Benita Chacko
OTT Streaming

Disney+ Hotstar loses 4.6 mn subscribers: Star's loss seems to be Viacom18's gain

These numbers come close on the heels of the platform losing IPL's digital streaming rights to JioCinema.

Between January and March this year, Disney+ Hotstar lost 4.6 million subscribers, thereby bringing its subscriber base to 52.9 million, revealed The Walt Disney Company's Q2 FY23 results. This is the biggest-ever quarterly loss for the leading OTT platform. It's also the platform's second consecutive quarterly loss - it lost 3.8 million subscribers in the October-December 2022 quarter.

These numbers were reported soon after the platform lost the digital streaming rights of the Indian Premier League (IPL) for 2023-27, to JioCinema.

Since Disney+ Hotstar's launch in April 2020, it has always witnessed a rise in the number of subscribers during the IPL months. In the run up to the IPL, which happens every year during summer months, viewers would subscribe to the platform in large numbers. It witnessed a rise of six million subscribers between January and March 2021, and 4.2 million in the same quarter in 2022.

Disney+ Hotstar loses 4.6 mn subscribers: Star's loss seems to be Viacom18's gain

In August last year, Disney had acknowledged that the loss of the IPL streaming rights, would hamper its overall subscriber growth ambition, and lowered its FY 2024 target from 230-260 million to 215-245 million, with 80 million subscribers expected from Disney+ Hotstar. The next quarter could be a better reflection of the subscriber numbers, minus the IPL.

Many of the platform's subscribers, come through telecom partnerships. Some of these partnerships have expired recently. Sources say the decline in the numbers could be attributed to that, more than the loss of the IPL rights.

With the IPL digital streaming moving to JioCinema this year, the platform has witnessed a massive spike in the number visitors (65 million unique visitors in March 2023). The platform is offering its service free of cost, giving it a further boost.

Last month, the integration of JioCinema into Viacom18, was completed. The merger has given its growth further impetus, as the network now has access to Rs 15,145 crore. Of this, Rs 10,839 crore comes from Reliance Industries (RIL) entities, and Rs 4,306 crore is contributed by investment firm, Bodhi Tree Systems.

Former Star India head Uday Shankar was also appointed to the board of Viacom18. Shankar is the promoter of Bodhi Tree Systems, along with James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems.

Meanwhile, HBO content has also moved from Disney+ Hotstar to JioCinema. Following a non-renewal of the deal, Viacom18 signed a multi-year agreement with Warner Bros. Discovery to bring HBO, Max Original and Warner Bros programming to JioCinema. The content is expected to establish JioCinema as a strong competitor in the OTT space.

Last month, Jio Studios, the media and content arm of RIL, unveiled its lineup of 100 upcoming titles, including original films and web series in multiple languages. The titles are expected to drop this month, while IPL audiences still visit the platform.

While the platform is currently free and only seeks a mobile number registration from the viewers, with a strong content bank, it will begin to monetise shortly.

During an interview with afaqs!, Jyoti Deshpande, president - RIL media and content business, hinted that the content will be behind a paywall.

After the IPL is over, it is the Warner Bros. Discovery and Jio Studios content that is expected to hold the new subscribers back. Moreover, as more platforms attempt a hybrid revenue model, JioCinema will also have to go beyond just the advertising revenue. It is the premium content that will enable the platform to monetise.

People movement

It is not just the subscribers and the content that's moving to JioCinema, but also the employees.

Akash Saxena, who quit as Disney+ Hotstar's CTO last November, joined Viacom18 this month. In 2021, Star Sports ad sales head Anil Jayaraj became the CEO of Viacom18's sports business. In 2021, Disney+ Hotstar ad sales head Gulshan Verma also joined JioAds as CEO. In fact, a majority of the Sports18 team, has been built by former Star employees.

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