Disney+ is losing subscribers, thanks to India's obsession with cricket

It also lost 300,000 customers in the US and Canada due to a rise in subscription rates last year
Disney+ is losing subscribers, thanks to India's obsession with cricket
Photo: YOUSEF SABA (Reuters)
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Walt Disney Co’s flagship streaming service Disney+ shed four million subscribers in the March quarter, with a cricketing gala in India playing a major role in the loss.

Disney+Hotstar, which caters to viewers in India and southeast Asia, lost 4.6 million paid viewers during the quarter, bringing down its subscriber base by 8% to 52.9 million, according to an earnings release (pdf) issued yesterday.

The multi-billion-dollar Indian Premier League (IPL) drove Disney’s initial growth in cricket-crazy India. Losing the rights to stream the tournament has proven costly for the company.

Disney also shed 300,000 customers in the US and Canada after it increased prices last December amid growing operating losses.

Besides, more subscribers are likely to opt out of Disney+ as a writers’ strike in the US has stalled many projects, including Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars franchises. This is likely to slow down new releases on the platform this year.

How did Disney lose IPL?

Disney+ Hotstar has lost 8.4 million subscribers in the past two quarters. With HBO pulling its entire content library last month, the platform is wobbly as analysts forecast Hotstar to lose 7 million more by the end of this year.

In 2018, Star India won the digital and television rights to IPL, building Hotstar on the back of cheap data and widespread smartphone usage in India. Riding the country’s cricket frenzy, Star India turned from losses to profits.

In June last year, however, Disney lost this season’s IPL rights to Viacom18, a Paramount-Reliance Industries joint venture that outbid it at $3 billion. Viacom18 has also bagged the rights to content from HBO and Warner Bros.