm to emerge as a pioneer in this competitive space.
As part of our ongoing series on mobile growth, we recently spoke to Mihir Shah, VP of Product & Marketing Growth at Hotstar.
With a library of over 50,000 hours of TV, movies, and live sports coverage, Hotstar focuses on providing their 100 million+ users with an excellent viewing experience. And they also give advertisers the optimal platform for reaching their target audience. With 137 million downloads in Q1 2017 alone, Hotstar is the most-downloaded app in India.
Hi, Mihir. It’s a pleasure to speak with you. Insights into Hotstar’s tremendous growth will be a great help to the larger app marketing community, so thank you for sharing them! We are seeing tremendous user adoption in the OTT space. Where do you see it headed?
The OTT space has witnessed incredible growth over the last few years and it only promises to gain greater momentum moving forward.
Hotstar is scaling to cater to the diverse content demands of an evolving user base. The objective is to establish a clear understanding of user personas, behaviors, and consumption patterns in order to deliver differentiated customer experiences.
Say a user in Bangalore has been watching football, the latest English language TV shows, and some regional films. We need to contextualize our communication across mobile marketing channels to offer him the video content he wants to consume at just the right time. This is the key to building greater platform loyalty and eventually nudging users to sign up for a subscription.
The rapid transition of content consumption from traditional channels like TV to mobile devices underlines the fact that customers now control what they consume, when, and how. We believe that future OTT success will hinge on bridging the gap between quality, personalized content, and a seamless user experience.
Sounds exciting! Before we get into the nuances of your growth strategy, why don’t you give us a brief explanation of your role and the KPIs your team owns.
I manage the product and marketing growth team here at Hotstar. My key north star KPI is platform watch time. When you break that primary KPI down, our secondary KPIs include MAUs, bounce rates, number of titles watched, time spent per title, and frequency of visits.
In today’s hyper-competitive market where building brand loyalty is so difficult, the challenge is twofold. Firstly, our user acquisition is centered around major themes like big-ticket live sporting events, the latest season of a genre-defining TV series, or a blockbuster movie.
Secondly, all these users acquired at scale need to be exposed to our breadth of content along the user lifecycle to drive platform stickiness. We focus on a thoughtfully tailored product experience along with personalized and timely communication strategies to move them from casual appointment-based viewers to product loyalists. Factor in the fact that all these omni-channel campaigns have to be executed at scale, and our growth strategy and metrics assume even greater significance.
That’s interesting. Can you shed some light on the immediate marketing challenges Hotstar’s rapid user growth brought with it?
As I mentioned, striking the right balance between user acquisition and retention is a tightrope walk. I’ll highlight a few major challenges of rapid growth:
We spend millions of dollars to acquire these users at scale and letting them go at the end of a one or two month event is very expensive. It becomes a great product and marketing challenge for us to expose these users to the breadth of entertainment content on our platform while we have their attention.
In case of the AVOD subscribers, revenue comes from video advertising in the form of pre-roll, mid-roll, post-roll, text ads, and more. The SVOD subscribers get access to a premium English library (HBO shows, Fox, Disney, Hollywood movies, etc), blockbuster movies, before TV shows, an ad free experience, and live uninterrupted sports. With less than $2 a month, we offer the best value for money when it comes to Premium English content and sports. As we continue to scale, moving people across the funnel from freemium viewers to paid subscribers becomes increasingly important.
This last IPL we achieved world record of 10.3M concurrency on any live event. So 10.3M people were viewing the game at the same time. The previous record was held by YouTube at 8M concurrency. Push notifications played a major role to get us there as our tech stack supported us to get to that throughput of delivering 100M+ messages in a matter of a couple of minutes.
All our efforts to tackle these three marketing challenges can be broadly summarized in two main buckets: driving content discovery and hyper relevant targeting.
While our on platform recommendations engine learns from user behaviour, demographics, etc. and suggests titles relevant to you, we also deliver these recommendations to the user off-platform via notifications, social, programmatic, etc.
