Walt Disney Co will start its streaming service in India later this week, after a coronavirus lockdown upended its previous plans in one of the world’s biggest emerging markets for online video.
The US entertainment giant planned to kick off Disney+ in India at the start of the wildly popular Indian Premier League cricket season on March 29. That big-bang event has been put off for two weeks due to the pandemic. Disney said the service will launch on April 3.
Disney joins rivals such as Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc’s Prime Video in trying to tap a potential surge in users at a time when millions of Indians — stuck at home — browse for entertainment.
Being one of the largest open markets in Asia, India has become a battleground for major streaming companies as well as domestic players.
Boston Consulting Group estimates the Indian video-streaming market could grow to $5 billion by 2023 from $500 million in 2018.
The new streaming platform is crucial for Disney to advance its position in the south Asian country, where Hotstar — an asset the firm acquired along with 21st Century Fox — is already a leader thanks to the popularity of cricket.
Streaming live matches to avid fans of the English sport, Hotstar says it has 300 million monthly users, though not all are paying subscribers.
Disney Chairman Bob Iger told investors in February
that Hotstar’s premium services in India would be rebranded as Disney+ Hotstar, and that the Indian Premier League would be an “opportune moment.”
But Disney, which was looking to the sports tie-in to make a big splash, is now entering the market without all the eyeballs it would otherwise get through its Hotstar platform.
As the Covid-19 health crisis rages around the world, there’s no certainty the IPL tournament will start on April 15.
“If the IPL is not happening, the selling point for Hotstar goes away,” said Bhupendra Tiwary, an analyst at ICICIdirect in Mumbai. Had the IPL run on schedule, “It would’ve been two months of launch extravaganza,” he said.