OTT Wars: BCCI Media Rights Add Another Weapon To JioCinema’s Arsenal

OTT Wars: BCCI Media Rights Add Another Weapon To JioCinema’s Arsenal

OTT Wars: BCCI Media Rights Add Another Weapon To JioCinema’s Arsenal

Viacom18 will stream the Indian cricket team’s home international matches on its OTT platform JioCinema, further strengthening JioCinema’s content library to lure users

Be it inking content partnerships or acquiring the streaming rights for major cricket tournaments, including the IPL, JioCinema has poached multiple key properties of Disney+ Hotstar

JioCinema has started at the top of the pyramid by targeting premium users, and may pump more capital to acquire content that caters to Bharat, said IPVerse CEO Pallav Bajjuri

Embattled streaming platform Disney+ Hotstar received another blow on August 31 with the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI’s) announcement that Viacom18 has won the media rights for the Indian cricket team’s international home matches as well as the domestic matches of the cricket board till 2028. Viacom18 will telecast the matches on Sports18 TV channel while streaming them on its OTT platform JioCinema. Earlier, these rights were with Star India and Disney+ Hotstar, respectively. 

Already reeling under the pressure of dwindling subscribers and loss of IPL media rights, Disney+ Hotstar lost yet another prized possession to the Reliance-backed OTT platform with the BCCI’s announcement. 

Echoing the disquiet was the former director of product management for ads at Disney+ Hotstar, Anurag Verma, who tweeted, “I guess the end of an era, having worked at Hotstar and seen crazy DAUs and MAUs the action will shift to JioCinema. Disney, in any case, was non-committal about Star and Hotstar and probably looking for a buyer. This most likely will be the beginning of the end.”

The warning stood in stark contrast with Star’s legacy, which counts itself as the first TV channel to broadcast matches in vernacular language. It also leveraged this capability to bring cricket to the smartphones of Indians when the streaming boom arrived. 

However, Disney+ Hotstar seems to have hit turbulent waters as JioCinema keeps on poaching its key digital allures one by one. Viacom18 winning the media rights to telecast the Indian cricket team’s matches in India for a sum of INR 5,963 Cr has once again brought attention to the ongoing streaming war in the country, which JioCinema looks set to win. 

Inflicting A Thousand Cuts

While it was initially launched in 2016, JioCinema largely came bundled with a slew of other apps from the Jio universe and was exclusively limited to its users, offering aggregated content. 

Two years later, in 2018, Star Sports India won both digital and television media rights for BCCI matches for a sum of INR 6,138.1 Cr for the next five years. Then, JioCinema decided to bide its time and strike at the opportune moment. 

It finally got this opportunity in 2022. In the past year, Jio mounted a big offensive against Disney+ Hotstar, which began with acquiring the rights to broadcast the FIFA World Cup 2022 in the country. Hot on the heels, JioCinema struck a major blow to the Star-backed streaming giant after it poached the rights of the coveted Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament from the latter. 

JioCinema made its intentions about dominating the OTT space clear by streaming IPL 2023 for free for both Jio as well as non-Jio users. 

Earlier, Disney+ Hotstar banked on the love for cricket in India to fuel its paid subscriber growth, which stood at a record 61.3 Mn at the end of the quarter ended September 2022. This was the last quarter of subscriber addition for the streaming major. 

The loss of the IPL in the cricket-crazy country resulted in an exodus of subscribers from Disney+ Hotstar. Its paid user base dwindled to 40.4 Mn at the beginning of July 2023 – by the time the IPL ended.

After poaching cricket fans, JioCinema set its eyes on another key digital property of Disney+ Hotstar — the premium English content viewers. The conglomerate-backed streaming player then signed back-to-back content partnership deals with HBO and NBCUniversal Media (NBCU) to bring premium English films and TV shows to India.

As a result, Disney+ Hotstar users were left bewildered as popular shows such as Euphoria, Succession, House of the Dragon, Chernobyl, and The Last of Us suddenly moved to JioCinema. 

Then came the final blow. JioCinema finally rebranded itself as a full-fledged premium offering, rolling out a premium ad-free subscription plan for INR 999 per year, supporting up to 4K resolution on four devices. In contrast, Disney+ Hotstar sells its lowest plan at INR 899 a year, which includes ads and supports a max of 1080p resolution and two devices.

Barring the media rights for the International Cricket Council’s (ICC’s) global tournaments in India, Disney+ Hotstar just has Marvel films and TV shows in its kitty, which may not prove to be an attractive hook for users leaving the platform in droves. 

Something For Everyone: The JioCinema Mantra

Over the course of the next year (2024), JioCinema is reportedly expected to stream 16 men’s matches (10 test and 6 T20 international matches) while Disney+ Hotstar may broadcast anywhere between 11 to 14 matches. This provides JioCinema an effective ad opportunity and a potential influx of paid subscribers if it decides to paywall the matches. 

Meanwhile, JioCinema has also complemented its cricket offerings by acquiring media rights pertaining to various games, including the 2024 Paris Olympics, Diamond League, NBA, Global Chess League, and BWF World Championships. 

Alongside, JioCinema also has the might and experience to build the needed digital infrastructure, even though it has faced some glitches in the past. 

On the other hand, Disney+ Hotstar seems to be a bit directionless at the moment. As its parent company weighs selling off the streaming platform or a joint venture, Disney+ Hotstar is streaming Asia Cup 2023 for free. It will also stream the upcoming ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup for free on its mobile app to counter JioCinema. 

With few premium English shows up its sleeves, the streaming major could be looking to pitch Marvel shows and films to a wider audience. Alongside, with a huge library of local and vernacular content, Disney+ Hotstar could also be looking to attract eyeballs of ‘Bharat’ (rural India) which still favours ‘desi’ content. 

However, over 100 Indian films and TV shows lined up by JioCinema, which are produced at a cost of INR 2,000 Cr, may well play a spoilsport for Disney+ Hotstar. 

Stage Set For Disruption?

“Basically, Jio has started at the top of the pyramid by signing content partnerships with big American studios, enabling them to acquire premium users who do not mind paying for high-quality English content. From there, JioCinema could come to the bottom of the pyramid and may pump a couple more billion dollars to acquire platforms that cater to Bharat,” IPVerse founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Pallav Bajjuri said on the Reliance-backed platform’s strategy.    

He, however, said that the space will eventually head towards consolidation, where bigger players would pick up smaller platforms. 

Going forward, Bajjuri said the next wave of innovation in the space could come from the streaming of gaming, vernacular content focused at Bharat and higher focus on reality shows. He believes that niche alone won’t be enough for sustenance, and content diversification and innovation would be the key to lead the market going forward. 

JioCinema seems to have understood this. The streaming platform has partnered with South Korean gaming giant KRAFTON India to broadcast the official Battlegrounds Mobile India Series (BGIS) in India, setting its eyes on the niche streaming space.

On top of that, its broadcast of IPL 2023 garnered more than 449 Mn viewers, while the streaming platform recorded ‘record’ revenues during the broadcast of IPL earlier this year. The final of the tournament clocked 32 Mn viewers, and it recorded more than 15,000 Mn video views in the first seven weeks of IPL.

With such impressive numbers and an ever-expanding content library, experts believe that JioCinema is well poised to disrupt the Indian OTT market, which is expected to grow to a size of $12.5 Bn by 2030, in the same way as Reliance’s telecom arm Jio. 

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