This article is speculative, we have no “inside info” on the situation but may have some decent insight and predictive power. We’ll analyze a lot of recent updates and changes to Disney’s Streaming Services that lead us to believe 2022 is gonna see a shakeup.
On September 1st, Disney announced they would be shutting down the Hotstar streaming service in the USA. We’d been hoping this would happen since launch of Disney+ in November 2019. We always felt the content belonged on Hulu or Disney+ to provide a multicultural boost and that simple is better. When Disney announced the Disney Bundle we were amongst the people who found it tacky that Hotstar was not included in any form of add-on or variation to the Bundle despite Disney owning more of Hotstar (100%) than they do of Hulu (66%). Since that point people have continued to raise concerns about Hotstar not featuring in Disney’s marketing. Look at the comments on the weird Twitter marketing ploy TheStreamer. Look at the comments on the new Twitter account for DisneyStreaming.
Plenty of people asking why they ignored Hotstar in this admittedly beautiful video.
Well, now we know.
New Hulu AKA Newlu? Nulu?
As of September 1st, Hulu’s library grew by hunndreds of titles as Hotstar content began its migration leading up to the complete shut down in “late” 2022. This is fascinating because the amount of Indian content on Hulu will soon rival and even surpass the licensed content from USA. Hulu’s library at last count was ~2,500 titles and Disney announced literally thousands (plural) of titles would transfer over in the next year. Unfortunately JustWatch did not update the total and seems “unaware” of all the new Hotstar content so we can’t provide the new amount. We’ve contacted them about this problem.
We are witnessing a slow overhaul and transformation of Hulu’s makeup. We had suggested this was the eventual endgame and that by merging Hotstar content Hulu avoids having to defend in the next 1-2 years why their price remains the same or increases even as they suffer an exodus of content from Comcast, Paramount, and WarnerMedia.
Our first major bit of speculation here is that Disney has known Hotstar USA was a “dead service streaming” for years. It launched September 4, 2017, but in 2019 when Disney+ launched the “Disney Bundle” we believe they already were planning to merge it and just waiting for certain contracts to end. As we said, the service launched September 2017 and the content transfer beginning September 1st after 4 years feels like we were right. In our time monitoring licensing we’ve noticed 4 years is a common duration for deals, but more than anything they tend to start and end an exact amount of years apart.
Just recently an article was posted about Hulu’s upcoming “content crisis.” We felt it was an overreaction. For one thing, a lot of the speculation analysts make regarding Hulu’s upcoming crisis is based on the fact that in 2022 Comcast has the option to cancel their deals with Hulu and pull content. Wait a minute… Comcast? This Comcast?
The Comcast that cares so little about Peacock’s future that they’ve perversely licensed their Universal films to the point where in the 10 years from theatrical premiere to the end of Pay Two window films titles will be available to stream on Peacock a total of 16 months, or less than 20% of their first decade? This move has absolutely floored analysts due to the unprecedented levels of incompetence and doublespeak.
“We love Peacock! Peacock is great! That’s why we licensed our content for TWO (not ONE) 4-month windows in Pay 1 and then we repeat it about 8 years later in Pay 2! It keeps things fresh. People don’t want to know where the Universal titles are or have their franchises together, so we make sure to shuffle them around a bunch in between (depending on if they’re live action or animated) between Prime Video, Netflix, Starz! Peacock is the future, so we didn’t plan a launch in any international territories. We love our Universal films, so we want to make sure other streaming services get a lot more time with them.”Pretty much a real quote from them, probably! No seriously they’ve said similar things. I wish I was joking, I’m not this funny.
This incompetence shows that Comcast is not capable of running a streaming service. They already failed with Seeso years ago. Peacock will be gone within 10 years and their 2nd failure. In Europe they’re abandoning Peacock altogether and forming a new streaming service in conjunction with Paramount called SkyShowtime. Why is everyone so “confident” that Comcast will pull their titles as opposed to re-negotiating them into shared contracts? We could see major titles leaving, but not all of it. They’re just not invested.
