John Oliver slammed Disney-owned Hotstar on Sunday for censoring his show, "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver", in India saying the local streaming service had edited at least three of his episodes in recent months.
A recent episode of "Last Week Tonight", in which Oliver criticised the Indian government's recent policies and its leader, Narendra Modi, never aired on Hotstar, which is the exclusive syndicating partner for most of HBO's content in India. [The same episode is available unedited on YouTube.]
Oliver also referenced an episode of the show from late last year where he had mocked Disney, a segment he said was cleverly edited before streaming in India. And then, another instance in a segment focused on China's one-child policy in which he joked about Donald Duck's penis. That was also edited before going up for streaming in India, Oliver said.
"They cut out a joke about Mickey Mouse being a cocaine addict. Why would they do that? It's hard to say. But it might be because Hotstar is owned by Disney and they seem extra sensitive to Disney references," said Oliver.
It's unclear why Hotstar cut out any of these parts. None of the points Oliver made in his show violate a list of factors that some streaming services in India consider before self-censoring. "At best we can tell, Hotstar just decided to self-censor," said the HBO show host.
At least in one more instance, Hotstar edited out a joke Oliver did on Samsung's Note 7 smartphone that were literally catching fire in an episode in 2017, because Samsung was a major advertiser for Star India.
It has come to John Oliver's notice that Hotstar is censoring his show in India. pic.twitter.com/HqwfjMfxzX
— Deepanjana (@dpanjana) March 9, 2020
As part of its deal with Fox last year, Disney owns Star India, and all its properties, including Hotstar. At its peak during cricket season last year, Hotstar claimed it had hit 300 million monthly active users, and 100 million daily active users. TechCrunch understands that Hotstar's popularity plummets significantly after the cricket season each year.
Oliver ended the segment with this advice to Hotstar: "If you think that you have to remove anything that reflects poorly on Disney from this show, I have some bad news for you, my friends. I am fucking Zazu right here. Everything that comes out of this beak is a 'Disney Fact'," he said.
"If I say that Cogsworth collects Nazi memorabilia, guess what? That's canon, baby. That's a 'Disney fucking Fact' right there. And for the foreseeable future, Hotstar, you can look forward to learning a lot more of them on this show because we're going to be sliding them into our stories like Chip and Dale slid into Richard Gere. That's right -- 'Disney Fact,' motherfuckers."
You can bet your money that this episode will not air unedited on Hotstar tomorrow (Hotstar publishes "Last Week Tonight's" new episodes every Tuesday morning.). And that is just the kind of promotion Disney must be looking for in India right now. Disney+ launches in India, through Hotstar, later this month.
We have reached out to Disney and Hotstar in India for comment -- but don't believe they will respond. They always avoid controversial subjects.
Updated at 7.37AM IST, March 10: Hotstar is streaming what appears to be a completely unedited version of the most recent episode of "Last Week Tonight."