Mar 15, 2021 - Sports

Cricket streaming is Disney+'s secret weapon

Data: Company filings; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios
Data: Company filings; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Disney+ last week surpassed 100 million subscribers, meaning its audience is already half the size of Netflix's just 16 months after launch.

Between the lines: Roughly 30% of those 100 million subscribers (28 million) are from Disney+ Hotstar, an India-based streaming service known for its live cricket coverage.

The backdrop: When Disney acquired 21st Century Fox for $71 billion in 2019, it absorbed Fox-owned Star India, which owns the digital broadcast rights for the Indian Premier League until 2022.

  • Star India's streaming app, Hotstar, was rebranded as Disney+ Hotstar following the acquisition and is currently the only service in India that streams IPL matches.
  • In September, Disney+ Hotstar expanded to Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populated country behind China, India and the U.S.

Of note: Disney+ Hotstar users are paying bargain-basement prices for the service, which has dragged down Disney's average earnings per user.

"The rapid rise of Disney+ has captivated investor interest, but some analysts think hype about subscriber growth has obscured some troubling economic fundamentals."
Eamon Barrett, Forbes (subscription)

The big picture: Disney has lots of competition in the fast-growing Indian market, particularly when it comes to cricket.

  • Amazon broadcasts New Zealand cricket matches in India and has expressed interest in future IPL rights.
  • Facebook, which narrowly lost out to Star India for the IPL rights, broadcasts several major global cricket events.

The bottom line: While domestic sports media negotiations attract most of the attention — whether it's the NHL on ESPN or the NFL on Amazon — international sports rights grow more important every year.

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