Disney Star’s new channels are finally here! An overview of their availability and impact

Star Gold Romance/Thrills are available on all pay DTHs, but Vijay Super HD and Asianet Movies HD have not been added by any DTHs. Tata Play is the only DTH with Disney Channel HD.

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By Soham Bhadra

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How the new Disney Star channels have been shaping Indian TV

While we have discussed at length the impact of Disney Star’s new channels in October 2021 (with four dedicated analytical articles) and again in December 2022, it is only now, after a wait of so many years, that viewers are able to enjoy the benefits that it repeatedly promised, but were denied for such a long time. Below, we touch upon how these channels are positioning themselves in the Indian TV landscape, starting with three new Hindi movie channels, which replace the UTV brand with the uniform Star Gold brand. (Coincidentially, their launch date of 15 March was also the 30th birthday of actress Alia Bhatt, whose film Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva was premiered on Star Gold the following Sunday, on 26 March.)

Star Gold Romance: big on romantic movies from across eras, especially YRF

Previously known as UTV Movies, the dedicated romance-focused Hindi movie channel has been airing a large number of romantic movies. Especially important are those produced by Yash Raj Films (YRF), many of which moved to Disney Star starting from July 2021 after being exclusively with Sony Pictures Networks for over two decades — even though Sony Max still has most other YRF movies in its stable, but may not air many of them as frequently as Star. These include three out of four Aditya Chopra directorials — Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Mohabbatein (2000) and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008) [Befikre (2016) remains with Sony Max] — in addition to several other YRF movies like Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), Hum Tum (2004) and Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008), as well as classics like Chandni (1989).

In fact, YRF’s CEO Akshaye Widhani himself commented on the launch of Star Gold Romance, as it is a much-needed avenue to show the iconic production house’s most memorable films — as seen in the recent Netflix documentary The Romantics, which was released in February and contained a rare interview with Aditya Chopra, his first in 28 years. Other production houses too have plenty of content for Star Gold Romance, consisting of many films from across decades and producers. Strangely, however, Star Gold Select — Disney Star’s dedicated channel for such niche Hindi films — has never aired anything from YRF so far, which is a loss since Star Gold Romance, unlike Star Gold Select, is not available in HD. Still, there is hope that Star Gold (2) HD will show a number of films from the Star Gold Romance library in high-definition quality.

Star Gold Thrills: a wide range of Hollywood movies — also on DD Free Dish

Unlike Star Gold Romance, which is markedly different from its predecessor UTV Movies, Star Gold Thrills is simply a rebranding of UTV Action — a dedicated channel for Hollywood movies dubbed in Hindi — with a new name, logo and graphics package. Its library consists of several Hollywood releases, both action and otherwise, from not only in-house Disney studios like Marvel and Pixar — including Marvel-owned superhero franchises like Avengers, Captain America and X-Men — but also several other Hollywood studios. Despite its action-focused nature, family-friendly films like Home Alone (1990) and Baby’s Day Out (1994) are also aired on Star Gold Thrills.

Interestingly, in the recent 67th e-auction, DD Free Dish has added Star Gold Thrills along with other channels. This will provide DDFD’s main user population in northern and western India an alternative for Hollywood movies, different from the typical South Indian masala movies found on channels like Goldmines and Disney Star’s own Star Utsav Movies, which is also showing 12 IPL matches for free. It was originally planned for Star Utsav Movies to be replaced by Star Gold Family — as was reflected in the renaming of its Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) licence — but it seems this has been scrapped, and SUM will continue with its existing brand. It and Star Gold Thrills are the only Disney Star channels on DD Free Dish after Star Utsav (its Hindi channel for rerun serials) and Star Sports First were removed from DDFD.

Crucially, these two are the only ones out of the new Disney Star channels that are available on all five pay DTH platforms, as they are rebrandings of the erstwhile UTV Movies and Action, which were already present on DTHs. Even though Dish TV and d2h removed the two outgoing UTV channels on 15 March, they were quick to add the new Star Gold Romance and Thrills channels the following day, and Dish TV also added Star Gold 2 HD (which did not directly replace UTV HD in the satellite feed as was the case with Star Gold Romance and Thrills, and so had to be added by DTHs separately).

Star Gold 2 HD: a quiet launch with an old logo, later updated

Unlike Star Gold Romance and Thrills, which were launched on 15 March with active promotions on social media — including a promo with Shah Rukh Khan, whose recent worldwide blockbuster Pathaan’s satellite rights are also with Disney Star (by virtue of being a YRF production) — the launch of Star Gold 2 HD was much more muted, with the channel being silently added by Airtel Digital TV and Dish TV on 16 March, and later by Tata Play on 1 April. Tata Play’s delay in adding Star Gold 2 HD arose from the fact that it already had the Tata Play Theatre HD service channel on LCN 316 — which was intended for Star Gold 2 HD (as it comes before the SD version on LCN 317) — but only much later was the service channel moved to LCN 329 to make room for Star Gold 2 HD.

