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India’s richest man enters the online streaming wars

Many streaming platforms in India bundle their subscriptions with mobile or broadband plans. Reliance Jio, the telecoms arm of Reliance Industries, has more than seven million wired broadband subscribers and 473 million mobile subscribers.

In March, it halved the price of its cheapest broadband plan to coincide with the start of the IPL.

On Monday, viewership of the IPL final peaked at over 32 million simultaneous viewers – the most number of eyes on any live-streamed event worldwide.

BENGALURU - India’s richest person Mukesh Ambani is building up steam to battle the global giants Disney, Amazon and Netflix that dominate the country’s vast streaming market.

Over the last few months, JioCinema, the streaming platform launched by Mr Ambani’s Reliance Industries in 2016, has marked a series of milestones in its quest to win more viewers.

Last November, it telecast the Fifa football World Cup online in India for free, with more than 110 million viewers logging on to watch the matches. In March, JioCinema began streaming cricket matches from the Indian Premier League (IPL), one of the world’s richest franchise sports tournaments, valued at US$10.9 billion ($S14 .7 billion).

Viacom18, the Reliance venture that owns JioCinema, paid 237 billion rupees (S$3.9 billion) for streaming rights from 2023 to 2027, but chose to broadcast the matches free of charge this year in a bid to attract more viewers. In the first seven weeks of the tournament, the platform said, the tournament had over 150 billion video views.

Reliance is also beginning to flex some entertainment muscle. In April, the company’s studio arm said that it would be spending 20 billion rupees (S$328 million) to produce more than a hundred movies and TV shows in Indian languages for JioCinema.

On May 13, the streaming platform published front-page newspaper ads of the hit American TV show Succession, proclaiming: “Welcome to the new home of all your favourite Hollywood content”. This was the outcome of a deal with Warner Bros Discovery to bring content from HBO, Max and Warner to JioCinema, including shows such as the Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series.

Mr Ferzad Palia, the head of 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.”

Last week, Viacom18 pulled off another coup, signing a deal with NBC Universal Media for content from Universal Television, Sky Studios and Dreamworks Animation. This included shows such as The Office, Downton Abbey and Suits and movie franchises such as Jurassic, Bourne, Shrek and Fast and Furious.

The streaming platform has said its marquee entertainment content will be available on JioCinema Premium, a paid subscription service launched earlier in May, which costs 999 rupees annually.

To be sure, JioCinema is still a minor player in the Indian streaming market, which remains dominated by the global giants.

According to industry estimates, Disney+ Hotstar, which was earlier home to the IPL and HBO, has about 53 million paid subscribers in India. Amazon Prime Video has about 19 million and Netflix about 8 million.

However, Netflix’s more expensive subscription plans (which range from a mobile-only plan for S$29 a year to a premium plan costing S$128 a year) make it more money: it had a 39 per cent share by revenue in 2021 compared with Disney+ Hotstar’s 23 per cent, according to Media Partners Asia, a Singapore-based analyst.

In a report published in May, Media Partners Asia suggested that JioCinema could shake things up, saying: “The platform has increased its investment in local content and premium international content, setting the stage for the growth of its premium tier.”

India’s video streaming market is expected to grow annually by 22 per cent to 25 per cent to reach up to US$15 billion by 2030, according to a 2021 report by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Boston Consulting Group.

Mr Ambani has another advantage: Reliance’s domination of India’s mobile and broadband markets.