Disney Star India Reveals Push Into Adult Animated Streaming Series, TV Business Growth Plans (EXCLUSIVE)

Indian streamer Disney+ Hotstar is planning a major push into animation content for adults.

The push follows the success of Graphic India’s 3D animation “The Legend of Hanuman,” the third season of which debuted earlier this month to a critical and audience reception that the streamer is happy with. The series is derived from ancient Indian mythological epic “The Ramayana.”

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“There are so many stories around around ‘The Ramayana’ that are remaining to be told. We feel that this is a franchise, which has lots of storytelling left, and we want to really scale up and build this world in an exciting manner,” Gaurav Banerjee, head, content, Disney+ Hotstar and HSM (Hindi-language speaking markets) Entertainment Network at broadcaster Disney Star, told Variety.

Disney+ Hotstar is teaming with Graphic India again for another adult animation series, which will be unveiled within the next six months, but it is coy about specific details at the moment. “It’s an extension of a great Indian franchise, certainly aimed at adults, complex storytelling, great action, and a world that Indian entertainment fans are familiar with and they have deeply liked,” Banerjee said. “We’re taking something big that has happened in the live action space and giving it an animation rendition.”

Meanwhile, in the scripted live action space, Disney+ Hotstar has Karan Johar’s “Showtime,” starring Emraan Hashmi, Mouni Roy, Shriya Saran and Naseeruddin Shah, coming up. “Karan is creating something that he’s really, really familiar with – Bollywood, nepotism, drama,” Banerjee said. In addition, Hansal Mehta’s Somalian high seas drama “Lootere”; Season 2 of “The Trial,” starring Kajol; the final season of Ram Madhvani’s “Aarya,” starring Sushmita Sen; Season 4 of “Criminal Justice”; and the next season of Neeraj Pandey’s “Special Ops,” are in the works.

Moreover, all the principal characters in the Indian adaptation of Sandeep Modi’s Indian adaptation of John Le Carre’s “The Night Manager,” headlined by Anil Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapur, remain alive and Banerjee teases the possibility of another season. Rights manager, The Ink Factory’s Simon Cornwell had told Variety that the decision rests with Disney+ Hotstar.

Beyond North Indian language Hindi, Disney+ Hotstar is developing a slate in the South India’s Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam languages. The next three Indian languages that commissions are likely to be in are Bengali, Marathi and Kannada.

In the unscripted space, the three pillars – Johar’s celebrity chat show “Koffee With Karan,” “Big Brother” Indian adaptation “Bigg Boss,” in the Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam languages, and dance competition show “Dance Plus,” will continue.

On the sports front, Disney Star holds Indian TV and digital rights to both men’s and women’s global events conducted by the International Cricket Council from 2024 through 2027, with the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup coming up in June. The 2023 ICC Men’s World Cup was a massive success for the company. On the balance between scripted, unscripted and sports, Banerjee said, “Live cricket brings in a huge volume, also, because it’s free to users. And, therefore, it creates a massive top of the funnel, which is great for recruiting people to entertainment. And honestly, this thing about live cricket being central to building scale in streaming is something that Hotstar has pioneered over the last nine years.”

However, since those nine years, Disney+ Hotstar has ceded digital rights to the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament to a Viacom18 consortium backed by billionaire industrialist Mukesh Ambani. This led to an erosion of its subscriber base, which has now reduced to 37.6 million. “The biggest thing that we have done is strengthen our entertainment portfolio. Because we believe that in a world where we want to chase growth, but we also need to be a profitable, sustainable business, a large part of that story will come from building scale of our own IP. And I think that’s been a really large area of focus for us,” Banerjee said. The executive says that the regional language markets have “incredible growth potential” and the service is scaling up its offering there. The streamer also has a “conscious strategy” to grow its franchises by making them “potent, attractive and exciting,” Banerjee said.

Disney Star could reunite with the IPL if a merger with Ambani’s Reliance Industries goes through, but Banerjee offered no comment on that.

Disney Star is currently the largest TV and entertainment network in India, operating more than 60 channels across eight languages that reach 790 million people. Popular content from the network is previewed on Disney+ Hotstar. In the relentless focus on its sexier streaming cousin, it is often forgotten that television remains the single largest component of the Indian media and entertainment sector, with a valuation of $8.6 billion.

“India is uniquely placed as the only major media market in the world where television is also growing, and not just digital. So not only are we leaders in this category, we’re leaders in a category that is growing,” Banerjee said, adding that the growth is due to the Star branded channels across Indian languages that have stood the test of time. “We are always thinking about what do we need to do to grow the luster of these brands to ensure that we have more and more and bigger hits there,” Banerjee said. “The biggest things that we are focused on on a daily basis is our ability to create the big hits.”

The hits include “Anupama,” “Ghum Hai Kisikey Pyaar Meiin,” “Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai” and “Geeta LL.B.” “The reason why we are able to do that more frequently than then any other network is that we have a deep belief in consumer insights, that we can chisel and bring in and pair that up with the best understanding of writers and the creative relationships that we have in the market,” Banerjee said. “A strong brand, great teams and amazing chemistry with creatives are foundational to how we’ve built scale behind this network. And we’re working really hard every day as a company to keep improving on that.”

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