Disney debuts its streaming service in India for $20 a year

Disney+ has arrived in the land of Bollywood. The company on Friday (local time) rolled out its eponymous streaming service in India through Hotstar, a popular on-demand video streamer it picked up as part of the Fox deal.

To court users in India, the largest open entertainment market in Asia, Disney is charging users 1,499 Indian rupees (about $19.5) for a year, the most affordable plan in any of the more than a dozen markets where Disney+ is currently available.

Subscribers of the revamped streaming service, now called Disney+ Hotstar, will get 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. It also maintains partnership with Hooq — at least for now.

Unlike Disney+’s offering in the U.S. and other markets, in India, the service does not support 4K and streams content at nearly a tenth of their bitrate.

Disney+ Hotstar is also offering a cheaper yearly premium tier, priced at Rs 399 (about $5.3), that will offer subscribers access to movies, shows (but not those sourced from aforementioned U.S. networks and studios) and live sporting events; it won’t include Disney Originals.

Access to streaming of sporting events, especially of cricket matches, has helped five-year-old Hotstar become the most popular on-demand video streaming in India. During the cricket tournament Indian Premier League (IPL) last year, the service amassed more than 300 million monthly active users and more than 100 million daily active users.

It also holds the global record for most simultaneous views on a live stream, about 25 million — more than thrice its nearest competitor.

Prior to today’s launch, Hotstar offered its premium plans at 999 Indian rupees, and 365 Indian rupees. Existing subscribers won’t be affected by the price revision for the duration of their current subscription.

The service, run by Indian conglomerate Star India, offers access to about 80% of its catalog at no cost to users. The company monetizes these viewers through ads.

But in recent years, the company has begun to explore ways to turn its users into subscribers. Two years ago, Hotstar stopped offering cricket match streaming to non-paying users.

People familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that Hotstar has about 1.5 million paying subscribers, lower than what most industry firms estimate. But that figure is still higher than most of its competitors.

And there are many.

India’s on-demand video market

Disney+ will compete 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 amassed over 27 million subscribers.

“The arrival of Disney+ in India is another case study in the globalization of entertainment in the digital era. For decades, the biggest companies in the world have expanded their reach into different markets. But it’s new, and actually quite profound, that everyone on earth receives the very same version of such a specific cultural product,” Matthew Ball, former head of strategic planning for Amazon Studios, told TechCrunch.

As in some other markets, including the U.S., streaming services have inked deals with telecom networks, TV vendors, cable TV operators and satellite TV players to extend their reach in India.

Most of these streaming services monetize their viewers by selling ads, and those who do charge have kept their premium plans below $3.

Why that figure? That’s the number most industry executives think — by spending years in the Indian market — that people in the country are willing to pay for viewing content. The average of how much an individual pays for cable TV, for instance, in India is also about $3.

“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,” said Ball.

Commuters drive along a road past a billboard in Mumbai advertising the Amazon Prime Video online series “The Forgotten Army”. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP via Getty Images)

At stake is India’s booming on-demand video streaming market that, according to Boston Consulting Group, is estimated to grow to $5 billion from half a billion two years ago.

Hotstar’s hold on India could make it easier for Disney+, which has launched in more than a dozen markets and has amassed over 28 million subscribers.

As the country spends about two more weeks in lockdown that New Delhi ordered last month to curtail the spread of coronavirus, this could also compel many to give Disney+ a try.

On the flip side, if the lockdown is extended, the current season of IPL, which has been postponed until mid-April, might be further delayed or cancelled altogether. Either of those scenarios could hurt the reach of Hotstar, which sees a massive drop in its user base after the conclusion of each cricket tournament.

Disney initially planned to launch its streaming service in India on March 28, the day IPL was supposed to commence. But the company later postponed the launch by six days.

Industry executives told TechCrunch that if IPL is cancelled, it could severely hurt the financials of Hotstar, which clocks more than 50% of its revenue during the 50-odd days of the cricket season.

Some said Disney+’s premier catalog might not be relevant for most of Hotstar’s user base, who seem to care about this streaming service only during the cricket season or to catch up on Indian soap operas.

Hotstar has also received criticism for censoring more content on its platform than any other streaming service in India. Last month, Hotstar blocked from streaming on its platform an episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” that was critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. YouTube made that segment available without any edits.

