New Delhi: The India teams of Star network and Walt Disney believe it will be some time before there a clarity on their individual functions and the future of the combined entity emerges, people familiar with the development say.
Walt Disney acquired Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. in a $71 billion cash and stock deal in June 2018, making Star India, Fox Star Studios, and Hotstar part of Walt Disney. Even though the two teams in the country have started working together, bigger changes are anticipated towards the end of the year.
The Economic Times first reported that since former Hotstar CEO Ajit Mohan left the company last year to head Facebook’s India operations, the company has primarily been managed by its parent Star India and its chairman Uday Shankar. While Shankar remains in control, the day-to-day operations of the new company are now likely to be shared between Los Angeles and Mumbai.
Varun Narang, Hotstar’s chief product officer, largely operates out of the former location. Some of the streaming service’s in-house technology talent has been moved to the Disney headquarters in the US, to further up the company’s ante on sports content, where it fares well with multiple sporting leagues such as the Indian Premier League, the report said. Disney is also giving Hotstar access to its talent base in Hulu, its other OTT (over-the-top streaming) service.
To be sure, these are all geared towards the launch of Disney’s ad-free video streaming service, Disney+, in the US this November. Mint had first reported that the company is unlikely to launch the platform in India and, instead, route the original content created for the new OTT service, and its movie library, to Indian audiences through Hotstar.
Hotstar plans to localize Disney+ movies and shows by dubbing, or by adding subtitles in Indian languages, including Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. Hotstar’s own original content, titled Hotstar Specials, are currently available in seven Indian languages.
The decision to bring Disney+ content under Hotstar is based on the latter’s wide reach, besides the potential of the Indian market.
In the last one year, American players, including Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, have had to focus on local content to woo audiences in India. Netflix has announced a partnership with Dharmatic Entertainment, the digital content arm of Bollywood filmmaker Karan Johar’s company Dharma Productions for a range of original films and shows. It already has deals with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment to create content and with Aamir Khan to acquire the actor’s movies. Arch-rival Amazon Prime Video, on the other hand, has long-term deals for feature films produced by Johar and actor Salman Khan. Together, OTT services are slated to invest about Rs. 2,500 crore in original content in India this year, according to an earlier Mint report.