India is one of Netflix's (NFLX -0.07%) key markets internationally thanks to its huge population, increasing smartphone penetration, and the adoption of faster wireless networks. Not surprisingly, the streaming specialist pointed out three years ago that it expects its next 100 million subscribers to come from the Asian country.
Netflix has poured a lot of money (more than $400 million) into the Indian market over the past couple of years to achieve its ambition. However, Netflix's premium pricing tiers mean that it is struggling to attract more subscribers, with the likes of Disney's (DIS -1.04%) Disney+ Hotstar streaming service way ahead on that front.
The bad news for Netflix is that Disney looks all set to widen the subscriber gap. Let's see why.
India's popular cricket league will give Disney a shot in the arm
The highly popular Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament has resumed in India after it was suspended earlier this year on account of the pandemic. Disney+ Hotstar holds the streaming rights to the IPL in India, which puts it in a solid position to increase its subscriber base as nearly half of television viewers in India watched the tournament in 2020.
According to the Broadcast Audience Research Council, 405 million viewers watched the IPL last year out of India's television universe of 836 million. Not surprisingly, the resumption of the cricket tournament is slated to give a big boost to Disney's subscriber base in the country.
Media Partners Asia estimates that Disney+ Hotstar's subscriber base could swell by 7 million in the fourth quarter of 2021, pushing the service's overall subscriber strength to 46 million by the end of the year. Netflix, on the other hand, is expected to end the year with 5.5 million subscribers as compared to 4.6 million currently.
So, Netflix is far from achieving its target of 100 million subscribers in India. Disney+ Hotstar, meanwhile, is in a better position to hit that mark thanks to diversified content offerings that include live sports, news channels, movies, and daily TV shows. Netflix doesn't offer live sports or news channels in India, and its subscription is priced at a significant premium to that of Disney+ Hotstar, which explains the former's lower subscriber count.
Premium pricing may continue to be a headwind for Netflix in India
Netflix's cheapest plan in India costs 199 Indian rupees a month ($2.70 at the current exchange rate), which allows users to stream content on their smartphone or tablet. The most expensive plan goes up to 799 rupees a month (just under $11).
Disney+ Hotstar offers three types of plans. The mobile-only plan is priced at 499 rupees a year (roughly $6.80), while the most expensive plan can be purchased for 1,499 rupees a year (just over $20). So, Disney's most expensive plan in India works out to be cheaper than Netflix's entry-level plan on a monthly basis, making Disney+ Hotstar a better value.
As a result, Disney's share of India's OTT subscribers is much larger than that of Netflix. The number of streaming video subscribers in India is expected to hit nearly 89 million by the end of 2021, which means that Disney is on track to corner more than half of the country's OTT subscriber base by the end of the year.
Assuming that all customers purchase Disney+ Hotstar's mid-tier plan priced at 899 rupees a year (just over $12 at the current exchange rate), the platform could generate more than $500 million in revenue for Disney in India given its estimated subscriber base at the end of the year. Meanwhile, customers buying Netflix's entry-level mobile-only plan in India would be spending just over $32 a year on a subscription. So, 5.5 million subscribers would translate into much lower revenue as compared to Disney+ Hotstar.
Disney+ Hotstar's revenue had exceeded Netflix's India revenue by a whopping 76% in fiscal 2020, when the former generated an estimated $221 million. The trend looks set to continue thanks to the faster growth in Disney+ Hotstar's subscriber base and better affordability as compared to Netflix. In all, with India's video streaming market expected to grow nearly ten-fold over the next decade and hit $15 billion in revenue by 2030, Disney looks like a better way to tap into this lucrative opportunity.