John Oliver slammed Hotstar for censoring the episode and noted that the streaming service had additionally edited out parts from his older episodes where he made fun of Disney. In 2017, Hotstar also edited out a segment from Oliver’s show in which he mocked Samsung for the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco. Hotstar and Samsung had a commercial partnership.

Hotstar did not respond to multiple requests for comment in 2017. Hotstar did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the recent controversy.

Disney+ beat Netflix in recent US downloads (report)

Netflix may still dominate global streaming, but Disney+ has made a huge splash in the United States, where it launched in November.

That much was pretty clear already, and other reports have already suggested that Disney+ was the most downloaded app and biggest search trend in the United States last year. Now a new report from mobile intelligence company Apptopia and competitive engagement platform Braze suggests that Disney’s streaming service has continued its spectacular success into 2020.

The report examines the months leading up to and after the service’s U.S. launch, and it includes charts of the most popular streaming apps for the first three months of 2020.

According to those charts, Netflix was the most downloaded streaming app globally, with 59.1 million downloads, followed by YouTube at 39.4 million. Disney+ (which is currently launching across Europe and India) was number seven on the list, with 17.5 million downloads.

In the United States however, Disney+ leads with 14.1 million downloads, versus 11.9 million for Netflix (which may have already saturated the U.S. market) and 8.1 million for Hulu (which is also owned primarily by Disney).

Lest you think this is purely a one-on-one contest between Netflix and Disney, it’s also worth noting that neither of them wins on time spent in app — instead, it’s YouTube Kids that wins in both the United States and globally.

Apptopia/Braze report

Image Credits: Apptopia and Braze

And yes, the COVID-19 pandemic is leading to even more streaming, with the report showing 30.7 percent increase in streaming sessions in March

The report suggests that the success of Disney+ means that there’s still room for new streaming services. (It might, however, simply reflect Disney’s dominance of the entertainment world. It remains to be seen whether Quibi, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max can achieve similar success as they launch in the coming months.)

The report also looks at strategies that successfully drive engagement, as measured by daily active users. It points out that the most popular brands are 21 percent more likely to send push notifications and 300 percent more likely to send in-app messages. It also concludes that “content that creates fandom is king”:

Adult Swim’s cartoon series Rick and Morty proved to be the most effective content for generating both short-term and long-term monthly active users (MAU). Over the course of the most recent season of Rick and Morty, the Adult Swim app’s daily active users (DAU) increased by 504%. Amazon Prime Video’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, HBO’s Game of Thrones, and sporting events also drove DAU growth in a meaningful way.

 

Original Content podcast: ‘Tiger King’ might be the wildest show on Netflix

Netflix’s “Tiger King” is a docuseries focusing on the man who calls himself Joe Exotic — owner of a private park full of tigers and other big cats. We learn in the opening minutes of the first episode that he’s been accused of hiring a contract killer to murder an animal rights activist.

A documentary that was solely about Joe would be pretty memorable on its own, but he’s surrounded by characters who are nearly as colorful, including the operators of several other big cat parks, as well as his nemesis, Carole Baskin.

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Jason from the TechCrunch events team to review “Tiger King.” It’s an incredibly addictive and bingeable show, with shocks and twists in virtually every episode.

At the same time, we debate whether the show treats its colorful subjects ethically, and whether anything was lost as the focus shifted from a “Blackfish”-style exposé of large cat owners into something more lurid.

You can listen 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 send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:29 “Tiger King” review
24:56 “Tiger King” spoilers

Netflix is currently down for many users around the world

Netflix is currently experiencing outages around the world, but affecting mostly users in the United States and Europe. According to Down Detector, users began reporting issues around 12PM Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday, and many people are still unable to connect to the streaming service on different platforms, including mobile, PCs and smart TVs.

Many people around the world are relying on Netflix for entertainment while under lockdown or quarantine measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. Both Netflix’s status and help pages have notes saying “We are currently experiencing a higher than normal wait time for support via phone and chat. Please try again later or check our online help center for answers to frequently asked questions. Thank you for your patience.” It is also fielding issues through its customer support Twitter account.

On March 21, Netflix said that in response to the European Union’s request for streaming services to use telecommunications networks more efficiently, it had developed a way to reduce Netflix’s traffic on them by 25% and deployed it in Italy, Spain, the rest of the Europe and the United Kingdom before rolling it out to other places including India.

