Disney’s Hotstar offers free mobile streaming of cricket tournaments in India

Hotstar, owned by Walt Disney Co, has announced that it will provide free streaming of cricket tournaments in India on mobile devices, following the success of rival JioCinema’s similar strategy in the cricket-loving nation. The streaming platform will offer the Asia Cup and ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup tournaments at no cost to users, aiming to make the matches accessible to over 540 million smartphone users in India. However, the cricket matches will still require payment when accessed on TV or via the website.

Previously, Disney had digital rights for the Indian Premier League (IPL), one of the world’s most lucrative annual sporting events. However, Viacom18’s JioCinema, owned by Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani, acquired those rights for US$2.9 billion and made the streaming free on its platform. The competition between Disney and JioCinema has intensified, with both companies using advertising to promote their respective platforms for IPL viewing.

Despite JioCinema beginning to charge users for premium content, such as its recent Hollywood content deal with Warner Bros and NBCUniversal, the company has stated that IPL streaming will remain free. The viewership battle is significant in India, where cricket is the most popular sport, and an estimated 700 million users consume digital content primarily through smartphones.

Research firm CLSA estimates that Disney Hotstar’s subscriber base in India has decreased by nearly five million users since losing the digital rights for IPL. Karan Taurani, an analyst at Elara Capital, described Disney’s move as a “desperate” attempt to regain lost users but cautioned that offering free cricket could have negative consequences for the industry. Taurani warned that if the trend of free cricket offerings continues, it may exacerbate losses for streaming platforms or lead to consolidation, as many platforms may struggle to survive with lower revenue per user.

Despite the decline in subscribers due to the loss of IPL rights, Disney+ Hotstar still leads the Indian streaming market, accounting for more than 40% of the total user base in the country, according to Media Partners Asia. Other key players in India’s rapidly growing streaming industry include Netflix and Amazon Prime.

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Sara is a journalist and content writer who specializes in lifestyle, wellness, and travel topics. Sara's journey in journalism began as a copywriter, and over time, her portfolio expanded to include articles and features for some of the nation's top lifestyle publications. Outside the office, she enjoys practising yoga and exploring hidden locations in Bangkok.