OTTplay Logo
settings icon
profile icon

Opinion | Hotstar’s Loss Is JioCinema’s Gain (Again), As HBO Finds New India Home

On Thursday, a deal was announced between Warner Bros Discovery and Reliance's Viacom 18, which brings all HBO content exclusively to JioCinema in India. Manik Sharma offers a lowdown:

Opinion | Hotstar’s Loss Is JioCinema’s Gain (Again), As HBO Finds New India Home
HBO's Succession will be on JioCinema as part of the deal with Warner Bros Discovery.

Last Updated: 05.52 PM, Apr 27, 2023


CONFLICT usually arises when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Then there are occasions when the two shake hands and bear down on the competition, as everyone looks on, stunned by the daunting scale of the challenge. Sort of like Thor and Thanos teaming up to quell all doubts about possible solutions to “the human problem”. This analogy can certainly be applied to the latest development in India’s streaming wars: Disney+ Hotstar’s loss has become JioCinema’s gain — again. The horns have been sounded; it’s battle stations for everyone watching.

On Thursday, April 27, Warner Bros Discovery Inc. announced a multi-year deal with Viacom18’s JioCinema, to exclusively screen top-tier content from HBO, Max (HBO’s streaming service) and Warner Bros (the film studio) on the platform. This will include, as per a Mint report, everything from Succession to House Of The Dragon and the upcoming Harry Potter series. The migration of IPL streaming to JioCinema can now be considered a red herring in a wider narrative where the company is perhaps bullishly replicating what it did in the telecom sector years ago. This isn’t exactly disruption by creation, but disruption by amalgamating a disjointed, vague market. Vague, because while most streaming services continue to chase that elusive balance between hyper-local and global content, that sweet spot of subscription costs and guaranteed growth, JioCinema has consolidated two pricey (not priceless, mind you) assets.

The loss of IPL's streaming rights to Jio led to an exodus of subscribers from Disney+ Hotstar
The loss of IPL's streaming rights to Jio led to an exodus of subscribers from Disney+ Hotstar

Just last year, JioCinema had — after some technical snafus — managed to successfully exhibit the world’s first Winter Football World Cup. The presentation and technical wizardry may have been suspect at first, but it showed that the platform was at least willing to take up the challenge of scale. That too for free. Many at the streamer may have considered the Football World Cup as a beta run before the litmus test of the ongoing IPL, but apart from a few hiccups, things seem to be trending upwards. Recently, Jio had also teased its slate of homemade fiction that — at least superficially — seems carefully curated to serve urban and suburban tastes. Pack that with the exclusive rights for both Bhediya and Vikram Vedha and you can sense the streamer knows how to build hype without having to contend with creative decisions of its own, or having to define its socio-political position.

Of course moneyed coffers and limitless financial power are handy assets but even for the relatively strong-armed, that flex has to be timed to exact just the right result. HBO’s content library — currently staging both Succession and Barry — is an enviable asset to launch into the wallets of the well-heeled, the ones enamoured by prestige, episodic English television as opposed to Netflix’s binge-and-forget shtick. With this move, you could argue that JioCinema and not Netflix, becomes Prime Video’s biggest competitor. Purely for the reason that both streamers are simply extended services of brands that branch out into a variety of things. To the deal-seeking Indian, that offering of ‘extra’ might just be the wave that drives Netflix towards the ignominy of being an expensive, acquired taste. (It probably already is.)

The Football World Cup now seems like a beta test for JioCinema's current plans.
The Football World Cup now seems like a beta test for JioCinema's current plans.

What this means for the currently sorry-looking Disney+ Hotstar is difficult to foretell. In a battle between deep pockets it might actually be wise to invest in rooting yourself deeper into the fickle landscape of storytelling — as opposed to momentarily seducing people with content that is not your own. Ironically, JioCinema is yet to launch a library created of its own will and wisdom, and it already seems years ahead of the competition. There is, as is evidenced now, no first mover advantage to any of this. Netflix’s struggles indicate a hardened market that everyone is struggling to canvas with some sense of specificity. It’s tough to predict what will work. Maybe it’s just easier to say what won’t.

The Indian customer, even on the elite side of urban clusters, is a typically bargain-friendly being. It’s a concept that Jio has to an extent both studied and experimented with in the past. Its foray into streaming has been comparatively coy and measured. This might be the first sign, however, of the beast awakening to the knowledge that incisive cuts can be made into a promising but uncertain market — quite simply by splashing some cash. From the outside it feels reactive, but maybe this has been the plan all along. In retrospect, it will all reek of genius, the kind of numbingly cutthroat deals that Logan Roy made on Succession. How fitting then, that he will now be seen on JioCinema.

Get the latest updates in your inbox