Netflix’s latest effort to make inroads in India: Support for Hindi

Only about 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people know English. Yet, scores of firms operating in the country offer their services only in English. Netflix, one such company, said on Friday it’s aiming to break through the language barrier.

The American on-demand video streaming giant today rolled out support for Hindi, a language spoken by nearly half a billion people in India, across its platform. From the sign up page to search rows, to collections, synopsis and payment, Hindi language is now baked in across the platform. Subscribers can choose Hindi language from ‘Manage Profiles’ section on the welcome screen.

“Delivering a great Netflix experience is as important to us as creating great content. We believe the new user interface will make Netflix even more accessible and better suit members who prefer Hindi,” said Monika Shergill, VP-Content at Netflix India, in a statement.

Netflix’s global competitors, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar also support Hindi language, though the latter has deployed Hindi in limited capacity (not for a movie or show’s synopsis, for instance).

The focus on Hindi illustrates the level of traction Netflix believes it has received in India. Most international firms tend to localize their services in India after they have fully tapped the population in urban cities across the country where English is a common language.

Facebook and Google — two companies that have each amassed over 350 million users in India — have long supported Hindi and several other local Indian languages across their services. Amazon added support for Hindi on its app in 2018, and rolled out support for the language in Alexa last year. In June, the company said sellers could now sign up to its platform and manage their accounts in Hindi language.

Flipkart introduced support for Hindi on its platform last year, and added three more local languages in June this year.

Support for Hindi is the latest effort from Netflix, which competes with more than three dozen on-demand video streaming services in India, to attract subscribers in the country. In the past one year, the company has also explored ways to make its platform affordable to more users in India, where an average person earns about $2,000 a year.

Last year, it launched a mobile-only plan in India that costs less than $3 a month and is currently testing at least one more affordable subscription tier in the country. At an event in India in early 2018, Netflix co-founder and co-chief executive Reed Hastings said — perhaps jokingly (can’t tell) — that India will eventually bring 100 million subscribers to his platform.

The company’s moves since then suggest that Netflix believes it. Last year, Netflix said it had earmarked $420 million for producing and licensing content in India by the end of 2020. Last month, the streaming service announced 17 original shows and movies that it plans to release over the next few months.

Like more than two dozen languages — including Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese — Hindi support will be available to subscribers worldwide.

‘Mulan’ is coming to Disney+ on September 4, for an additional price of $29.99

Those wondering whether The Walt Disney Company would eventually give up on a traditional theatrical release for “Mulan” now have their answer.

While the coronavirus pandemic prompted Disney to accelerate the release of some movies like Pixar’s “Onward” on streaming, and to send certain lower-profile movies like “Artemis Fowl” straight to Disney+, the company chose to delay its bigger releases like “Mulan” and “Black Widow.” In fact, “Mulan” and Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” were expected to be the first big movies in theaters whenever they reopened.

However, with the pandemic showing no real signs of subsiding in the United States, and no clear date for theatrical reopenings in key markets like New York and California, Warner Bros. recently announced that “Tenet” will not follow a traditional theatrical release schedule, and instead will open internationally this month before coming to select North American cities on September 3.

And during today’s earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said that “Mulan” will launch on Disney+ on September 4 as a “premiere access” release in “most Disney+ markets” including the United States and Canada, while also being released theatrically in “certain markets.”

It sounds like subscribers will have to pay an additional $29.99 for the film, although Chapek didn’t offer any details about how this will work. If “Mulan” is popular, and if it remains unsafe to open theaters, then Disney could conceivably follow a similar strategy for “Black Widow” and other upcoming films.

During the call, Chapek also said that as of yesterday, Disney+ has grown to more than 60.5 million paid subscribers.

Disney+ grows to more than 60.5M subscribers

Disney+ had more than 60.5 million paying subscribers as of yesterday, according to The Walt Disney Company’s CEO Bob Chapek.

Chapek shared the number during a call to discuss the company’s latest earnings report, which covered the company’s most recent quarter ending on June 27. He was essentially offering an update on the 57.5 million paid subscriber figure included in the report, and he said the growth is “far exceeding our initial projections for the service.”

Disney+ launched in November of last year. The company previously announced in April that the service had passed 50 million subscribers. (Those numbers include subscribers acquired through bundling with Hotstar in India, as well as free subscribers through a promotion with TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon.)

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated growth for some streaming services. Most notably, Netflix added more than 10 million new subscribers in its most recent quarter, bringing its global total to nearly 193 million. As for Disney’s other streaming services, ESPN+ has grown more than 100% year-over-year to 8.5 million subscribers (as of June 26), while Hulu grew 27% to 35.5 million subscribers (3.4 million of them are paying for both video on demand and live TV).