The biggest blow to Hulu would be if ViacomCBS or Comcast shut off the “next-day” episodes of their CBS and NBC series. In chats with friends and customers we’ve found the primary reason anyone subscribes to Hulu is next-day episodes of network TV. Right now CBS and NBC shows are offered next day on Hulu alongside Paramount+ and Peacock so those networks could effectively cripple Hulu simply by saying their in-season series would be exclusive to their home-grown services. This is the proper choice and the one industry insiders want to see. Whether either go through with it is hard to predict and unlike Comcast there is no publicly known date when ViacomCBS content deals expire with Hulu. It could be a long time if the January 2021 deal to add CBS channels to Hulu Live TV included next-day episode rights for the SVOD branch.
For now, Hulu isn’t facing a content crisis because Paramount has also continued to license their content out. Look at Netflix – new Nickelodeon shows seems to drop in every other month and dominate their Top 10. The addition of Hotstar titles may not drive the same amount of subscriptions but they definitely ensure the quantity of titles on Hulu will not drop significantly. We’re witnessing a transformation to new Hulu.
ESPN+ Of It All
With Hotstar USA dead, ESPN+ is clearly next on the chopping block. Even as they obtain the sports content from Hotstar. Here is our next big bit of speculation. When Disney announced ESPN+ subscribers would become able to stream ESPN+ library without leaving Hulu’s app, we said this was more than just a benefit and actually a sign of future plans. Now that Disney has done the work of sharing the content, ESPN+ has little reason to exist. We think Hotstar’s merger is a test for the eventual full merger of ESPN+ and Hulu.
ESPN+ is the least popular and least subscribed app from the Disney Bundle. Sports are still one of the biggest “things” to Americans, but ESPN+ has been criticized for mostly catering to niche sports. To get more subscribers they need to pick up more rights. The deals signed this spring to bring in a lot more NHL and NFL games are a step in the right direction. There are rumors of WWE selling to Disney (?!) and leaving Peacock where things aren’t going very well. ESPN+ carrying the WWE library would be a massive boon. Folding ESPN+ with this new scale into a Hulu post-content exodus would mean Hulu maintains its current value, even if its audience makeup and demographics would shift.
Hotstar India Changes
How does this all tie to Hotstar and the possible futures of Hotstar Canada and UK? Hotstar is undergoing its own transformation. The OG Hotstar in India has always had tiers, something the other Disney+ Hotstar services in Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia do not. As of September 1st, the tiers no longer involve pay-walling certain titles at higher levels the way Peacock does and instead take on the superior Netflix approach where all content is available on all tiers, but the higher tiers unlock better quality video streaming, more download capacity, or additional simultaneous users.
We think Disney could be preparing to roll these tiers out to Disney+ Hotstar in other countries to simplify and unify their offerings and that the tiers may even come to Disney+ proper. Disney+ is the only service without tiers right now so the odds of eventual tiers are 98%. HBO Max, Paramount+, Peacock, and the aforementioned Netflix use them. 2022 may be the year Disney adds the Disney+ Hotstar India tier system to all forms of their services.
New tiers create an opportunity to attract subscribers that want a lower-priced offering and are willing to sacrifice 4k and 4 simultaneous users. Disney+ would be unlikely to add an ad-supported tier based on their previous comments about keeping it ad-free like Netflix, but the possibility of 4K no longer being available for everybody is something we think is within 2 years of being reality. As long as Disney kept it as a feature on whatever tier this current price becomes people would be chill about it. It’s when they try to take something away that people were used to that things go bad.
Why A New Hotstar Logo?
A New Hotstar logo has been recently registered and spotted (thanks @ChickyAFila) in the trademark filings Disney submits to the European Union. This suggests the brand itself isn’t going away. The logo isn’t even official until after December when the window for people to “speak now or forever hold your peace” expires. This means the new logo is going to be used around January. What’s curious is the logo isn’t a Disney+ Hotstar logo but a standalone.
The new logo uses the same style as the new STAR logo which, again, we had said they should have been doing from the moment they unveiled the new STAR logo last year! Synergy CAN be beautiful when done correctly.
Disney could be preparing to change the “Star” brand tile to be a “Hotstar” brand tile globally or JUST in Canada, the UK, and Singapore where Hotstar services are marked for deletion. A change like this would be minimal because it sounds the same and would still allow all the existing Star content to remain. This further suggests Disney is rethinking their international branding and learning to simplify. The new logo associates the brands and conveys that they’re owned by the same entity.
