While HBO content is set to exit Disney+ Hotstar by the end of this month, many industry players believe that this will not have a significant impact on the OTT platform’s revenue and subscriber base.
Disney took the decision to let go of HBO content starting March 31, 2023, from its platform owing to the reason that the subscriber base for its content is niche and is relatively low on the platform, so it does not justify the asking price.
According to sources, as part of renewing the deal with Disney+ Hotsar, HBO had asked for a sum of $50 million for five years. Moreover, industry experts told BestMediaInfo.com that HBO is unable to find a home for its content in India.
In an exclusive conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, some industry players said that Disney+ Hotstar will lose a substantial market as far as OTT is concerned and advertisers will need to rethink strategies to deploy their money given the current situation. However, they also said that HBO leaving Disney+ Hotstar is not going to have any impact as the number of people viewing that content is almost negligible on the OTT platform, but the loss of IPL will definitely hurt them more.
Shashank Srivastava, Executive Director – Sales and Marketing at Maruti Suzuki, said, “HBO via Disney+ Hostar hosted the latest content which was very well received globally but also in India. Game of Thrones, House of Dragon, The Last of Us, etc. were a rage in India for the last few years. The departure of HBO content is surely a setback for the niche subscriber base for HBO content on Disney+Hostar, as these audiences as of now may not have other sources to catch up on these shows.”
“However, we must note that HBO content was behind the paywall and was not monetised via advertising space. Disney+ Hotstar library comprises top-rated Disney movies along with the Avengers library,” he added.
In view of Srivastava, the main content that drives subscription and revenue for Hotstar is content from their broadcast channels, sports, Hindi movies and original content specially curated for Disney+ Hotstar. Even the Gen Z audience will not completely move out of the platform irrespective of key shows like House of Dragon and Game of Thrones no longer being available on it, because of other offerings in the Marvel universe, among other content.
Speaking on similar lines, Rammohan Sundaram, President – Integrated Media, DDB Mudra Group, said, “I don’t think this will have any impact because Hotstar was predominantly consumed for live sporting events and with no IPL with them going forward they have to focus on ICC events to make the most of it, plus the domestic cricket story which will add impetus.”
Furthermore, he stated that most of Hotstar's content is directly related to favourites on their TV network and so HBO not being there won’t have much of an impact.
Sahil Shah, President - Digital Experience, Dentsu Creative India, said that HBO's departure won’t affect Hotstar much because its content was still a very small part compared to the overall bouquet of offerings.
"Decrease in subscriber base and revenue is highly unlikely in the short-term as most users subscribe for a long-term basis to even a year. In the long run, if they continue to lose bids and not onboard content then they definitely have a huge problem to solve. This is highly unlikely though considering they are Disney+ Hotstar who have literally led the OTT revolution in the country," he added.
The absence of IPL is a much bigger dent
DDB Mudra Group’s Sundaram said that there is definitely a downside with IPL not being there on the platform, and that cannot be compensated with anything else, given IPL is one of the largest sporting properties in the world.
“That said, one must also understand that their cost of acquisition of content has also gone down dramatically, which can now be redeployed efficiently around original content, whether web series, films or others,” he added.
Maruti Suzuki’s Srivastava said, “In context to HBO content on Disney+Hotstar, the content was not available to advertisers to monetise and as advertisers, we look for mediums to reach out to our audiences with the right communication, at the right time on their preferred mediums.”
Furthermore, he stated that the investments around IPL will surely shift to the other platforms, however, a base spend to reach out to available audiences on Disney+ Hotstar is likely to continue.
“Recently we have seen platforms starting to monetise their originals and Marvel content for advertising revenue. We also have to keep a close check on the above developments to course correct if the need be,” Srivastava added.
In view of Dentsu Creative’s Shah, this move will not really impact the advertisers. HBO is a very small shift and there are many other properties that can be explored with Hotstar.
“With the IPL not happening it’s a big impact but I am sure Hotstar will have other areas to get the users and thereby advertisers,” he added.
Giving a brand’s perspective, Sugosh Iyer, General Manager-Digital Marketing, Liva by Birla Cellulose, said that there won’t be a direct impact on advertisers as they will be targeting the AVOD audience which the HBO content was never a part of.
“However, they should look to build a niche segment for themselves in global language content which will be unique to the platform via partnership deals with some top global players,” he added.
Iyyer believes that advertisers will now want to understand the consumer usage pattern of Hotstar and evaluate the basis of their communication if the OTT platform continues to be a viable fit or not.
Advertising is going to be a mirror of paid and free subscribers
In view of Karan Taurani, Senior Analyst at Elara Capital, advertising is going to be a mirror of the paid and free subscribers that are there on the platform.
“In fact, advertising will see a higher impact because if you look at the platform's ad revenue, almost 70% of their ad revenue was because of IPL, so with IPL going away there is a scope of 60% ad revenue getting wiped off. So, the subscriber base decline is 20%-30% but the ad revenue decline is more than 50%,” he added.
