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In Singapore Hotstar launch, Disney will be violating Net Neutrality in second Asian market

Hotstar will soon be violating Net Neutrality in Singapore. The streaming service is set to launched in Singapore on November 1, Disney announced on Monday. This is second Asian market where Hotstar will be violating neutrality, after recently doing so in Indonesia.

The streaming service will only be called Hotstar, not Disney+ Hotstar, as is the case in India and Indonesia. This is likely because Disney plans on launching Disney+ as a separate service in the island nation, according to job listings spotted by Geek Culture. Hotstar’s Singapore catalogue will include matches from the ongoing Indian Premier League and some Hindi and Tamil TV shows and films.

The company has tied up with the telecom operator StarHub to offer its content without billing eligible users for the data that the app will use. This practice, called zero rating, is a violation of Net Neutrality, the principle that all data needs to be treated equally on the internet. Zero rating programs, such as StarHub TV Go, allow streaming services to exempt their traffic from internet customers’ data allowances, essentially tilting the market in their favour; customers on restrictive mobile plans may prefer to stream video from services for which they are not charged. This is an especially significant edge to have in Singapore, where 1GB of mobile data costs US$2.57, compared to India’s 9 cents, according to data sourced from Cable.co.uk. It has been illegal since 2016 for telecom operators to strike such deals in India.

Hotstar entered into a similar zero rating arrangement in August with Indonesian telco Telkomsel. As we had reported back then, this is a striking u-turn from Hotstar’s strong support of Net Neutrality in the past, and especially contrasts with the company’s opposition to the practice of zero rating. “Differential pricing from TSPs [which zero rating is an example of] will open the door to unholy alliances between TSPs [telecom service providers] and content providers to play the role of gatekeepers for both consumers as well as other content providers,” Hotstar had said in a regulatory filing in 2015 (emphasis theirs). We have reached out to the company for comment on the change of heart, but it’s worth noting that they didn’t respond when we asked about the deal they struck in Indonesia.

Hotstar Singapore will be 2.5x costlier than India

Hotstar’s Singapore website indicates that its annual plan (the only one currently on offer directly from the streamer) will set customers back SG$69.98, which is around ₹3,785. This is two and a half times what the company charges for a similar subscription in India — and the subscription in India includes Disney+ content. It is also almost four times the annual price that Disney+ Hotstar charges in Indonesia. Although, this isn’t surprising considering Singapore is one of the wealthiest countries per capita in the world, and has the highest disposable income per capita in Southeast Asia.

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Hotstar had briefly launched a limited version of its service in Singapore for migrant workers in May, in partnership with the Singaporean government.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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