Disney+ India launch on 29 March stalled by Hotstar over postponement of IPL due to coronavirus pandemic

Disney’s control of Hotstar gives an advantage to Disney Plus' to attract millions of potential subscribers.

When Walt Disney Co’s Disney+ streaming service was due to make its debut in India on 29 March. The launch was to coincide with the beginning of the new season of the Indian Premier League cricketHowever, since the season has now been pushed, Disney has decided to put the Disney+ launch on hold.

Uday Shankar, President - The Walt Disney Company APAC and Chairman, Star & Disney India, said in a statement, “We recently announced that Disney+ would launch in India through the Hotstar service in conjunction with the beginning of the Indian Premier League cricket season. Given the delay of the season, we have made the decision to briefly pause the roll-out of Disney+ and will announce a new revised premiere date for the service soon.”

Disney’s control of Hotstar, which it acquired through the $71 billion purchase of Twenty-First Century Fox in 2019, gives Disney+’s entrance into the Indian market in partnership with Hotstar hundreds of millions of potential subscribers it can attract.

Hotstar reported 300 million monthly active users last year. Most of these are users of the free, advertising-supported service and Disney has said it is aiming to convert many of these users into paying subscribers.

Disney could use the help as the streaming video war is waged on the global stage this year against rivals Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc. India is widely viewed as one of the biggest source of new subscribers.

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Hotstar’s paid service includes shows from a spectrum of international programmers including AT&T Inc’s HBO, whose offerings include Game of Thrones and Chernobyl as well as popular live sports content like Premier League soccer.

Disney+ Hotstar, will have two tiers of pricing where the premium variant will include its original programming like Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian and WandaVision and Loki from Marvel.

“We see this as a great opportunity to use the proven platform of Hotstar to launch the new Disney+ service in one of the most populous countries and fastest-growing economies in the world.” Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger said in an earnings call earlier.

India’s nearly half a billion internet users, according to research firm Nielsen, have attracted the interest of big American streaming video companies Netflix and Amazon Prime. Both have invested in creating local programming to lure subscribers.

To better compete in this market, Netflix launched a lower-cost mobile plan to lure subscribers, the first time it has done so in any market.

“India is a key market for Disney & Iger internationally given the hunger for streaming content and the demand potential. That said, Netflix and Amazon have built strong local content. ... We believe 10 million to 15 million subs in 2 years would be an initial success story,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives.

While the company did not disclose details on pricing, Disney+ has hovered on the lower end among streaming platforms in the United States and is expected to continue the trend. “They (Disney) are pretty value-priced, even in the US,” said Jehil Thakkar, Partner, Deloitte India.

Hotstar’s paid services in India range from about 40 cents per month to $4.20. Netflix costs under $3 for a mobile-only plan and as high as around $11. Amazon Prime costs about $1.80 per month.

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