Disney+ to launch in India on April 3

Manish Singh
Signage for the Disney+ streaming service is displayed during the D23 Expo 2019 in Anaheim, California, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Walt Disney Co. is turning the D23 Expo, the biennial fan conclave, into a big push for its new streaming services. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Disney said on Tuesday that it will launch its streaming service, Disney+, in India on April 3. The service, available globally in about a dozen markets, will launch in India on Hotstar, one of the most popular on-demand streaming services in the country that is also owned by Disney.

The company said it is raising the yearly subscription cost of the combined entity, Disney+Hotstar, to Rs 1,499 ($20), up from Rs 999 ($13.2) that it previously charged for its most premium content on Hotstar. TechCrunch reported last year that Disney+ will launch in India in 2020 and will increase its subscription cost.

Hotstar, which claimed to have amassed 300 million monthly active users during the cricket season in India last year, would continue to offer an ad-supported service that it will offer to users without a fee. But it is increasing the cost of both of its premium tiers.

Disney is offering a more affordable yearly tier that costs Rs 399 ($5.3) -- up from Rs 365 -- that will include movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, access to live sporting events and a wide catalog of movies and shows, and original shows produced by Hotstar. It will not include Disney+ Originals.

The $20 yearly subscription tier will offer over 100 series and 250 superhero and animated titles, including Disney+ Originals and shows from HBO, Fox, and Showtime, the company said. It will also include access to everything that Disney+Hotstar customers are availing at $5.3 tier.

All existing subscribers will be automatically upgraded to their respective new subscription plan and will be charged the new rates upon renewal, the company said.

“With the success of Hotstar, we ushered in a new era for premium video streaming in India. Today, as we unveil Disney+ Hotstar, we take yet another momentous step in staying committed to our promise of delivering high-quality impactful stories for India that have not only entertained but also made a difference in people’s lives, a promise that is even more meaningful in challenging times such as this," said Uday Shankar, President of The Walt Disney Company APAC and Chairman, Star & Disney India, said in a statement.

"We hope the power of Disney’s storytelling, delivered through Hotstar’s technology, will help our viewers find moments of comfort, happiness and inspiration during these difficult times," he added.

The company had originally planned to launch Disney+Hotstar in India on March 29, but it began testing the service in the country weeks prior to that.

But as the coronavirus outbreak prompted New Delhi to order a nation-wide lockdown, which put a halt to public events including the cricket tournament Indian Premier League (IPL), Disney postponed the launch of Disney+Hostar in India.

IPL cricket tournament is by far the biggest attraction on Hotstar. According to people familiar with the matter, the months following IPL saw Hotstar's userbase drop from 300 million to about 60 million last year.

If the IPL cricket tournament, which has been postponed until mid next month, is further delayed -- or cancelled -- it might significantly hurt Hotstar's relevance and financials.

If that wasn't enough, some of the shows and movies on Hotstar may disappear soon as one of its partners, Hooq, filed for liquidation last week.

Disney was also recently criticized for blocking and censoring episodes of John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight." Hotstar did not stream a recent episode of Oliver's show that was critical of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and some of his policies. Hotstar has also edited out jokes from Oliver's show that mocked Disney.

Oliver called out Disney and Hotstar for the censorship. Disney has not responded to multiple requests for comment on this matter.