Hotstar is making its biggest original content play to date with the announcement of ‘Hotstar Specials', which brings together 15 well-known Indian stars and filmmakers in Shekhar Kapur, Neeraj Pandey, Kabir Khan, Nikkhil Advani, Ram Madhvani, Venkat Prabhu, Sudhir Mishra, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Nagesh Kukunoor, Mahesh Manjrekar, Vishal Furia, Rohan Sippy, Debbie Rao, Sharad Devarajan, and Salman Khan. There are no details on which capacity the aforementioned 15 will be involved in nor what kind of originals we can expect, with Hotstar simply claiming they “will feature an extensive variety, [be] mounted on a big scale, [and] unconstrained by format”. The service had earlier dabbled in the original content space but shied away from a major investment.
The company says the first of these Hotstar Specials will go live before the end of the current quarter — that's March — with each original available in a total of seven languages: Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam. This is a surprising move from Hotstar given its reluctance to chase original content in the past, in favour of licensing films and TV shows from Hollywood and Bollywood studios, a sizeable catalogue of Star India-owned TV channels, and live sports spanning cricket, football, kabaddi, badminton, hockey, and Formula 1.
With the launch of Hotstar Specials, the streaming service brings itself in line with the strategy being used by its biggest international and local competitors such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Eros Now, Voot, ZEE5, Viu, and ALTBalaji. All together, they released over 100 originals across genres and format last year, including shows like Sacred Games, Breathe, Mirzapur, and Smoke.
Of course, this is far from Hotstar's first play in the field of originals. Past efforts include a revival of the cult hit comedy series Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, the now-cancelled news comedy show On Air with AIB, the cinematic stage films under the CinePlay banner, the romantic series Tanhaiyan, the cricket-themed talk show The Fanatics, and the Tamil comedy series As I'm Suffering From Kadhal.
“Star has always challenged conventions and been at the forefront of content reinvention in India,” Star India's managing director Sanjay Gupta said in a prepared statement. “With the mobile phone leading an explosion in the number of screens in the country, we feel that our content also needs to reinvent and boldly move forward. With Hotstar Specials, we hope to create the biggest Indian stories delivered to a billion screens. To bring this vision alive, we are proud to partner with a stellar line up of talent who are headlining our first set of Hotstar Specials.”
Hotstar is currently available in India, the US, and Canada. It claims more than 150 million monthly active users, which would make it the biggest streaming service in India, though it's not known how many of those are paying customers. Hotstar operates a ‘freemium' model in India, where some content is free for everyone while the rest — labelled ‘Hotstar Premium' — requires a monthly subscription. In the US and Canada, Hotstar is subscription-only.