88 out of top 200 US cities have seen internet speeds decline this past week, 3 cities by more than 40%

The impacts of telecommuting, shelter-in-place laws and home quarantines resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak are starting to impact broadband speeds across a number of U.S. cities, a new report has found. According to broadband analysis site BroadbandNow, 88 out of the top 200 most populous U.S. cities analyzed have now experienced some form of network degradation over the past week, compared with the 10 weeks prior, as more people are going online to work from home, video chat and stream movies and TV to keep themselves entertained. In a small handful of cities over the past week, there have even been significant degradations with download speeds dropping more than 40%, compared with the 10 weeks prior.

It’s not necessarily the areas hit hardest by the spread of the novel coronavirus that are experiencing the worst problems.

Cities including LA, Chicago, Brooklyn and San Francisco have seen little or no disruption in download speeds, the report claims. Seattle is also holding up well.

But New York City, now considered the epicenter of the virus in the U.S., saw download speeds drop by 24% last week, compared to the previous 10-week range. That said, NYC home network connections, which have a median speed of nearly 52 Mbps, are managing.

The good news is that in the majority of markets, network speeds are holding up.

But of the 88 out of 200 cities that saw declines, more than two dozen saw dips of either 20% below range or more, the data indicates.

These include:

Austin, TX (-44%); Charlotte, NC (-24%); Fayetteville, NC (-22%); Fort Lauderdale, FL (-29%); Hialeah, FL (-21%); Houston, TX (-24%); Irvine, CA (-20%); Jersey City, NJ (-25%); Kansas City, MO (-25%); Lawrenceville, GA (-24%); Littleton, CO (-22%); Marietta, GA (-29%); Miami, FL (-27%); Nashville, TN (-20%); New York, NY (-24%); Omaha, NE (-24%); Overland Park, KS (-33%); Oxnard, CA (-42%); Plano, TX (-31%); Raleigh, NC (-20%); Rochester, NY (-33%); St. Louis, MO (-21%) St. Paul, MN (-29%); San Jose, CA (-38%); Scottsdale, AZ (-32%); Washington, DC (-30%); and Winston-Salem, NC (-41%).

Three cities, in particular, were seeing serious network degradations of over 40%: Austin, TX (-44%), Winston Salem, NC (-41%), and Oxnard, CA (-42%). San Jose, CA was nearing this range, with a drop of 38%.

Internet service providers have been responding to the health crisis by suspending data caps, increasing base-level speeds and extending free access to low-income families during this time. But their ability to keep up with this level of high demand is being tested.

Streaming services, being one of the larger draws on bandwidth, have been lowering the quality of their streams to use less network capacity, as U.S. connectivity needs have grown. Yesterday, for example, YouTube announced it would default to SD connections to tame bandwidth demands. Amazon and Netflix have reduced stream quality in Europe. But despite record levels of network traffic in the U.S., Netflix hasn’t made any commitments to do the same in the U.S. Today, Netflix had an hour-long service interruption impacting some U.S. and European users.

Another area of concern is how well more rural areas will hold up with new stay-at-home and work-from-home orders in place. Often, these markets are only served by legacy technologies like DSL . So far, they’ve held up, BroadbandNow reports, but this could still change.

Game downloads will be throttled to manage internet congestion

For the billions stuck at home during the global effort to flatten the curve, gaming is a welcome escape. But it’s also a bandwidth-heavy one, and Microsoft, Sony and others are working to make sure that millions of people downloading enormous games don’t suck up all the bandwidth. Don’t worry, though, it won’t affect your ping.

A blog post by content delivery network Akamai explained a few things it is doing to help mitigate the tidal wave of traffic that the internet’s infrastructure is experiencing. Although streaming video is of course a major contributor, games are a huge, if more intermittent, burden on the network.

Akamai is “working with leading distributors of software, particularly for the gaming industry, including Microsoft and Sony, to help manage congestion during peak usage periods. This is very important for gaming software downloads, which account for large amounts of internet traffic when an update is released,” the post reads.

Take the new “Call of Duty: Warzone” battle royale game, released last week for free and seeing major engagement. If you didn’t already own the latest CoD title, Warzone was a more than 80-gigabyte download, equivalent to dozens of movies on Netflix . And what’s more, that 80 gigs was likely downloaded at the maximum bandwidth home connections provided; streaming video is limited to a handful of megabits over the duration of the media, nowhere close to saturating your connection.

And Warzone isn’t alone — there are tons of high-profile games being released at a time when many people have nothing to do but sit at home and play games — PC game platform Steam posted a record 20 million concurrent players the other day, and one analysis saw a 400% increase in gaming traffic. So gaming is bigger than ever, while games are bigger than ever themselves.

