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NEW DELHI: Disney+ Hotstar, the video streaming service owned by media and entertainment conglomerate Walt Disney in India and Indonesia was the strongest contributor to Disney+’s net subscriber additions worldwide, making up approximately a third of the OTT platform’s subscriber base at the end of the March quarter, the company said in an earnings call on Thursday. Given that total Disney+ subscribers stood at 103.6 million, this would translate into around 34 million subscribers for Disney+ Hotstar.

The video-on-demand service had notched up around 25 million subscribers in India by February 2021. In contrast, competing US streaming service provider Netflix is estimated to have closed the year 2020 with 4.6 million paid subscribers in India, according to an analysis by Media Partners Asia, an independent provider of research, advisory and consulting services across media, telecoms, sports and entertainment industries in Asia Pacific. Amazon Prime Video’s subscriber base is estimated at 17 million by MPA.

Disney, whose financial year lasts from October to September, said ARPU (average revenue per user) for Disney+ Hotstar in the January to March quarter was down significantly versus the previous (October to December) quarter when IPL (Indian Premier League) 2020 cricket matches were in progress. Disney+'s overall ARPU this quarter was $3.99. Excluding Disney+ Hotstar, it was $5.61.

“The majority of the prior IPL tournament (2020) took place in fiscal Q1 and there were no games in Q2. The current IPL tournament began on April 9, in fiscal Q3 and was suspended last week, given the covid situation in India," Christine McCarthy, senior executive vice-president and chief financial officer at Disney said during the earnings call. However, she attributed the 100 million global paid subscriber mark to the continued growth of Disney+ Hotstar.

In March 2020, Hotstar, the video streaming service of the Star network, was rebranded as Disney+ Hotstar in India and a few other Asian markets. Elsewhere, the service is known as Disney+. In a price-sensitive market like India, Hotstar is priced at 299 per annum for its VIP service and 1,499 for Premium. Netflix that has three monthly plans—basic ( 499), standard ( 649) and premium ( 799) has introduced a mobile-only subscription priced at 199 per month. Amazon Prime membership that was available for 129 a month or 999 per year, can now be accessed by Airtel pre-paid customers starting at 89 a month.

To be sure, Hotstar that competes with over 60 streaming platforms in India has an edge thanks to its sports catalogue that includes the coveted IPL tournament. The service has also cashed in on the shutdown of movie theatres by premiering a bunch of Bollywood titles including The Big Bull, Laxmii and Sadak 2 recently.

Overall, Disney revenues fell 13.3% to $15.6 billion, primarily on the back of theme parks and movie theatres remaining shut across the globe. However, chief executive Bob Chapek said the company was closely monitoring the recovery of theatrical exhibition, as consumers begin to return to theatres (in certain parts of the world).

“We have outlined three approaches for distributing our films. Releases in theatres with a simultaneous offering via Disney+ Premier Access, releases straight to Disney+ and traditional exclusive theatrical releases," Chapek said adding that the company’s crime comedy drama Cruella will be released in theatres and via Disney+ Premier Access on 28 May, followed by animation flick Luca, which will be released exclusively on Disney+ on 18 June. Superhero flick Black Widow will be in theatres and on Disney+ via Premier Access on 9 July, as will Disney's Jungle Cruise, on 30 July.

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