Cricket World Cup highlights just how big video streaming is in India

As hundreds of millions of people turn their attention to the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup tournament, many of them are using an Indian streaming service to follow the ins and outs of the game.

More than 100 million users tuned in to Hotstar, an on-demand streaming service owned by Disney, on June 16, the day India and Pakistan played a league match against each other. That’s the highest engagement the four-year-old service has clocked on its platform to date, it said in a statement today.

Hotstar said about 66% of its viewers came from outside of big metro cities, an equally remarkable feat that illustrates the growing adoption of the streaming service in smaller cities and towns that remain sporadic consumers — if at all — of internet services.

To be sure, these 100 million users are not all paying subscribers. Hotstar offers five-minute streaming of live events to users at no cost. The platform, which competes with Netflix, Prime Video, AltBalaji, Zee5, and YouTube in India, declined to share its paying subscribers base. In April, the company said it had 300 million monthly active users.

Regardless, 100 million daily active users is an impressive feat for any service in India. Especially for streaming services that, thanks to dramatically dwindling mobile data prices in the country in recent years, are increasingly changing user behavior toward intensive data usage online. (For some context, Facebook and WhatsApp are both shy of 300 million monthly active users in India; Google’s YouTube, which is its fastest growing service in the nation, also has fewer than 300 million monthly active users in the country.)

It also helps that the game between India and Pakistan, two neighboring nations with a long history, remains one of the most anticipated events for cricket following countries.

Cricket itself has emerged as the biggest driver of video streaming in India in the last three years. The game is followed by hundreds of millions of users across the globe — if not more. In 2010, Hilary Clinton urged nations to look at cricket as a model for improving relationships with other countries.

“I might suggest that if we are searching for a model of how to meet tough international challenges with skill, dedication and teamwork, we need only look to the Afghan national cricket team,” she said as U.S. Secretary of State in 2010.

Star India, which operates Hotstar, owns the rights to most cricket tournaments, a bet that has paid off and immensely helped scale its business. This then wouldn’t come as a surprise that both Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, that do not offer live streaming of sporting events in India, have produced shows themed around cricket to cash in on the game’s popularity.

Both Amazon and Netflix have fewer than 5 million subscribers in India, according to industry estimates. While Amazon Prime Video, which bundles a range of other services including faster delivery of goods, and Hotstar are priced at Rs 999 ($14.4) for a year-long service, Netflix’s monthly offering starts at Rs 500 ($7.2) — though it has been experimenting with more options.

Even Facebook made an unsuccessful bid to acquire streaming rights to a cricket tournament in India two years ago, months before it began to talk about its Watch ambitions. That cricket tournament was Indian Premier League (IPL), which concluded its 12th edition last month. Hotstar, which also owns the right to stream IPL matches, set a global record for most simultaneous views to a live event in the final game of the tournament last month.

Beating its own previous record, Hotstar claimed that more than 18.6 million viewers watched the game simultaneously. Interestingly enough, even as a record 100 million-plus users simultaneously watched the game between India and Pakistan this month, Hotstar said the concurrent views count peaked at 15.6 million.

It remains unclear why Hotstar was not able to break its concurrent record that day. TechCrunch reported earlier this month that Hotstar had identified a security flaw in its service that allowed some Safari browser users to access and distribute Hotstar’s content without a paid subscription. To fix it, Hotstar temporarily discontinued support for Safari browser.

Last year, Hotstar and Walmart-owned Flipkart began a collaboration on building an advertising business in India. According to media planners who TechCrunch has spoken to, Hotstar-Flipkart’s digital ad business is already the third largest in India, only behind Google and Facebook. Hotstar is still unprofitable, however.

For Hotstar, the biggest challenge is in retaining customers after the mega cricket season ends next month. Each year, the service struggles to keep customers which results in a massive drop in users count when the cricket season is over, a source familiar with the matter said.

Over the last year, Hotstar has sought to build on its popularity and started to invest in its own original content. Many inside the company have high hopes that people will show up to watch the Indian Jim and Pam in the remake of NBC’s sitcom “The Office.” It premieres on Hotstar later this week and it will be a sign of the future for the streaming company.