As a result, gaming downloads will be throttled for the foreseeable future, at least in some markets. “Players may experience somewhat slower or delayed game downloads,” wrote Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan in a brief blog post. I’ve asked Microsoft, Nintendo and Valve for comment on their approach as well.

It’s important to note that this should not apply to the rest of the gaming experience. Unlike downloading games, playing games is a remarkably low-bandwidth task — it’s important for packets to be traded quickly so players are in sync, but there aren’t a lot of them compared with even a low-resolution streaming video.

The best thing to do is to set your games to be downloaded overnight, as local infrastructure will be less taxed while everyone in your region is asleep. If you have downloads or updates coming during the day, don’t be surprised if they take longer than usual or are queued elsewhere.

With lower bandwidth, Disney+ opens streaming service in UK, Ireland, 5 other European countries, France to come online April 7

Disney+, the streaming service from the Walt Disney Company, has been rapidly ramping up in the last several weeks. But while some of that expansion has seen some hiccups, other regions are basically on track. Today, as expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland; it also reconfirmed the delayed debut in France will be coming online on April 7.

Seven is the operative number here, it seems: it’s the largest multi-country launch so far for the service.

“Launching in seven markets simultaneously marks a new milestone for Disney+,“ said Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in a statement. “As the streaming home for Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic, Disney+ delivers high-quality, optimistic storytelling that fans expect from our brands, now available broadly, conveniently, and permanently on Disney+. We humbly hope that this service can bring some much-needed moments of respite for families during these difficult times.”

Pricing is £5.99/€6.99 per month, or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription. Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal, will follow in summer 2020.

The service being rolled out will feature 26 Disney+ Originals plus an “extensive collection” of titles (some 500 films, 26 exclusive original movies and series and thousands of TV episodes to start with) from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and other content producers owned by the entertainment giant, in what has been one of the boldest moves yet from a content company to go head-to-head with OTT streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

The expansion of Disney+ has been caught a bit in the crossfire of world events. The new service is launching at what has become an unprecedented time for streaming: because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of of the world is being told to stay home.

That means huge demand for new services to entertain and distract people who are now sheltering in place. But it has also been putting a huge strain on broadband networks, and to be a responsible streamer (and to make sure quality is not too impacted), Disney confirmed (as it previously said it would) it would be launching the service with “lower overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25%.

Titles in the mix debuting today include “The Mandalorian” live-action Star Wars series; a live-action “Lady and the Tramp,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,”; “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” docuseries from National Geographic; “Marvel’s Hero Project,” which celebrates extraordinary kids making a difference in their communities; “Encore!,” executive produced by the multi-talented Kristen Bell; “The Imagineering Story” a 6-part documentary from Emmy and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks and animated short film collections “SparkShorts” and “Forky Asks A Question” from Pixar Animation Studios.

Some 600 episodes of “The Simpsons” is also included (with the latest season 31 coming later this year).

With entire households now being told to stay together and stay inside, we’re seeing a huge amount of pressure being put on to broadband networks and a true test of the multiscreen approach that streaming services have been building over the years. In this case, you can use all the usuals: mobile phones, streaming media players, smart TVs and gaming consoles to watch the Disney+ service (including Amazon devices, Apple devices, Google devices, LG Smart TVs with webOS, Microsoft’s Xbox Ones, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Sony / Sony Interactive Entertainment, with the ability to use four concurrent streams per subscription, or up to 10 devices with unlimited downloads. As you would expect, there is also the ability to set up parental controls and individual profiles.

Carriers with paid-TV services that are also on board so far include Deutsche Telekom, O2 in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, TIM in Italy and Canal+ in France when the country comes online. No BT in the UK, which is too bad for me (sniff). Sky and NOW TV are also on board.

Netflix is reducing its traffic on ISPs by 25% in India

Netflix said on Tuesday that it is lowering its traffic on network providers by 25% in India for a period of 30 days, following a similar move in Europe in a bid to reduce the congestion on internet pipelines.

The American giant said that despite lowering the strain it puts on internet service providers, it will “maintain the quality” of its service. Amazon Prime Video said it has also started to lower the data consumption that streaming takes up on its platform, while local services Disney’s Hotstar, Times Internet’s MX Player and Zee5 say they are working to enforce similar measures.

