Opinion: Is Disney moving Star UK channels to digital only?

Raj Baddhan

Senior Editor


Earlier today, it was confirmed by Disney that it will be shifting its three popular children’s channels Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior to its digital streaming platform, Disney+.

This now begs the question about Disney’s other linear channels. In the UK, Disney also runs National Geographic – content of which is readily available on Disney+. Similarly, its Indian subsidiary, Star Plus, Star Bharat and Star Gold are widely watched on Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk.

With digital consumption at an all-time high, owing to the coronavirus lockdown period, Disney’s Indian streaming giant, Hotstar, has also seen a huge upswing in subscriber numbers over the past few months. Furthermore, advertising has hit traditional broadcasters pretty hard. With leading UK Asian TV channel, Star Plus’ daily share at an all-time low due to the lack of original content during the lockdown, bosses at Disney surely must be re-thinking about a strategy forward.

To entice viewers to Hotstar, the platform has been streaming exclusive high-end originals like ‘Special Ops’, ‘Hundred’ and more recently ‘Aarya’, combined with exclusive movie premieres such as ‘Angrezi Medium’, ‘Baaghi 3’ and ‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior’. It already has on-demand content available from the Star TV channels immediately after broadcast.

BizAsiaLive.com looks at the ups and downs of switching to digital-only.

◙ Star TV’s priorities in the UK were somewhat different previously when it was owned by 21st Century Fox, which was also the owner of Sky. However, Sky is now owned by Comcast and Star by Disney.
◙ Star India’s gamble by switching off linear channels in the US market and migrating viewers to Hotstar has paid off.
◙ Viewers have become very familiar with the Hotstar service on the back of the lockdown.
◙ Appointment viewing has become thing of the past and thus viewers are comfortable wit on-demand content already available on Hotstar.
◙ Regional language shows not available in the UK, are available from Star India’s popular services on Hotstar
◙ Premieres of shows and films can be a lot more concurrent with India, without hesitation of TV showing first.

◙ Loss of revenue from advertising, which the broadcaster has been dependent on since its inception in the UK.
◙ Viewers may not be easily swayed to paying for another digital service, if they subscribe to Netflix and Amazon already.
◙ Older Asian viewers are much comfortable switching on traditional television channels, rather than clicking into a digital platform.

With contracts still in place with Sky and Virgin Media, Disney will need to take a long hard look at the UK market. Would it really want to gamble with the brand of Star TV, that has dominated UK ratings since its inception here. And furthermore, would it want to lose its core older audience that may not be ready for a switch to a digital platform.

On the linear front, Star TV UK may consider downsizing operations by shifting content from Star Bharat to either Star Plus or directly on to Hotstar. Alternatively, it could drop its HD services altogether and continue broadcasting in standard definition, saving millions of pounds.

Whatever happens, one thing is for sure the future of linear Asian TV channels is certainly up for discussion. The question is – Who will bite the bullet first and will it be a gamble putting a wager on or not! Let’s see what the next few months have in store.

Updated: 27/06/2020


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