Anita Nayyar, COO, Media, Branding and Communications at Patanjali Ayurved, shared that advertisers want eyeballs and there will certainly be a rethink on strategies to deploy money given the negative impact.
“Of what is stated in official news, the HBO deal fell through due to the channel’s high price for its content. It is on Disney to evaluate the worth,” Nayyar said.
“Both subscriber base and revenue will get impacted as audiences chase content and advertisers chase audiences. With loyal viewers for HBO content the subscriptions are likely to go down,” she added.
Striking a similar tone, DDB Mudra Group’s Sundaram stated that Hotstar is still the number one platform in the country so apart from the budgets on IPL, advertisers will continue to invest in other sporting events, impact properties and non-fictional properties on the platform.
Innovation and original content can make Disney+Hotstar move up
Elara Capital’s Taurani said that IPL was a very expensive content operation for Hotstar so they would have thought that they would have spent this on other types of content like movies or regional content.
“So, regional content is going to be a very big strategy which is to be adopted. Maybe they don't want to syndicate or license content from IPL and HBO, which they don't own. They have a very rich catalogue in terms of Disney and the films therein. Maybe they would want to make a lot of original web series and really invest into content which they can own perpetually rather than doing syndication and licensing for properties like HBO and IPL which cannot be owned permanently in nature,” he added.
“Currently they are still a notch below when you compare them to global platforms like Netflix. But with more innovation, they can move up on the curve on the tech front as well. It's not going to be easy for them to get their subscriber base back because the market is highly fragmented and competitive as there are too many OTT platforms in our country today. The customer is currently spoiled by choice but to really recover the losses they would have to invest aggressively in terms of original content across genres,” Elara Capital’s Taurani said.
As per DDB Mudra Group’s Sundaram said that he was very surprised that Disney+Hotstar didn’t go after digital rights for IPL aggressively, after having built such a large franchisee base with it over the years.
“I also believe that they will start focusing on original content to ensure they keep the audience engaged, a drop of 6% is not significant after IPL has vanished because the hardcore fans of cricket still have Hotstar on their phones and will continue to consume every other cricketing property that is available on Hotstar,” he added.
He also added that original content is something they will focus on given their strength around content, production and programming.
“HBO content has a limited set of audience in India and that typically will get consumed over C&S, I don’t believe it had any significant contribution to the OTT platform anyway. F1 is still under negotiation, I continue to believe that there will be some breakthrough there given the long-standing association of Star and F1 management,” Sundaram said.
“The biggest dent is IPL and they will need to focus with renewed energies on what is available on their platform which is domestic cricket in India and the India-based series apart from the ICC events,” he added.
Speaking on similar lines, Dentsu Creative’s Shah said that more than HBO, the IPL blow might hit Hotstar.
“While the critical mass they had to get on their platform to test it for many years has been done but a majority of those IPL lead viewers would be price conscious which will hurt business. Hotstar is at a point in India where there are huge content wars taking place and it can easily slip positions. And most OTT players are moving to the owned production model,” he added.
Liva by House’s Iyyer stated that off late, many of the OTT players have been venturing into Asian content. Leveraging their reach, they can be an attractive proposition to top-quality content players in India who are looking at cost-effective ways of reaching Indian consumers without incurring any new set-up or infrastructure costs.
“Amazon Prime has taken this route partnering with smaller OTTs into different languages and content pegs (Lionsgate, Discovery, Manorama Max), giving them an opportunity to reach out the Indian audience through their base,” he added.
Patanjali Ayurved’s Nayyar said, “No brainer is to acquire/commission good content. That’s what will bring audiences and advertisers (to Disney+Hotstar).”
As per Elara Capital’s Taurani, Disney Plus is going to lose a substantial market as far as OTT is concerned. “If we look at the SVOD market, they had a market share of somewhere close to 24%-25% and they were the second largest pay-based OTT platform after Netflix. Now, they could probably move towards 15-18% market share.”
“If you look at the AVOD market, after YouTube in terms of video or other social media platforms, it was the largest platform and had a substantial market share there as well which was somewhere close to about 15%-20%, which could become half with IPL going on. The pricing of IPL was at a substantial premium as compared to the pricing of other content properties that are there on the platform,” Taurani added.
“You could say that there would be a 20%-25% loss in the subscription revenue and another 50%-55% loss in advertisement revenue, which means they could end up losing 30%-40% of the revenue base because of the IPL. It is going to take some time for them to scale up in terms of revenues,” he added.
Furthermore, he went on to say that the only way ahead is if they launch more original web series, TV shows and position the regional content category in a very strong way. It will take some time as one does not see a spike in subscribers immediately after the release of a web series. So, this might go on for the next 12-18 months and maybe after 18 months if the web series and content they launch clicks, only then they will be able to get back to what they were in the IPL era.