Disney+ Hotstar, the video streaming service owned by Walt Disney, has announced the acquisition and release of seven Bollywood titles featuring stars such as Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Alia Bhatt, directly on the streaming platform, in what is estimated to be a ₹400-crore deal. The move comes close on the heels of high-profile films such as Gulabo Sitabo and Gunjan Saxena-The Kargil Girl going directly to streaming platforms like Amazon and Netflix, respectively.
The Disney+ Hotstar deal busts the myth that only mid-sized films are skipping theatrical releases as the covid-19 pandemic rages on and theatres remain shut. At least three of the titles that the service has notched up are big-ticket films, including Akshay Kumar’s Laxmmi Bomb, Ajay Devgn’s Bhuj: The Pride of India, and Alia Bhatt-starrer Sadak 2, with budgets of at least the first two at over ₹100 crore, experts said.
Disney will also premiere Abhishek Bachchan’s crime drama The Big Bull, romantic action thriller Khuda Haafiz, and comedy thriller Lootcase. The video on demand platform had announced the release of Sushant Singh Rajput’s Dil Bechara last week. While Dil Bechara is available free to viewers as a tribute to Rajput, all the other titles will be available to Disney+ Hotstar VIP and Premium subscribers with screenings starting on 24 July.
“These are all compelling films, which will be of interest to subscribers.,,Hindi films have a core audience base but we have widened the access to these films and hopefully many more will experience them," said Uday Shankar, president of The Walt Disney Company APAC and chairman of Star and Disney India.
The move is strategic for Disney, which rebranded Hotstar, the video streaming service of the Star network, to Disney+ Hotstar earlier this year, competing with platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The platform is expected to draw 18 million subscribers in the country, said a report by research firm Media Partners Asia. Media experts said big Bollywood titles will help cement Disney’s library as a formidable force among the clutter of foreign and local players.
Shankar declined to comment on the acquisition cost of the new titles. However, experts said video-on-demand platforms have consciously paid a premium to take films directly to digital, to meet increasing consumer demand as over the top (OTT) viewership has spiked over the past three months.
For Laxmmi Bomb, Dil Bechara, and Lootcase which are Fox Star productions, Disney owned the satellite TV and digital rights, having paid co-producers in advance. For the others, a 25-30% premium on the production budget is likely.