And Disney+ may have gotten an additional bump, thanks to the release of “Hamilton” over the July 4 weekend.

Overall, Disney said revenue for its direct-to-consumer and international division increased 2% year-over-year, to $4.0 billion, while the unit’s operating loss grew from $562 million to $706 million.

Still, streaming likely counts as a relative bright spot compared to many of Disney’s other businesses that have either slowed or paused entirely due to the pandemic. (Parks are gradually reopening, for example.) The company’s total revenue fell 42% YOY to $11.8 billion, and earnings per share for the quarter showed a loss of $2.61.

Original Content podcast: Yep, ‘Hamilton’ is still very good

With the release of “Hamilton” on Disney+, Jordan and Darrell finally got to watch the musical biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton — albeit in recorded form, rather than live on-stage.

And as we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, they were pretty delighted by what they found. Not that a Broadway hit that’s won virtually every award really needs defenders at this point — but the Disney+ version is beautifully filmed, and it’s nice to see that five years later, “Hamilton” still works for new viewers.

Anthony, meanwhile, saw the show back in 2015 and has listened to the soundtrack many, many times. But after years of reading about “Hamilton” rather than experiencing it directly, Disney+ gave him a chance to rediscover how virtuosic and entertaining the show is from beginning to end, with one memorable song after another.

We did have a few reservations, about composer Lin-Manuel Miranda’s decision to cast himself as Hamilton, and about the show’s politics — we certainly appreciated its attempt to reclaim the founding story of the United States as a story for immigrants and people of color, but as others have pointed out, downplaying slavery and uncritically celebrating the creation of America’s financial institutions feels a bit strange, at least in 2020.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Introduction
0:21 “Hamilton” review
30:52 “Hamilton” spoiler discussion

‘Hamilton’ gives Disney+ a holiday weekend bump in U.S., with app downloads up 72%

The much-anticipated addition of “Hamilton” seems to have paid off for Disney+. According to new data from app store analytics firm Apptopia, Disney’s streaming service saw a big jump in downloads over the July 4 holiday weekend in the U.S., following the worldwide debut of “Hamilton” on Friday, July 3rd. Between Friday and Sunday, that translated to over half a million new global downloads (513K+) for the Disney+ mobile app, excluding India and Japan. Some 266,084 of those downloads were in the U.S, the firm estimated.

These figures represent a 46.6% increase over the average seen during the previous four weekends in June (Friday through Sunday), Apptopia noted. But the numbers don’t include India or Japan as Disney+ is streamed via Hotstar in the former; and in the latter, via a partnership with NTT Docomo through an existing service that later transitioned to Disney+.

The download figures also represented a 72.4% increase over the four prior weekends in June, in the U.S, indicating that a significant amount of interest in “Hamilton,” not surprisingly — given its “founding fathers” subject matter — comes from U.S. subscribers.

Notably, these downloads represent paid subscribers, not free trial users, as Disney+ ended its free week-long trial offering back in June. 

Rival firm Sensor Tower estimates a slightly different “Hamilton”-related bump for Disney+. During the week of June 29 to July 5, downloads spiked 64% over the week prior, Yahoo reported.

Apptopia also founded that “Hamilton” represented the biggest content launch of all of 2020, so far, in terms of downloads. That means it also outpaced the streaming launch of “Frozen 2,” which arrived while consumers were under coronavirus lockdowns. It was also bigger than “Onward,” “Artemis Fowl,” and others, the firm found.

Image Credits: disney

Of course, mobile download numbers don’t provide a full picture of how many signed up just for “Hamilton.” Many of the new Disney+ subscribers likely only signed up via a TV app and have yet to download the mobile companion.

If Roku’s online channel store offered a “top charts” section with rankings, we would have another window into Disney+ popularity given its status of a top streaming device and TV maker in the U.S. But it’s worth pointing out that Roku’s user base has given the Disney+ app a 4.3-star rating across 1,55,006 total reviews. For comparison, Netflix has 3,675,383 reviews — which shows how quickly the still relatively new service Disney+ is gaining on the market leader.

In May, Disney announced its streaming service had grown from 33.5 million subscribers as of March 28 to 54.4 million Disney+ subscribers as of May 4.

The service appeals to those who follow Disney’s top brands like Star Wars and Marvel, for example, but it’s also found a lot of growth among families who now more than ever need content to keep kids entertained amid the coronavirus outbreak, which has limited families’ usual activities and kept kids indoors. And at the $6.99 per month price point (or $69.99/yr), it’s one of the more affordable streaming services available.