How does this solve for our marketing challenges? If you are a sports user who only watches sports, based on a collaborative filtering model we recommend entertainment titles that other sports viewers watch. If you are free user, based on your freemium viewership pattern we recommend you titles from our Premium library that you are most likely to subscribe for. If you are a sports viewer who is not on our platform while your favorite team or player is playing, we send you notifications or target you on social while the game is on to tune into Hotstar.
All this is driven by detailed user personas and insights into user behavior, which is essential for us. Given 300 million user profiles to segment and analyze, this is a very exciting challenge for our product, marketing, and data science teams.
Segmentation based on user interests and personas was key to ensure that we weren’t actually causing brand dissonance. For instance, pitching the latest Tamil blockbuster at a user based out of Delhi at 11.00PM on a weekday makes no sense.
Given the pace of growth that Hotstar has seen, that seems like a demanding task. Tell us about the CleverTap features that help you the most.
CleverTap’s data-driven mobile marketing suite continues to play a crucial role in our growth. Some of the major features that we rely on include:
We also used Pivots to discover which content genres are most popular and when they’re being viewed. Armed with these key insights, we now send cricket-specific notifications between 6-9pm and notifications promoting comedy content between 9pm- midnight. These efforts have helped us bring back 8-10% of our inactive user base over the last few months alone.
Engaging with users in real time has been a game changer, helping us drive more conversions and content consumption.
For instance, from the time someone downloads the Hotstar app and searches for a specific type of content to actually viewing that content, Flows allows us to craft specific engagement campaigns.
This enables us to spot potential user drop-offs before they happen and create targeted user engagement campaigns to bring them back with fresh content based on behavioral trends.
That’s great. Can you walk us through some of the use cases that worked for Hotstar?
Certainly. Using CleverTap we have been able to run omnichannel campaigns for a diverse set of use cases, including:
We also segment users based on their native language, content consumption patterns, region, and the type of content they prefer — whether it is news, sports, daily soaps, or movies — to tailor the type of notification campaigns.
The key was to use actual match updates to generate interest in the moment, driving users to stream the live viewing experience on the app.
This was a huge benefit during this year’s IPL season. For instance, during the crucial Kolkata Knight Riders vs. Mumbai Indians game, we ran a rich push notification campaign around a particular match event. This campaign was sent to 51 million users and successfully brought over half a million users back to the app.
The survey was sent to 250,000 users and registered impressive 16% open rates and 5% CTRs.
We pitched a mix of Hollywood movies, TV sitcoms, and Bollywood films around the theme of romance with embedded backlinks to the app. Not only did this drive 12% engagement by targeting a specific holiday, but it also increased average watch times per session.
In Kerala, for example, the primary spoken language is Malayalam. On running localized push notifications for Valentine’s Day, we saw CTRs over 3.4% for an audience of over 600,000 users.
It’s always nice to hear about customers getting value from using our product. As someone with extensive experience in scaling products, what advice do you have for other marketers?
Whether you’re a physical or digital product, identifying the job that your customer is hiring you for and delivering on that job consistently and reliably is the only way to build long-term monetization and retention. And the only way to successfully deliver on your value proposition is to get your fundamentals right:
Once you establish a certain degree of predictability around user behavior, you put yourself in prime position to harness omnichannel marketing campaigns to keep your users hooked, building brand champions out of casual users.
What’s next for Hotstar?
With content in eight languages spanning 15 channels, Hotstar is home to some of the highest-rated TV shows in India. Our aim is to become the #1 video streaming app worldwide. We also believe that machine learning holds a special position in the future for entertainment. With machine learning, we can make the user experience highly personalized — benefiting not just consumers, but also advertisers and content producers. Our recent alliance with Flipkart for the Shopper Audience Network is only one step in that direction, but there’s more to follow.
It’s been a pleasure talking with you, Mihir. Thank you for sharing these insights with us!
Thank you! I hope this adds greater value to the larger mobile marketing community. Growth today is so much more than just a knee-jerk reaction to competition. It’s a long-term investment that hinges a great deal on experimentation and innovation.
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