India’s Hotstar Shatters Streaming Record

IPL cricket final attracts nearly 20 million concurrent viewers

On Sunday, Indian streaming giant Hotstar, which is owned by Disney, set a new global high for the number of viewers for a live event. Almost 18.6 million people tuned into Hotstar’s website or app simultaneously to watch the deciding game of the 12th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament.

Hotstar was launched in 2015 as a digital and mobile entertainment platform by Star India, a fully owned subsidiary of global media conglomerate 21st Century Fox. Disney bought Star India as part of 21st Century Fox’s business for $71 billion earlier in 2019. Hotstar, which competes with Netflix and Amazon in India, broke its own “global best” milestone of 10.3 million concurrent views, which it had set in 2018 (see Cricket Sets Streaming Record).

In fact, this year, Hotstar managed to breach the 10 million mark several times during the 50 days of the IPL. In April, it announced that the 2019 tournament had garnered a viewership of 267 million within its first three weeks. The platform is expected to draw over 300 million viewers this year, about 100 million more than in 2018, when it recorded an audience of 202 million. IPL and popular shows like Game of Thrones have been powering Hotstar’s growth. The service currently houses more than 100,000 hours of content varying from dramas, movies, sports and news, and including original programming.

Cricket has a cult following in India. In 2017, Star India, then owned by 21st Century Fox, won the rights to broadcast and stream the IPL cricket tournament for a term of five years at a cost of close to $2.5 billion. Several companies including Facebook and Amazon had participated in the bidding to secure a foothold in the Indian streaming market. Facebook had made an offer of over $600 million for streaming rights, but eventually lost out to Star India. The bet has paid rich dividends as Hotstar reports that its service has almost 300 million monthly active users, up from 150 million in 2018. In comparison, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video each have less than a 10th of Hotstar’s subscribers.

In the past two years, Hotstar has expanded to the US, Canada and the UK, attracting Indians living abroad. It plans to launch in more markets soon. Although it’s still early days for streaming services in India, the battle lines are drawn. As Netflix and Amazon scramble to find the right content strategy to lure Indians, Hotstar seems to have found the right mix. And with smartphone and Internet usage expected to spike exponentially, Hotstar is in a sweet spot.