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How Disney+ Hotstar broke the Internet

The story of how we put the excitement and adventure of our programmes in India’s hands.

In the early hours of February 1st 2015, a handful of people popped open a bottle of bubbly in one corner of the 27th floor of our office in Lower Parel. We had launched the project they’d been working on for months, a digital entertainment platform called Disney+ Hotstar. In between slices of cake, they took turns refreshing their analytics page to see how many people were downloading the app. For the past few months, they’d worked countless hours, coming in at weekends, even sleeping in the office. Even as they sipped from their glasses, they knew their work wasn’t done, but for now, a moment of respite to celebrate all their efforts. Within six days the app had hit 1 million downloads, faster than any other entertainment app in the world. By the tenth day it was 2 million downloads. Over the next two years, the app would break record after record in the online entertainment space. At the time, the team behind Disney+ Hotstar had no idea of the scale of what they’d just achieved.

“We were very depressed for the first few days, because nobody told us we had hit these numbers but they just kept growing.”
Kimlyn Pereira, Disney+ Hotstar’s engineering team

Just a week after the launch, came the platform’s first big test, the 2015 Cricket World Cup in Australia. “We’re still building the product then hey, seven days after it's launched you have to scale up for the biggest sporting event in the country,” remembers Tushar Amin, from the Engineering team. On Sunday 15th February, India played Pakistan in one of the biggest cricket matches of the year. Everything was running smoothly when the team realised Google Analytics wasn’t working. Concern became panic when they realised that the site wasn’t able to accommodate any new users. Everyone scrambled to fix the problem, trying to contain the fallout. “Everyone was yelling – behind closed doors, outside the office, even in the bathroom – there wasn't anywhere you couldn't hear the sound of everyone stressing out,” laughs Tushar. “We thought it was a disaster,” says Kimlyn. Instead the match had attracted so many viewers on Disney+ Hotstar that providers couldn’t handle the traffic. We registered 25 million viewers that day, the highest for a digital broadcast of a sporting event in global history. We went on to double that record over a month later, recording 50 million viewers for the India-Australia semi-final.

Looking back Tushar feels an immense sense of pride in what the team has achieved. “It’s amazing to see Disney+ Hotstar on someone’s phone at the railway platform, or on your Uber driver’s phone. You feel proud because you've built a service for so many people, giving them access to entertaining shows and events.” Nikita has a different take on it. “We learnt that nothing is impossible,” she laughs. “When we hit an impossible target, we reach for another one.”

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