 

 

Tech talent is flocking to smaller cities, but investors aren’t

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week’s show took a break from regularly scheduled programming. Our co-host Alex Wilhelm, who usually leads us through the show, was on some deserved vacation, so Danny Crichton and Natasha Mascarenhas took the reigns and invited Floodgate Capital’s Iris Choi to join in on the fun. It’s Choi’s fourth time being on the podcast, which officially makes her our most tenured guest yet (in case the accomplished investor needs another bullet point on her bio page).

This week’s docket features scrappiness, a seed round, and a Startup battlefield alumnus.

Here’s what we chewed through:

  • LeverEdge raised seed funding to get you and your friends a volume discount on student loans. Fintech has been booming for years now, and startups often crop up around the painful wolrd of student loans. Yet this startup still caught our eye, and it has a little something to do with its choice to use collective bargaining power as its modus operandi.
  • Stackin’ raises $12.6M Series B for a text-messaging service that connects millennials to money tips, and eventually other fintech apps. According to CEO Scott Grimes, Stackin’ wants to be the “pipes that port people around fintech.” We get into if the world needs a fintech app marketplace and how it targets younger users.
  • D-ID, a Startup Battlefield alumnus, digitally de-identifies faces in videos and still images and just raised $13.5 million. We’re all worried about our privacy concerns, so the funding news was a refreshing change of pace from the usual headlines we see around surveillance. Now the company just needs to find a successful use case beyond the goodness in people’s hearts.
  • ByteDance, the Chinese parent company that owns TikTok, hit $3 Billion in net profit last year, reports Bloomberg. TikTok also recently snagged former Disney executive Kevin Mayer for its CEO. This one, as you can expect, made for an interesting conversation around privacy and bandwidth. We even asked Choi to weigh in on Donald J. Trump’s recent tweet threatening to regulate social media companies, since Floodgate was an early angel investor in Twitter.
  • We ended with a round table of sorts on how the future of work will look and feel in our new world, from college campuses to offices. We get into the vulnerability that comes with being on Zoom, the ever-increasing stupidity of “manels”, and how tech talent might be flocking to smaller cities but investors aren’t just yet.

And that was the show! Thanks to our producer Chris Gates for helping us put to this together, thanks to you all for listening in on this quirky episode, and thanks to Iris Choi for always bringing a fresh, candid perspective. Talk next week.

The Simpsons can now be watched in 4:3 aspect ratio on Disney+, as nature intended

The greatest comedy in television history became a part of the Disney family when the mega-corporation gobbled up Fox last year, like so many forbidden donuts. Beyond having to make nice with the cartoon mouse American’s family had so openly antagonized over the decades, the deal meant that The Simpsons would have a permanent home on the new Disney+ streaming service.

That meant all 30 seasons of the longest-running prime-time series would be available in one place — albeit with one major catch. Disney went ahead and “remastered” the series, an act that largely involved stretching older episodes from their native 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:9.

It was, understandably, enough to raise the ire of fans paying $7 a month to watch the beloved series. The resulting episodes looked distorted and important sight gags were lost to cropping. And The Simpsons without sight gags might as well be The Thompsons. There were annoyed grunts amid the fan base, and Disney backed slowly into the hedge.

The long-promised fix is finally here. Turns out it was easier said than done. Episodes will still pop up in the remastered aspect ratio by default, but clicking into the show description and “Details” from the main menu will let you toggle that off. The move will return the shows to 4:3 up to Season 20, when the show began to be natively produced in 16:9.

Streaming service Hooq shuts down, ends partnership with Disney’s Hotstar, Grab and others

Hooq, a five-year-old on-demand video streaming service that aimed to become “Netflix for Southeast Asia,” has shut down weeks after filing for liquidation and terminated its partnerships with Disney’s Hotstar, ride-hailing giant Grab, and Indonesia’s VideoMax.

Hooq Digital, a joint venture among Singapore telecom group Singtel (majority owner), Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros Entertainment, discontinued the service on Thursday. It had amassed over 80 million subscribers in nearly half of the dozen markets in Asia.

“For the past 5 years, we gave you unbelievable thrills, heartrending drama, roaring laughs, awesome action, and more. Our goal was to bring you the best entertainment from here to Hollywood. Our hearts are full of gratitude for all of you who shared the journey with us,” it says on its website.

Hooq publicly disclosed that it had raised about $95 million, but the sum was likely higher. News outlet The Ken analyzed the regulatory filings last month to report that Hooq had raised $127.2 million, and its losses in the financial year 2019 had ballooned to $220, suggesting that it had received more capital.