Even prior to the announcement of Hotstar USA’s demise, we thought Disney should rebrand the STAR brand tile to HOTSTAR. It would avoid future issues with Starz who recently squabbled with Disney in Latin America over the use of Star for the brand tiles and Star+. Disney won those disputes, more or less, despite our belief that Disney was in the wrong and should have not used a name so ridiculously similar to Starz. The amount of confusion we see from customers on Disney’s social media platforms proves Starz case constantly, but in the end, money talks and Disney has money. Had Disney lost the Star+ battle we think Hotstar name was their Plan B.
What About Hotstar’s Sports in Canada and UK?
The hang up with folding Hotstar into the Star brand tile is sports. How could Disney throw sports into Disney+? The 1 week old Star+ service in Latin America provides clues that lead to more speculation. After launch people noticed a cool feature for sports-haters where subscribers can switch the sports content off using a toggle in the settings. The cost of the subscription remains the same but the sports stuff no longer clutters home screen or search. Since Star+ shares Disney+ code and has already been proven to be a test ground for new features by debuting the watchlist row on the home screen (yes, our #1 demand we’ve posted multiple articles about needing) and better search page, we think the sports toggle is going to find its way into Disney+ Canada and the UK next year and with it bring the sports from Hotstar!
Is There Evidence?
This is really stretching it but 7 days before the Hotstar USA shutdown announcement, Disney+ Global Management exec Brandon SanGiovanni tweeted a vague comment suggesting he’d be busier than expected in December. Our editors initially speculated Disney had a big thing coming early next year like an earlier launch of Eastern Europe which recently got delayed to summer 2022 and Disney had just informed staff of their plans.
When this news dropped a week later we immediately felt there was a connection and that, coupled with the reveal of the sports toggle in Star+, the newly leaked Hotstar logo, and the Disney+ India tiers change all within 1 week left us pondering if the Hotstar brand is about to get integrated into Disney+ everywhere!
Our final bit of speculation is again something we had always felt Disney should do but now think may be coming – migrating the objectively awful Hotstar service code with the same code running Disney+ and Star+. This would bring a UI tweak for Disney+ Hotstar that deemphasizes the Hotstar aspects and reworks it into a 6th brand tile labeled Hotstar, matching the rest of the world’s layout.
Why Make Changes?
Consumers get confused by 100 brands and apps. Other streaming services share a UI globally. It’s not just that it’s confusing for consumers, it makes it harder for Disney to manage. They have a lot of issues with their services that would be fixed by not running them all so differently. That’s why Star+ and Disney+ being clones is a good thing. Anything they add or fix goes everywhere. Meanwhile Disney+ Hotstar is awful with no features or fixes that Disney adds to the main Disney+ platform. It’s widely hated by users throughout South East Asia. The Simpsons Aspect Ratio fix? They don’t have it. Disney+ Hotstar doesn’t even have profiles or GroupWatch!
Disney’s marketing teams have a challenge with different names to use in every region. Disney makes mistakes all the time – our friend in Brazil often joke about the marketing Disney releases with Star brand listed as one of the Disney+ brands. Marketing obviously intended for other countries.
Disney+ Japan is a unique situation too. Different backend and appearance. That looks set to change in October when they receive 4K, GroupWatch, and the Star brand tile. We think the UI and service will be altered to match Disney+ everywhere else at this time. If that does happen, it gives further credence to our theory that a Disney+ Hotstar revamp is coming early next year and that Hotstar OG is folding into Star brand tiles in UK, Canada, and Singapore.
Disney continues to have baffling strategy for their global streaming. They have the most variations on services, most brands, most everything… These signs that they may finally be fixing it are good. It always blew our mind Disney was given a pass for Disney+, Disney+ Star, Disney+ Hotstar, Hotstar, Star and the differing platforms and UI while HBO got so much flack for HBO Max, HBO, HBO Go, Cinemax, etc. Pity Cinemax still exists but that’s another issue altogether.
It’s possible Disney is finally learning the phrase “KISS – Keep it Simple, Silly.”
Drew Ryan is a film, TV, and Disney geek. He has degrees in English, Student Personnel Administration, and Library & Information Science from Lawrence University, Concordia University-Wisconsin, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Interested in the minutia and licensing of streaming service content, he is always publishing lists, suggestions, and advocating for Disney’s missing library to be added to Disney+. Drew subscribes to Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, HBO Max, and Paramount+. You can find him waxing nostalgic over classic Disney Channel or geeking out over Marvel, CW shows, & Disney on Twitter.
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