Vijay Venkataramanan, Director of Post-Production at Netflix India, offers clarity on how reducing the traffic would impact the quality of video streams.

“Given the crisis, we’ve developed a way to reduce Netflix’s traffic on telecommunications networks by 25% while also maintaining the quality of our service. So consumers should continue to get the quality that comes with their plan – whether it’s Ultra-High, High or Standard Definition. We believe that this will provide significant relief to congested networks and will be deploying it in India for the next 30 days,” Ken Florance, VP Content Delivery of Netflix, said in a statement to TechCrunch.

TechCrunch understands that Netflix, which maintains several different streams for a single title, is removing the highest bandwidth streams as part of this move. This won’t affect most Netflix subscribers in India.

The mobile-only plan that Netflix introduced in India last year is its most popular tier in the country, a person familiar with the matter said. Both mobile-only plan and the basic plan, the immediate advanced tier above it, offer limit streaming in standard definition.

Netflix’s announcement follows a local telecom group’s (Cellular Operators Association of India) appeal to on-demand video streaming services to put less burden on internet pipelines that are facing surge in usage as more people stay and work from home in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.

A report by Bank of America, obtained by TechCrunch, said this week that internet service providers in India were witnessing a 10% surge in the volume of daily traffic and data consumption. The firm analyzed traffic at internet exchanges and spoke with internet service providers to reach that conclusion, it said in the report.

Facebook and Disney to downgrade streaming quality in Europe due to COVID-19

Facebook is temporarily downgrading the quality of video streaming in Europe on its social platforms Facebook and Instagram in response to a call for action from the European Commission, per Reuters.

Disney has also said it will work to shrink bandwidth used by its streaming service, Disney+, which is due to begin launching in Europe from tomorrow.

Last week Netflix, YouTube and Amazon said they would switch to SD streaming by default in the region.

The EU’s executive has expressed concerned about the load on Internet infrastructure during the coronavirus crisis as scores of citizens log on from home to work or try to keep themselves entertained during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Telcos in the region have reported significant increases in traffic as EU Member States have called for or instructed citizens to stay at home during the public health emergency.

Collectively, streaming platforms account for a major chunk of global Internet traffic. Online video accounted for more than 60% of the total downstream volume of traffic per a 2019 Sandvine report — while in another report last month it said YouTube alone accounted for a quarter of all mobile traffic.

“To help alleviate any potential network congestion, we will temporarily reduce bit rates for videos on Facebook and Instagram in Europe,” a Facebook spokesman also told Reuters yesterday.

We’ve reached out to Facebook with questions.

Per Reuters the measure will remain in place for as long as there are concerns about the region’s Internet infrastructure.

In related news Disney is pressing ahead with a planned launch of its new video streaming service, Disney+, in Europe starting from tomorrow but Bloomberg reports it will also take measures to reduce bandwidth utilization by at least 25% in European markets.

“We will be monitoring Internet congestion and working closely with Internet service providers to further reduce bitrates as necessary to ensure they are not overwhelmed by consumer demand,” said Kevin Mayer, chairman of Disney’s direct-to-consumer division, in a statement.

Last week the company said it would postpone the launch of Disney+ in India after the biggest local attraction — the Indian Premier League cricket tournament — was rescheduled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

‘The Lovebirds’ reportedly skipping theaters and heading to Netflix

Netflix is picking up “The Lovebirds,” an upcoming romantic comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae.

“The Lovebirds” reunites Nanjiani with director Michael Showalter. Their previous collaboration, “The Big Sick,” was distributed by Amazon Studios, who gave it a theatrical release before moving to streaming.

This is part of the ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced Hollywood studios to scramble as theaters close amidst a broader push for social distancing. Responses have ranged from delaying major releases to releasing movies early, either as digital rentals or via subscription streaming services like Disney+.

Paramount has already delayed a number of its releases, including “The Lovebirds” (originally scheduled for April 3) and “A Quiet Place II.” This is the first time the outbreak has prompted one of the major studios to have cancel a theatrical release entirely in favor of Netflix, but Paramount had an existing deal with the streamer and previously chose to distribute “The Cloverfield Paradox” via Netflix rather than theaters.

There does not appear to be an official announcement or release date yet. Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter are both reporting on the deal.

This approach likely makes more sense for a mid-budget romantic comedy like “The Lovebirds” than it does for a big-budget blockbuster — but according to The Wrap, Warner Bros. is even considering a streaming release for this summer’s “Wonder Woman.”