The streaming service said last month that it could not receive new funds from new or existing investors.

Homepage of Hooq

The service counted India, where it entered into a partnership with Disney’s Hotstar in 2018 and telecom operators Airtel and Vodafone, as its biggest market. The company also maintained a partnership with ride-hailing giant Grab to supply content in its cab, and VideoMAX in Indonesia.

Hooq brought dozens of D.C. universe titles including “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Wonder Woman” and other popular TV series such as “The Big Bang Theory” to its partners. In India, users began noticing last week that those titles were disappearing from Hotstar.

A spokesperson of Hooq told TechCrunch today that its tie-ups with all its partners including Hotstar have closed. A Hotstar spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Mobile operator Singtel first unveiled Hooq’s liquidation in an exchange filing last month. The Ken reported that the filing left hundreds of employees at Hooq stunned who thought the firm was doing fine financially. Nearly every employee at Hooq has been let go, with select few offered a job at Singtel, according to The Ken.

In an interview with Slator earlier this year, Yvan Hennecart, Head of Localization at HOOQ, said that the company was working to expand its catalog with local content and add 100 original titles in 2020.

“Our focus is mostly on localization of entertainment content; whether it is subtitling or dubbing, we are constantly looking to bring more content to our viewers faster. My role also expands to localization of our platform and any type of collateral information that helps create a unique experience for our users,” he told the outlet.

Coronavirus could push consumers away from influencers and toward streaming TV

As the nation struggles with a pandemic and economic uncertainty, fundamental shifts in consumer habits are leading marketers to rethink existing strategies and budgets allocated to influencers and streaming TV.

These significant shifts are nothing new; just as the dot-com bubble reduced landline penetration and boosted mobile phone adoption, the last recession pushed traditional ad spend to digital. It was an option before, but the recession accelerated the trend to targeting select audiences on social media platforms, giving rise to influencers.

Today, social media influencers are so ubiquitous, they risk becoming meaningless.

Prior to the onset of coronavirus, we saw the influencer trend diminishing while the streaming TV trend became more prominent. Today, streaming is still trending up and influencers have actually seen increased levels of engagement, but they face credibility issues, which could lead to a reduction in perceived value to brands.

Streaming has similar, if not more, targeting capabilities as social media, but now it has the eyeballs — the captive audience of quarantined Americans — up 20% this March, according to Nielsen. Marketers on a tight budget will be forced to reevaluate their relationships with influencers as they seek to increase ad spend on streaming TV services.

The evolving realms of influencers

Disney+ Hotstar has about 8 million subscribers

We finally know just about how many subscribers Hotstar has amassed over the years in India. “Approximately 8 million.”

Disney said on Wednesday that its eponymous streaming service now has over 50 million subscribers, nearly 8 million of whom are in India, where it launched its service atop Hotstar less than a week ago.

Five-year-old Hotstar is the most popular on-demand streaming service in India with more than 300 million users. The service and its operator, Indian network Star India, were picked up by Disney as part of its $71 billion deal with Fox last year.

For years, people in the industry have been curious about Hotstar’s premium subscriber base — to no luck. Most estimates have suggested it had about 1.5 million to 2 million subscribers. Executives at rival firms have expected that figure to be lower.

In fact, a months-long analysis conducted by one streaming firm in India concluded recently that there were 2 million paying subscribers for music and video services. So 8 million is a huge milestone.

But ARPU that Disney will clock from these 8 million subscriber is going to be far lower. Disney+ Hotstar is available in India at a yearly subscription cost of about $20. (That’s the revised subscription cost. Prior to Disney+’s launch in India, Hotstar charged about $13.) The service also offers a lower-cost tier that costs less than $5.5 a year.

And for that $20 a year, subscribers of Disney+ Hotstar get access to a wide-ranging catalog that includes access to Disney Originals in English as well as several local languages, live sporting events, dozens of TV channels, and thousands of movies and shows, including some sourced from HBO, Showtime, ABC and Fox that maintain syndication partnerships with the Indian streaming service.

“I think everyone is still trying to sort out the right pricing. It’s true the average Indian consumer is used to far lower prices and can’t afford more. However, we need to focus on the consumers likely to buy this, who have the requisite broadband access and income, etc,” Matthew Ball, former head of strategic planning for Amazon Studios, told TechCrunch in a recent conversation.

Disney+ competes with more than three dozen international and local players in India, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Times Internet’s MX Player (which has over 175 million monthly active users), Zee5, Apple TV+ and Alt Balaji, which has over 27 million subscribers.

Most of these services monetize their viewers through ads, and have kept their monthly subscription price below $3.