The fact that there were hardly any promotions for the new HD channel — which replaces UTV HD, which like UTV Action was showing Hollywood dubbed movies — is evident from the fact that, astonishingly enough, Star Gold 2 HD had so far been using the old pre-2020 logo of Star Gold for many weeks, clearly indicating a test transmission. Even though Star Gold 2 HD had officially revealed its logo during Star Gold’s rebrand in February 2020 — despite the HD feed not being launched at the time — a test transmission of the channel using the 2011–2020 logo style of Star Gold started in February 2021, and the old-style logo remained in use well after the channel was added by Airtel Digital TV and Dish TV in March. It was only after Tata Play added it that Star Gold 2 HD updated its logo on Thursday, 6 April, with the new style. Regardless, the new HD channel will help to show a number of Hindi and South movies from the Star Gold library and widen its lead over Zee, Sony and Viacom18 as the leading broadcaster for Hindi movies.

Star Gold 2 HD Old and New Logo

Disney Channel HD: the first HD Indian kids’ channel from Disney Star, replacing foreign BabyTV HD

Tata Play has been the only DTH to add this channel, which it did on Thursday, 16 March, on LCN 657, along with Star Movies Select and Star Sports 1 Tamil/Telugu HD. It shows a number of kids’ animation shows, which range from the Japanese cartoon shows Doraemon and Beyblade — a staple on Indian kids’ channels, along with Shinchan — to local Indian animation series like Gadget Guru Ganesha, Twinkle Sharma 0007 and Bapu, to spin-off shows of famous Disney franchises like Mickey Mouse and Phineas and Ferb. Sister channel Hungama — which was originally supposed to get an HD feed, but it was cancelled afterwards — has a similar schedule dominated by Shinchan (which is synonymous with Hungama) as well as Indian animation shows like Selfie With Bajrangi, while Super Hungama (which rebranded from Marvel HQ in 2022) shows mostly Pokemon and Kiteretsu.

The launch of Disney Channel HD is a much-needed addition to not only Disney Star’s kitty but also Indian kids’ channels as a whole, which otherwise have to make do with only two other kids’ HD channels — Cartoon Network HD+ from Warner Bros. Discovery and Nick HD+ from Reliance (Viacom18) — since not only has Hungama HD’s launch been cancelled, but ETV Bal Bharat HD has not been added by any TV platforms. Many other kids’ channels like Sony Yay, Discovery Kids, Pogo (also from Warner Bros. Discovery) and Gubbare from IN10 Media have not bothered with HD feeds. Note also that BabyTV HD — a foreign-operated kids’ channel that has shows for toddlers’ learning and development, unlike most Indian kids’ channels — has finally been withdrawn from India by Disney Star, nearly four years after its SD feed (as well as Nat Geo People SD/HD and Nat Geo Music SD/HD) were discontinued in the country in June 2019. This is similar to the closure of the short-lived Da Vinci Learning HD in 2017, another foreign-operated kids’ channel with a limited presence.

Star Sports 1 Tamil and Telugu HD: new additions to dozens of channels for IPL coverage

This IPL season, with fierce competition from JioCinema on the digital streaming front, Disney Star has greatly upped its broadcast game with continuous tournament coverage across not only Star Sports channels but also several regional movie channels. To this end, the launch of these two new regional HD sports channels serves as a boost to the broadcaster’s sports portfolio and will also add to Disney Star’s already rich regional HD bouquet. Star Sports 1 Tamil HD has been added by Tata Play on LCN 1550 and Airtel Digital TV on LCN 802, while Star Sports 1 Telugu HD has been added by Tata Play on LCN 1445 and Airtel Digital TV on LCN 929, with no other DTH platform adding these channels — despite d2h announcing its intentions to do so.

In addition to the Star Sports network, Disney Star’s IPL coverage is also being amplified on a number of Hindi and regional movie channels, which will show selected games. Aside from the free-to-air Star Utsav Movies, the main Star Gold channel (only the SD feed) is also showing several matches in Hindi. Also, many regional channels are showing a number of matches: Vijay Super (Tamil), Star Maa Gold (Telugu), Star Suvarna Plus (Kannada), Asianet Plus (Malayalam), Jalsha Movies (Bengali) and Pravah Picture (Marathi). (The Bengali channel Jalsha Josh was also planned to be launched, but this was scrapped.) All of these are movie channels (including Star Suvarna Plus), except Asianet Plus which is a secondary entertainment channel, and Asianet Movies — which has launched an HD feed along with Vijay Super — is not airing the IPL. Coverage of the IPL on these channels, in addition to the Star Sports channels, will augment Disney Star’s reach across multiple markets and languages in the fight against JioCinema.

