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Disney in India has announced that the Asia Cup and ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup tournaments being held later this year, will be made available free-to-view to all mobile phone users accessing its Disney+ Hotstar streaming platform.

“The move to lift the paywall for mobile-only viewers […] is aimed at further democratizing the game of cricket and making it accessible to as many mobile users in India as possible for the duration of the season,” the company said in a statement on Friday.

Cricket is a national obsession in India and other parts of South Asia and, as such, is a major magnet for streamers and broadcasters which use it to attract and retain subscribers.

In an auction last year, Disney only won TV broadcast rights to the Indian Premier League cricket tournament and lost the digital rights to Viacom18 and JioCinema, backed by Reliance Industries Limited. The recently completed 2023 edition of the IPL saw Disney’s Star pay-TV platform charging viewers, while JioCinema showed matches free of charge.

While Disney+ Hotstar may have lost subscribers as a result, the company denied reports by media analysts that said its ability to attract advertising had also been affected.

“India will be the first market in the world where paying OTT subs may decline faster than Pay-TV,” said one commentator, taking an admittedly extreme view.

“Disney+ Hotstar has remained at the forefront of the rapidly evolving OTT industry in India and the various innovations we have introduced to continue enhancing the viewer experience has allowed us to delight our audiences across the region. Making the Asia Cup and ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup available to a wider audience, we believe, will help us grow the overall eco-system,” said Sajith Sivanandan, head of Disney+ Hotstar.

Disney+ Hotstar also reported “strong viewership momentum” for other cricket properties, including the Asia Cup 2022, ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022, and ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2023. “The recently concluded India vs Sri Lanka, India vs New Zealand as well as India vs Australia tournaments also fared well for the platform,” it said.

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