JioCinema’s season of sixes: Why Ambani's new OTT bet is a disruptor


Sohini Mitter

16 reads

Sohini Mitter

16 reads

JioCinema, an under-discovered video-streaming app till 2022, has quickly turned the tables on India’s incumbent OTT players, primarily Disney+ Hotstar. Backed by RIL's Viacom18 and media doyen Uday Shankar’s Bodhi Tree Systems, there’s no reason why it can’t replicate Jio’s telecom template in OTT.

June 12, 2023


Key Takeaways

  • Viacom18-owned JioCinema has raked in ad revenues of Rs 2,000-2,500 crore from IPL 2023, according to people in the know
  • Armed with key sports properties, along with HBO and NBC titles, JioCinema has emerged as a ‘serious player’ in the OTT landscape in no time, causing subscriber exodus from market leader Disney+ Hotstar
  • Jio might also be working on an Amazon Prime-like subscription programme for users that will bundle its key offerings across retail, shopping, entertainment, telecom, pay TV, etc
  • Media observers see JioCinema’s aggressive content strategy as “a threat to the industry” as it prepares to take pole position in 12-18 months

“We have beds in our new office,” a 20-something producer at JioCinema told his friends in the fall of 2022. A relatively new hire at the company, he had a ringside view of the flurry of activity at the OTT platform as it prepared to stream its first real showpiece event—the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Besides making dorm-like arrangements for employees who were required to work late nights, Viacom18—JioCinema’s parent company—also moved its sports division and production studios to a swanky new property in South Mumbai. It even poached scores of seasoned executives from arch-rival Disney Star. Viacom18 now counts Uday Shankar—the former high-ranking Disney executive who’d launched Hotstar in 2015—as an investor. On a fully diluted basis, Bodhi Tree Systems, a joint venture between Shankar and media scion James Murdoch, holds a 13% stake in Viacom18.  

The FIFA World Cup in late-2022 catapulted JioCinema from five years of relative obscurity—as Viacom18 had been focused on its other streaming bet, Voot—into the public consciousness. Over the course of the tournament, the platform attracted 110 million viewers, with India’s digital viewership of a global sporting event surpassing TV viewership for the first time. JioCinema also became the most downloaded free app on Android and iOS, according to app tracker (earlier App Annie). 

Cut to seven months later, over 97 million viewers are said to have streamed IPL 2023 every day on JioCinema, with the league’s cumulative digital reach projected to be north of 500 million. JioCinema recorded 17 billion video views during IPL 2023—a worldwide streaming record for cricket events. The platform also repeatedly broke global records for concurrent viewership of a live-streamed event.

It wasn't long before the wider industry was compelled to acknowledge JioCinema as a genuine challenger to current market leader Disney+ Hotstar (53 million subscribers), Amazon Prime Video (20-25 million subscribers), and Netflix (7-8 million subscribers). JioCinema continues to be the leading free app in India, with downloads soaring past the 100 million-mark earlier in 2023.

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