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Disney Plus launch in India to coincide with IPL

Disney is launching its Disney Plus OTT service in India on March 29, to coincide with the start of the Indian Premier League cricket season.

Indian newspaper The Economic Times reported that Disney Plus is being combined with Disney subsidiary Star India’s existing OTT platform Hotstar. It is expected the expanded service will be called Disney Plus Hotstar.

The launch was announced by Disney chairman and chief executive Bob Iger on a quarterly earnings call on Tuesday. He said: “We will be launching Disney Plus in India through our Hotstar service on March 29th at the beginning of the IPL cricket season… We see this as a great opportunity to use the proven platform of Hotstar to launch the new Disney Plus service in one of the most populous countries and fastest growing economies in the world.”

He added: “It will be priced for the market and launched at a very peak period of time for the IPL… and so, we think it’s an opportune moment. We take advantage of the presence of Star in the market and the millions of subscribers that they also have, we take advantage of the sports tie-in, and we use the interface and the technology that includes the billing that already exists to launch a service, we believe, under very, very optimal circumstances.”

Disney Plus does not carry sports content – it serves entertainment content only, with films and television series including Star Wars and Marvel Cinematic Universe content. Hotstar offers a mix of entertainment and sport.

Disney Plus is Disney’s big stride into the OTT video space. The company is taking on the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Apple with a global service. Both Netflix and Amazon have launched in India, and are investing in programming produced especially for the market, although not sport, so far.

Disney Plus launched initially in the US, Canada and the Netherlands, in November last year. It is launching in multiple markets in Western Europe on March 24th, a few days before India. TechCrunch has reported that it will launch in Southeast Asian markets this year.

Iger said in the earnings call that Disney Plus has currently got 26.5m paying subscribers. Star said last year that Hotstar had 100m daily active users and 300m monthly active users. Most users are on the platform’s free content tier.

Disney took over Star India last year as part of its $71bn deal for 21st Century Fox.

The Economic Times said pricing for Disney Plus Hotstar had not yet been announced, but Iger said there would be two tiers of access: “One will be more premium in nature that will include the entire library, so with the original programming and the other one will be more basic that will have the library and not the original programming.”

Hotstar currently has three tiers: a free, advertising funded service; Hotstar VIP, which costs Rs365 ($5.10) per year and includes original, Indian-produced content; and Hotstar Premium, which costs Rs999 ($14) per year and offers premium content in advertising-free streams, including all Star’s live sports. Star’s major sports properties include BCCI cricket, the IPL, ICC cricket, Premier League football, and Formula One.

As well as the global players, Disney Plus Hotstar will be competing with OTT video platforms run by Indian media companies, including SonyLIV, ZEE5, Voot and MX Player. Of these, only Sony has sports content.