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JioCinema to be the new home of Warner Bros and HBO in India

Reliance Industry owned JioCinema, which has made a major splash by earning the right to first stream the Fifa World Cup 2022 and then the IPL, has managed to secure yet another coup after coming to an agreement with Warner Bros and HBO that would see the streaming platform secure exclusive streaming rights in India.

With this deal, JioCinema secures exclusive streaming right for popular HBO content, including Succession, Game of Dragons, Last of Us, Game of Thrones, the upcoming Harry Potter series, and more in India, all on the same day as the U.S. telecast. While financial details of the deal were not disclosed, a joint statement described the content partnership as a “new multi-year agreement” which will start next month.

JioCinema notches another win

This exclusive deal is a big win for JioCinema as it looks to bring more Hollywood content onto the platform and compete against Netflix and Amazon. The platform is surfing on the wave of tens of millions of users who have flocked to the platform in recent weeks thanks to it streaming the IPL for free. There’s no such thing as a free lunch though; Viacom18 outbid Disney late last year to secure the rights to stream the IPL’s for 5 years in the Indian subcontinent by coughing up a sum of $3 billion.

This deal represents yet another setback for Disney Hotstar, which was previously the streaming home of the IPL and HBO. That’s not all; JioCinema has poached aggressively from Hotstar in recent months, having recently appointed former Disney executive Kevin Vaz as Viacom18 CEO.

In a joint statement, Clement Schwebig, President, India, Southeast Asia, and Korea, Warner Bros. Discovery, said, “Warner Bros. Discovery’s brands are incredibly popular across India, and we are pleased to partner with Viacom18 to bring our premium HBO, Max Original and Warner Bros. content to local fans. This new agreement demonstrates our commitment to South Asia as we seek to entertain audiences across more platforms, and further strengthens the scale of our regional business as a whole.”

Adding onto this, Ferzad Palia, Head – SVOD & International Business, Viacom18, said: “JioCinema has become the biggest platform for live sports. We are now on a mission to build the most magnetic destination for entertainment for all Indians. The strategic partnership with Warner Bros. Discovery is a big milestone in our journey to offer the best of Hollywood content to our elite consumers. We believe that Warner Bros. Discovery sets the global standards for premium content, and this partnership allows us to create the best and the most comprehensive destination for our users.”

Industry analysts were widely expecting Amazon to win the deal, but an agreement failed to materialise. Amazon is also currently in advanced stages of deliberations to acquire MX Player, a popular Indian video streaming service. Nonetheless, this deal now represents a tipping point for JioCinema, where it can start to charge users for access to its content, even if streaming the IPL is free for now.

This comes on the back of a Reddit user spotting a test website that showcased three premium subscription plans – Gold, Daily, and Platinum. 

Although these plans are not confirmed just yet, it gives an inkling of things to come. The website revealed that all the plans would offer content at the highest quality available, i.e., 4K. 

Aggressive moves such as this are a must for JioCinema to grow rapidly, as it was a fairly niche player prior to snagging the digital rights for the FIFA World Cup, IPL, and now this latest addition. According to Media Partners Asia, as of 2021, Netflix outperformed rivals in the subscription video-on-demand market, commanding a 39% share by revenue in 2021 compared to nearest rival Hotstar’s 23%, even if the former’s market share was a lot less.

Surging appetite for Western content

According to Indian ratings analyst Ormax Media, Indian streaming viewers flocked to western content like never before during the Covid-19 pandemic, with a staggering 124% uptick in viewing of shows such as HBO’s House of the Dragon on subscription streaming services during that period.

Nearly two-thirds (66%) of urban Indian Streaming Video on Demand (SVoD) viewers aged 15 or above now watch what the study refers to as ‘English’ content, or the same content dubbed in a local language.

These numbers represent new highs. Just half a decade ago, a mere 9% of viewers watched such content in any form. That surged to 40% during the Covid crisis, and abated a bit since, but Ormax is still bullish on its future, with viewership figures almost double comparative figures from 2017/18, indicating a broader shift in consumption behaviours and mindsets.

In a nutshell, Ormax reveals that the size of the English (and other international languages) audience in the OTT category stands at a healthy 85.2 million adults (aged 15 years and above). Of these, 42.7 million are SVoD audiences, a number up by 124% in less than 2 years as compared to pre-pandemic figures of 19.1 million viewers.

Some of the most popular shows among viewers since 2021 are House of the Dragon (28.2 million viewers), followed by Moon Knight (23.4 million), Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (22 million), Hawkeye (19.3 million), and Ms. Marvel (15.1 million). The Boys Season 3, Money Heist Season 5 and Stranger Things Season 4 also scored highly.

While Ormax founder and CEO Shailesh Kapoor said that “a popular perception in the Indian media and entertainment industry that English content is niche and targets only a segment of the audience within the upper echelons of the socio-economic spectrum

the space being niche were true until about 3-4 years ago”, much has changed since then.

“The last few years, especially the pandemic, has changed it all. The growth of dubbed content consumption has made the ‘language factor’ virtually non-existent. Signs of this are evident in both theatrical and streaming industries, where content is travelling far and wide, including within Indian languages.”

“The language barrier was the biggest hurdle towards consumption of English — and other foreign language — content in India. The growth of the Indian streaming market has taken that factor out of the equation. It’s now time for good content to prosper.”

The significant evolution of Western content has been a change long in the making, and JioCinema’s deal with Warner Bros and HBO is further proof of that. From being confined to select time slots on television to being in demand on streaming platforms, there is a tremendous opportunity waiting to be tapped across India, as appetite for such content continues to surge.

Karan Karayi
Karan Karayi
A part-time car enthusiast and full-time food aficionado, Karan is forever chasing his next big creative thrill. He also doesn’t enjoy writing in third-person.

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