Reliance’s JioCinema breaks world record with free cricket streaming

India’s JioCinema broke the global record for the most concurrent views to a livestreamed event on Monday, eclipsing a long-standing milestone set by Disney’s Hotstar, as the Asian tycoon Mukesh Ambani spares no expense in expanding his digital empire.

The Indian streaming platform, which includes James Murdoch’s Bodhi Tree-backed Viacom18 as an investor, drew more than 32 million simultaneous viewers for the finale of the 16th edition of the Indian Premier League cricket tournament, featuring Chennai Super Kings versus Gujarat Titans.

In what was a high point for Hotstar, the platform drew an impressive 25.3 million simultaneous viewers for a cricket match in July 2019, a record that went unchallenged for several years. However, as the platform shifted the IPL streaming service to a paid format, it grappled to surpass this benchmark in the subsequent years, underscoring the complexities in balancing reach and revenue within the streaming sector.

Drawing a page from Hotstar’s earlier strategy, Viacom18 is seemingly steering its trajectory along a similar path. The Indian entertainment giant, whose largest investor is Ambani’s Reliance, in a strategic shift last year emerged victorious in a $3 billion bidding war against Disney, securing the digital rights for the immensely popular IPL for a five-year period until 2027.

As part of its streaming strategy, Viacom18’s JioCinema app is offering free streaming of the tournament to audiences across South Asia, a move that could potentially reshape the region’s digital streaming landscape, analysts say.

JioCinema, which also offers free access to its basic content to Jio telecom network subscribers, recently rolled out a premium tier. As of last month, users can opt for an annual premium plan, unlocking access to a broader range of content for the modest price of 999 Indian rupees ($12).

Viacom18 has clinched deals with international entertainment powerhouses Warner Bros. and NBCUniversal in recent weeks to make its premium offering a more compelling proposition for potential subscribers.

Despite the challenges, Disney is still managing to find significant success. The international giant, which is broadcasting the game via satellite television in India, garnered a tally of 482 million cumulative views throughout the initial 66 matches, according to data from the industry organization, Broadcast Audience Research Council.

An earlier version of this story said JioCinema’s concurrent views peaked at 33 million, citing officials. TechCrunch understands that though the final figure is over 32 million, it’s not exactly 33 million.¬†