The Disney Plus streaming service is expected to roll out in Thailand at the end of next month. If confirmed, that would be the service’s fourth territory in the highly competitive Southeast Asia region.
Multiple sources have told Variety that the service will be branded as Disney Plus Hotstar in Thailand and become operational from June 30. Local sources also suggest that it will be launched in partnership with the country’s leading mobile telecoms and internet service provider, AIS.
Disney has declined to confirm or deny details of the launch, pricing, commercial partners or content strategy.
The Mouse House launched its direct to consumer service in November 2019 in North America and a handful of other territories, including Australia and New Zealand. Within Asia-Pacific, the first launches were in India (April 2020) and Japan (June 2020).
Other launches are expected soon in South Korea and Hong Kong, though dates are currently unclear. Disney recently said that it would close 18 linear TV channels in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong in October.
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The Disney Plus Hotstar branding was first used in India, where Disney Plus was welded together with the successful, pre-existing Hotstar service, which was delivered as part of the 2019 corporate merger of Disney and 21st Century Fox.
The Disney Plus Hotstar brand was next used in Indonesia, where the service launched in September last year, and will also be rolled out for the upcoming June 1 launch in Malaysia. The brand appears to carry a significant component of local content, and generally includes a partnership with a local telco or ISP to provide marketing and consumer billing services. Generally, it also indicates a lower average revenues per user for Disney than in wealthier and more Westernized markets.
In Singapore, where GDP per capita is among the world’s highest and English is an official language, the service was launched in mid-February simply as Disney Plus. Singapore was the first territory in Asia to launch with a Star-branded menu button, giving access to content such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “24,” “The X-Files,” “Criminal Minds,” “9-1-1,” “Family Guy,” “Bones,” “Black-ish,” “Scandal” and “Fresh Off the Boat.”
In recent weeks, the Star component in Singapore has been topped up with films and series including “Black Swan,” “Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” “Homeland,” “Modern Family,” “Snowfall,” “The Favorite” and “Mayans M.C.,” which the Singapore government classified as R21 (only suitable for viewers age older than 21) and which requires parental control systems.
Given the wealth discrepancies and cultural diversity of Southeast Asia, the Disney Plus premium approach combined with the mass market Hotstar model may give Disney the best chance of quickly catching up with market leader Netflix.
Analysis firm AMPD this week estimated that Disney accounted for close to 2 million of the 4.9 million net new subscribers to premium video streaming platforms in Southeast Asia in the first quarter of 2021 — a feat achieved with Disney Plus only available in Singapore for six weeks.
Southeast Asia is at the intersection of overlapping spheres of influence in premium streaming. Global operators Netflix, Disney and Amazon Prime (Singapore only) are all present. So, too, are regional operators Viu and Catchplay, though this category was thinned out by the 2020 demise of Iflix and Hooq, and local platforms such as Vidio in Indonesia. The region is also witnessing the first serious international outreach by mainland Chinese streamers iQIYI and Tencent Video (rebranded as WeTV).
(Pictured: Constance Wu in Disney’s “Fresh Off the Boat”)