Disney’s Hotstar: India’s Dominant Video-Streaming Platform

The dominant video-streaming provider in India is Hotstar, which debuted four years ago by media conglomerate Star India. Its 300 million monthly users gravitate to the mobile-first platform to watch cricket, TV shows and movies. Now owned by The Walt Disney Company, Hotstar’s usage is 10 percent larger than that of YouTube, India’s second largest video streaming platform. Only three million of Hotstar’s users are paying subscribers, but that’s still more than those paying for Amazon and twice as many as those subscribed to Netflix.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, on Hotstar, about 80 percent of the content is free and, according to IHS Markit, the premium service costs $4.29 per month or $1.19 per month for an annual plan paid up front. Amazon and Netflix are trying to catch up, offering “low prices that the average Indian viewer can afford and loads of local content in multiple Indian languages.”

With its “plummeting mobile-data prices and cheap smartphones,” India — the world’s second most populous country — is a hot market, and “global streaming services, local broadcasters and telecommunications companies are trying to capitalize with competing offerings to win new users.” According to BCG, advertising and subscription revenues are “expected to skyrocket to $5 billion in 2023 from $500 million last year.”

Disney gained control of Hotstar by acquiring Star India, “a 28-year-old network of more than 10 Indian television channels, as part of its $71.3 billion deal in March to buy the bulk of the 21st Century Fox entertainment assets.” Star India executives believe they have enough content to fend off rivals. “We have a two-decade head start,” said Hotstar chief product officer Varun Narang. Meanwhile, Amazon and Netflix’s libraries included only a small portion of content in India’s many languages.

To compete, Netflix slashed its prices, introducing “smartphone-only plans that cost less than $1 for one week of access at a time.” “We’re trying to broaden the accessibility of Netflix,” with lower prices and local-language options, said their vice president of international originals Bela Bajaria. The company currently is developing six original series and 13 original films in India for this market. IHS Markit reported that Netflix now has only 1.2 million subscribers in India.

Amazon has about 2.5 million subscribers there and costs as little as $1.19 per month. Subscribers also get “Amazon music streaming and expedited shipping.” The company plans to release “eight Indian original shows this year, up from one 2017 and five in 2018.”

Amazon Prime Video’s India director Gaurav Gandhi said the company is going for “extreme localization,” with content in nine local languages. Last year, Amazon added an interface for its app and website in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil.

Hotstar, meanwhile, has the rights to “popular television shows in eight Indian languages from Star India,” and also, via Star India, has exclusive digital rights to Indian Premier League cricket. Disney will also launch Disney Plus streaming service in November, rolling it out internationally over the next two years.