Game of Thrones isn’t just the most popular TV show in the world, but it is also one of the biggest in India. For the most part, the nation has got its GoT fix from sources that were far from legitimate. This appears to be slowly changing, with Indian video streaming service Hotstar now making the show available moments after its US showing. How popular is it? Well, the first episode of Game of Thrones season 7 had so many people trying to watch that Hotstar couldn't handle the load at first.
As users took to Twitter to complain the company had to respond saying, “server morghulis was not the desired outcome”. Gadgets 360 caught up with Hotstar CEO Ajit Mohan, who talked about this, and other issues that need to be addressed.
Mohan wasn't willing to disclose how much of a surge Hotstar has seen thanks to Game of Thrones, but he did say that it brought a “big surge in interest that's translated into viewership". Given that at the peak of the Champions Trophy, Hotstar said it saw peak concurrency of 4.69 million viewers, the number of Game of Thrones fans in India opting for the legal route is clearly considerable.
Mohan adds that these spikes in traffic also open up possibilities for different ways to engage with the viewers, explaining how Hotstar developed a feature called fan graph for sporting events. The fan graph is, quite simply, a graph showing how many viewers were watching the stream at any given time. Viewers can then jump to any point on the graph to see why there was a spike (or drop) in eyeballs, which Mohan says "tells the story of the match". This, he added, is something that would come to Game of Thrones, and other videos on Hotstar as well.
"We experimented it on live sports," he said. "The idea is we will be inspired by many things, and over time we will bring that unified experience across the whole platform and not limit it to only one part of it.”
Don't expect the feature to show up in your app right away though - features like this are randomly rolled out to a small number of users first, and feedback collected, before seeing a larger release.
“When we do have new features or consumer experiences, we do release it to a small set of users," explained Mohan. "It's not exactly a beta product, but we release it [new features] to see what's the impact of that versus to behaviours that are already established. We scale it up and throw it out based on that real feedback we get from that subset of users who are randomly selected.”
“It cuts across different audience segments that we follow and therefore it gives us a good sense of it being something that different clusters value or not," he added. "If it is features that segment is valuing then we double up on it.”
Although Hotstar's record with new features is so-so at best, the company has done a much better job of bringing in content. Mohan describes the Hotstar experience as "TV Lite" - the audience, he said, may or may not own a TV. Unlike cord-cutters, though, he says the TV-Lite audience isn't as excited about original content, as promised by Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
“I think the whole hoo-ha about originals is overdone. From our audience’s point of view there's no distinction if you call it an original,” Mohan said. “We don't have to chase the bandwagon of Web-only shows to make a difference.”
“When we first did On Air with AIB it was because we believed there was a space for news satire in India that was not explored," he added. "When we did a sequel to Sarabhai, it was a revival of a TV show that was popular in urban India 10 years ago. That's our philosophy on originals. It's not to plug a content gap that we don't have.”
Of course, thanks to its exclusive deals with HBO and Disney, Hotstar isn't exactly hurting for content to make it stand out. With Game of Thrones and live cricket, Hotstar is an original itself; for now. Beyond this, the Hotstar app itself is also due for improvements, and in part two of our interview, Gadgets 360 talked to Mohan about the app roadmap, and whether it will ever do away with ads for Premium subscribers.