ESPN+, Disney+ to take over digital space from Hotstar?

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Will recent developments in Walt Disney Company’s OTT business eventually affect Hotstar, Star India’-owned premier VOD platform in the country? Can Disney+ and ESPN+ eventually become Walt Disney Company’s premier digital streaming platforms for LIVE Sports and general entertainment content?

Star India’s OTT platform Hotstar is reportedly going through some structural shifts, which eventually may lead to a considerable change in the Disney Star’s OTT business in India. Business daily Economic Times, quoting sources, has reported a slew of organizational changes in Hotstar just ahead of the imminent launch of Disney+ streaming services in the USA and Canada.

The paper, quoting sources, has reported that some of Hotstar’s in-house technology talent has been moved to Disney in the United States, where Disney+ will compete with Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video on its launch.

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Hotstar’s Chief Product officer Varun Narang is also reported to be largely operating from the Walt Disney Headquarters in Los Angeles, the USA.

Disney is also giving Hotstar access to its talent base in Hulu. “Disney has started getting some of the best tech talents from Hulu and allocating them to Hotstar,” said one of the people. Most of these new hires have been placed in China for the time being. The China office is important from an R&D perspective, one of them said.

These changes can lead to Disney’s focus on live sports streaming (through ESPN+) even as Hotstar has been the proven performer in sports streaming. The Indian Premier League 2019  final had recorded 18.6 million concurrent viewers on Hotstar. The ICC World Cup semi-final featuring India had a 25.3 million audience on Hotstar. The Disney leadership is said to have been inspired by the numbers.

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Hotstar’s technology team has a lot of expertise when it comes to handling high bandwidth concurrency. It will come in handy with all the major sporting events in the US, such as the NCAA, NBA, NFL and others like it,” the daily has quoted a source as saying.

“Most of the engineers there are working on a social interactions product, which started 18 months back.”

Disney has also transferred a few of Hotstar’s marketing and product employees to Los Angeles so they can be closer to the headquarters as the launch of Disney+ nears.

Hotstar reportedly has denied that there was an overhaul in the works.

As Disney+ will not launch independently in India, Hotstar will take on all the content of the new streaming platform. However, there seems to be more to it than meets the eye. “Before the Disney+ originals start to release, the existing titles will probably be available at the same price to current premium users, but when the originals start to drop, Hotstar is thinking of adding another tier,” said a person familiar with the company’s operations. This is, however, at least six to eight months away.”

In another significant development, Hotstar’s day-to-day operations will now be shared between Los Angeles and Mumbai, where Star India chairman Uday Shankar has been in control ever since Hotstar CEO Ajit Mohan has shifted to Facebook India last year.

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