Freemium streaming services could become a mainstay for Tier 1 OTT companies. Disney-Star’s performance after lifting the paywall for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup could open the floodgates for more top content properties being available outside the paywall of its streaming platform, Disney+Hotstar. This will be quite similar to JioCinema’s model, where sports content as well as all the Hindi language shows are available outside the paywall for the streaming service.

On the heels of a likely exit from the India market, Disney+Star’s viewership numbers for the Cricket World Cup have been a heartening swan song.

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The ICC World Cup became the most-viewed event across TV and digital. Nearly 5.9 crore viewers tuned in to watch the World Cup final. Inspired by Reliance Jio’s playbook for their debut season for IPL, Disney-Star also adopted the hybrid strategy by making the World Cup accessible to mobiles for free.

Sajith Sivanandan, Head, Disney+ Hotstar India, said, “The ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 will be remembered not just for its sporting excellence but for the incredible passion it ignited among fans”.

Reacting to the outstanding viewership numbers for the final, Sanjog Gupta, Head of Sports at Disney Star, told businessline, “This hybrid strategy was adopted to drive up access to the World Cup and also scale up the usage of Disney+ Hotstar as a platform. That strategy seems to have paid off, as we have broken our own concurrency record five times through the tournament.”

Given the success of this content strategy, top executives believe that Disney might put other content properties out of the paywall. “Disney’s performance at the World Cup might compell it to play around with its streaming strategy and adopt a Jio-like strategy before considering a merger,” a top media executive close to the likely merger told businessline. 

Top streaming companies such as Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney+Hotstar have been reluctant to take part in an ad-oriented or freemium model. Before Viacom18 scaled up JioCinema to become a major player in the streaming industry, freemium or hybrid content delivery was usually restricted to streaming companies serving tier 2 or tier 3 markets; commensurately, the earnings for these platforms were smaller than those of the top players.

JioCinema has continued to remain a hybrid platform even as it has acquired top content properties such as HBO, Paramount Plus, and recently Pokemon. Experts believe that this is the direction in which top streaming in India will go.