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Disney+ to launch on April 3 in India as demand for entertainment services increase amid lockdown

The novel coronavirus is at the centre of its decision as millions of Indians under lockdown seek to watch something new.

Photo by Jayme McColgan on Unsplash

The Walt Disney Company has made a U-turn within a fortnight of its announcement that it has postponed the scheduled launch of its new online video streaming channel Disney+.

Realizing that it might be a big mistake to miss the opportunity to get new users at a time when millions of Indians are stuck in their houses due to the lockdown till April 14, the American entertainment giant has decided to roll out Disney+ in the country on April 3.

Once rolled out, Disney+ will be available on Disney’s Indian streaming platform, Hotstar, which is currently the market leader in the country. While Hotstar paid subscribers will get access to Disney+ content, the new customers can get an annual VIP subscription at INR 399 (USD 5.24) and Premium subscription at INR 1,499.

This comes at a time when its arch-rivals, Netflix and Amazon Prime are seeing a surge in traffic in the world’s second-most-populous country. As there was a sudden increase in video streaming in the country, telecom industry body COAI (The Cellular Operators’ Association of India) has asked such companies to switch streaming from high-definition to standard-definition to reduce pressure on the network infrastructure.

Two days before the nation-wide lockdown was announced on March 25, The Walt Disney Company had postponed its Disney+ launch in India, which was scheduled for March 29, to coincide with the beginning of India’s biggest cricketing tournament, Indian Premier Leauge (IPL). After the sporting event was delayed for about a month due to the global pandemic COVID-19, Disney said it made a “decision to briefly pause the roll-out of Disney+ and will announce a new revised premiere date for the service soon.”

Uday Shankar, president, The Walt Disney Company APAC and chairman, Star & Disney India, told local media Economic Times (ET) that the company has had a relook at its launch strategy for Disney+.

“We were planning to launch along with IPL but decided to hit a pause and have a relook at the strategy amid concerns on safety and fear on coronavirus,” Shankar said.

“There is a certain sobriety in the environment and we also want to be responsible and sensitive to that. But given that there is no fresh content being launched in the Indian market, we feel there will be a hunger for quality content, and that’s exactly why we decided to launch it now.”

IPL would have been perfect for Indians’ appetite, giving Disney+ an upper hand over its competitors.

In fact, the popular Indian cricket tournament–which usually consists of 60 games and lasts for seven to eight weeks–has been a crucial element of Hotstar’s India strategy.

When Hotstar launched its subscription service in April 2016, it used IPL along with season six of hit American series Game of Thrones as a bait to lure users to come to the platform and was able to lock them in for a year with its annual subscription. Over the years, IPL has made Hotstar the number one player in the South Asian nation. Last year, Hotstar said the cricket series had 300 million-plus viewership overall for the IPL as compared to 202 million overall viewership in 2018. According to data-driven research platform Oddup, as of October 2019, Hotstar enjoyed a 29% market share, followed by Amazon Prime’s 10%, while Netflix had about 5% market share.

Disney+ launch is expected to place Hotstar in a better, stronger position in the video-on-demand market which is soon to become USD 5 billion in size. During the earnings call in February this year, current executive chairman Bob Iger said Disney+ had amassed  28.6 million subscribers within three months of its launch in the US and a few other countries like Canada, Netherlands, and Australia.