Star Movies Select added by all DTHs except Airtel (Vijay Super HD, Asianet Movies HD not added by any DTH)

Among the less well-known channels among the new launches is the English movie channel Star Movies Select — the standard-definition version of Star Movies Select HD, which was launched in 2015 — which shows a range of Hollywood movies across genres and eras. All DTHs have added this channel with the exception of Airtel Digital TV. Even Sun Direct and d2h, which have not added any of the other new launches from Disney Star (aside from Star Gold Romance and Thrills, which were rebrands of existing channels), have managed to add Star Movies Select. The launch of an SD feed differentiates Star Movies Select from its HD-only premium English movie competitors MN+ HD from Times Network and &privé HD from Zee, as well as the erstwhile Sony Le Plex HD, which briefly lasted from 2016 to 2018. At the same time, this brings it in line with Star Gold Select and the Star Sports Select channels, where HD feeds were launched first and SD feeds shortly afterwards in 2016–17.

Also, the launch of two new regional HD movie channels — Vijay Super HD (Tamil) and Asianet Movies HD (Malayalam) — has been promoted on social media, especially for the latter where several stars from the Malayalam film fraternity congratulated Disney Star for launching the first-ever Malayalam HD movie channel. These are important launches for two languages that otherwise do not have many HD movie channels — with Asianet Movies, in particular, having no competition apart from the Sun network’s Surya Movies, which seems to have frozen its plans for launching an HD feed along with its Kannada counterpart Udaya Movies. Though Tamil, unlike Malayalam, does have several SD movie channels, only KTV is widely available in HD (while Zee Thirai HD is not present on any major platform). This is a sharp contrast to Telugu, where the four major movie channels (Gemini Movies, Star Maa Movies, Zee Cinemalu, ETV Cinema) are all available in HD, though the last is not on any DTH platform.

Unfortunately, at least for the time being, DTH platforms have refused to add Vijay Super HD and Asianet Movies HD along with the other new Disney Star channels, and so their visibility will be limited to cable platforms like TCCL and SCV in Tamil Nadu and Kerala Vision in Kerala. This greatly limits their reach and popularity, much like with the two regional HD channels launched by Disney Star in 2022: Pravah Picture HD (Marathi movies) and Star Kiran HD (Odia entertainment). While the former was at least added by one DTH platform (Sun Direct) and several cable operators in Maharashtra, Star Kiran HD was so unfortunate — despite being the first-ever Odia HD channel — that not a single platform added it, though its competitor Tarang HD (not fully launched) has been added by its sister company Ortel Digital. Sadly, it is highly improbable that Asianet Movies HD, Vijay Super HD, Star Kiran HD and Pravah Picture HD will be added by any more DTH operators in the near future.

The shutdown of the struggling Star World channels after decades, and possibly Bindass in the future

It will be unfair to conclude this article without mentioning the closure of the three Star World channels — Star World (launched 2000), Star World HD (2011) and Star World Premiere HD (2013) — which had been earmarked for shutdown for many years as they were no longer viable for Disney Star, but their axing was repeatedly deferred. After airing repeat telecasts of Koffee With Karan for months, the network’s three older English general entertainment channels (GECs) bid a quiet farewell from Indian TV on 15 March 2023. This leaves the five-year-old Disney International HD, which shows the American Disney Channel’s live-action teen shows, as the only English GEC of the broadcaster. (However, Star World continues to be available in the Middle East, along with UTV Movies International.)

At the same time, the future of the Hindi music channel Bindass remains uncertain: even though it has been spared from shutdown from the time being, there are rumours that it might rebrand to Star Utsav 2 at some point. Though it has been temporarily able to avoid the fate that befell Channel V (the Hindi youth channel of the Fox-owned Star) in September 2018, when it ceased broadcasting after two decades, the youth and music genre as a whole has been steadily shrinking over the years — despite Disney Star launching the Tamil youth channel Vijay Takkar in October 2022. These and other decisions will continue to shape the future of Disney Star as it seeks to cement its position as India’s largest TV broadcaster, as it faces renewed competition from the merger of Zee and Sony as well as Reliance/Viacom18 and others.

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Soham Bhadra

Television Analyst

84 articles published
Soham is a Computer Science graduate from NTU, Singapore, actively interested in the Indian TV and entertainment industry. He publishes articles and shares his insights on the Indian TV industry and DTH operators. He has a passion for words and reflects that through his articles.

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