Disney+ Launches in India With "Virtual Red Carpet Premiere" Amid Coronavirus Lockdown

The Mandalorian - Publicity Still 2- H 2019

Bollywood stars Hrithik Roshan, Katrina Kaif and Tiger Shroff interacted with fans via a live chat on the streaming service to promote the Indian premieres of 'The Lion King' and 'The Mandalorian.'

Baby Yoda has finally landed in India. Disney's streaming service Disney+, which made the diminutive star of The Mandalorian a global phenomenon, launched in the country on Friday after the original debut date was postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Back in February, then-Disney CEO Bob Iger said that the company would be launching Disney+ in India through its Hotstar streaming service, acquired in the conglomerate's $71.3 billion acquisition of large parts of 21st Century Fox, on March 29 to coincide with the beginning of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket season. Iger added that Disney would be "rebranding our existing Hotstar VIP and Premium subscription tiers to Disney+ Hotstar."

But as COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, began to spread in India, the lucrative and wildly popular opening game of the IPL season was postponed to April 15 by the country's cricket governing body, the BCCI. Not long after, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day "total lockdown" of the entire country until April 14, casting further doubt over this year's IPL season even taking place, considering major international sporting events, such as the Tokyo Olympics, have been canceled or postponed to next year.

If the original Disney+ launch date had been kept, Disney India would have had a high-profile launch for the service with easier access to the huge audiences the cricket league enjoys on the company's Star India network and its Hotstar service.

Last year's IPL final was watched by 18.6 million viewers on Hotstar, setting a streaming record. That kind of viewership would have been a huge boost to promoting Disney+ in the country. Hotstar, which also offers a free advertising VOD option, has an estimated 300 million monthly active users.

Adapting to the new reality amid the pandemic, Disney instead turned to some Bollywood star power to promote the launch of Disney+ with a "virtual red carpet premiere" Thursday evening. It featured Hrithik Roshan, Katrina Kaif, Shraddha Kapoor, Rana Daggubati and Tiger Shroff, among others, interacting with fans via a live chat on Disney+ Hotstar as the service premiered The Lion King (which was also dubbed in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu), followed by Disney+ origial The Mandalorian, set in the Star Wars universe.

The live interaction was promoted with the #StayHomeStaySafe hashtag in a bid to increase awareness about staying indoors during the lockdown. "I know times are tough, but we're tougher and we'll beat this," Shroff wrote in a post during the live chat, adding, "I hope you're all staying at home, safe and sound!" Kapoor also urged her fans to stay indoors, stating, "We are very fortunate to have roofs above our heads and we must cherish our time with our loved ones."

Similarly, Parineeti Chopra, who is starring in the upcoming Bollywood remake of The Girl on the Train, shared that she hadn't "stepped out in three weeks. But it is NOT getting to me, because I know this is for my and our country's safety."

Disney+ Hotstar is available with two subscription options: Disney+ Hotstar VIP costs $5.30 (399 rupees) per year, which gives access to the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hotstar's Indian originals such as spy thriller Special Ops, Bollywood films and unlimited live sports and Star TV shows. Disney+ Hotstar Premium is offered at $19.90 (1,499 rupees) per year and includes Disney+ Hotstar VIP content in addition to 29 Disney+ originals such as The Mandalorian, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and the live-action Lady and the Tramp in addition to shows from HBO, Fox and Showtime.

All existing Hotstar subscribers have been automatically upgraded to their respective new subscription plans and will be charged the new rates upon contract renewal.

In comparison, Amazon Prime charges $13.50 (999 rupees) per year, while Netflix's monthly plans start from $2.60 (199 rupees) going upto $10.70 (799 rupees).

"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," Walt Disney Company Asia Pacific and Star & Disney India president Uday Shankar had said in a statement about the postponed India launch. "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."

Meanwhile, the novel coronavirus lockdown has resulted in a spike in viewership in the world's second-most populous country where streaming video is largely consumed on smartphones. A recent joint report by television monitoring agency BARC and Nielsen indicated that since March, time spent per user on smartphones has grown by 12 percent, while video streaming services have seen an 11 percent increase.

Taking a long-term view, like its competitors, Disney+ hopes to cash in on India's booming digital video market, which is estimated to grow to $5 billion by 2023 from $500 million in 2018 according to Boston Consulting Group. A recent report by Ernst and Young states that video viewership reached 378 million in 2019 compared with 325 million in 2018, growing by 16 percent. Paid video subscriptions more than doubled to 11 million in 2019 over 4 million subscribers in 2018.

While Indian content drives much viewership, the market is also seeing players expanding their international offerings. Voot Select, the recently launched premium version of Viacom India's Voot platform, also offers content from CBS, Showtime, Fremantle, Endemol Shine, BBC and Sony Pictures, among others. The service costs $13.5 (999 rupees) per year.

Similarly, Indian platform ErosNow has plans to launch a stand-alone ErosNow Prime service, offering content in partnership with NBCUniversal, featuring such shows as Will and Grace, New Amsterdam, Belgravia, Suits and the spinoff Pearson, among others.

And specialist movie platform Mubi, which launched in the country last November, offering a mix of international and Indian movies, recently struck a deal with Sony Pictures Television India, giving the streamer access to 100 Sony-owned feature films in the country. These include Django Unchained, Dr Strangelove, Taxi Driver, Stand by Me, Big Fish, Volver, The Anderson Tapes, Punch-Drunk Love and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.