Sorry Hotstar, your live sports streaming experience just isn’t good enough
It is almost impossible to avoid Hotstar if you are a sports fan living in India. Star Sports, Hotstar’s proprietary television network, has the rights to broadcast international cricket matches held in India and even those taking place in countries like Australia. It also has the rights to broadcast English Premier League football, Bundesliga (German football), apart from professional league tournaments for sports such as kabaddi, football (ISL), badminton and hockey.
Not everyone has a TV at home, and pretty much everyone has a phone with internet these days, so the Hotstar app has become the go-to app for live sports. It has over 50 million downloads according to its Google Play page, which shows how popular the app is already, less than two years after its launch.
At first glance, Hotstar offers tremendous value. You can watch a lot of things (especially sports) for free. Cricket matches are almost always available on the free tier and the only downside is that the stream is five minutes behind the match. Deferred feeding is a perfectly acceptable compromise since you pay nothing.
If you pay Rs. 190 per month, you can watch all available games live and you can even access Hotstar’s impressive library of movies and TV shows. This includes a large number of shows and movies airing on Star TV channels and the international catalog includes HBO shows such as Game of Thrones.
Even though I’m a huge sports fan, I avoided a Hotstar subscription from the start. I thought I could get the same content on Star Sports channels. Star has four sports channels and I saw no reason to have Hotstar as everything I wanted to watch (cricket and football) was shown on these four channels.
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Then, at the end of last year, the company decided to remove Premier League football from its regular channels and move them all to two new HD channels – Star Sports Select HD 1 and 2. The company probably felt that Premier League games weren’t watched by many. people and those who watch it can afford HD or Hotstar channels, which kept them away. Now sometimes we have Star Sports 1, 2, 3 and 4 – and their HD versions – showing the same ISL (Indian Super League football) match while EPL matches are only Star Sports Select HD channels.
Subscribing to new HD channels is not an option for me as we don’t have an HD box at home and spend over Rs. 3,500 to get a new decoder and pay double the price to get channels HD TV makes no sense to me. That’s how I turned to Hotstar. I thought the service was good, from what my friends were saying, so let’s go. I was wrong.
Hotstar won Apple TV App of the Year in 2016 and I installed the app on my Apple TV and logged in to activate the premium content. The first thing I tried to watch was a cricket test match between Australia and Pakistan and it turns out the live stream is not available on the Apple TV. You can watch the game live on your smartphone or PC, but not on Apple TV. I had to watch the delayed stream, which meant I was effectively one or two behind the game.
After each ending, Hotstar showed an increasingly annoying “download Hotstar” ad or a “watch this new Hotstar show” ad. First of all, when this is marketed as a premium service for which I pay Rs. 190 every month, why should I be forced to watch ads? Hotstar’s social media team claimed it was due to the “live stream” which cannot be edited, but that sounds like a hollow excuse. It is Hotstar’s responsibility to provide a premium ad-free experience, but unfortunately that is not the case.
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I find it hard to believe the people running Hotstar are watching a test match on the app. I understand that no one wants to advertise on an Australia vs Pakistan test match being broadcast in India, but that’s no excuse for displaying “download Hotstar” adverts. I have already downloaded Hotstar and paid for the premium subscription, so why do you want to ask me to download Hotstar?
I think Hotstar should have separate sports and entertainment subscription packages. I’m one of those people who makes fun of Hotstar’s original shows. I would probably watch one or two of the Hotstar shows and at most five movies. The display of ads for other Hotstar shows when watching Test Cricket is another reminder of the second-class experience offered to sports fans. It looks like Hotstar is trying to please everyone and ends up irritating some of its subscribers.
Frustrated with the Apple TV experience, I opened the Safari browser on my Mac and tried to stream a game, and guess what. Hotstar runs on Adobe Flash. At a time when almost everyone has switched to HTML5 videos, Hotstar still needs the slow and vulnerable Flash plugin. To top it off, half of the website doesn’t even have https encryption. It uses an unencrypted http page for login, but if you try to subscribe it switches to encrypted https pages.
All of this made me feel that Hotstar doesn’t really take live sports streaming seriously. I’d be happy to pay Rs. 200 per month just for ad-free live sports streaming, even without all the entertainment on offer. The goal should be to offer a service that every sports fan would want to pay for. However, at the moment, this is far from the case. There’s no reason why premium subscribers on Apple TV shouldn’t receive live streams for certain matches, and the company needs to find a way to remove ads entirely for paid subscribers. Right now, it feels like people watching Hotstar for movies and TV shows are getting an awesome, ad-free experience, while sports fans are getting the short end of the stick.
Until that changes I will continue to watch cricket on SD TV channels and attend football matches at friends house or just skip them. Either way, I refuse to pay for the mediocre live sports experience that Hotstar currently offers.