Hotstar has jumped on the self-censorship bandwagon. The Disney-owned streaming service has cut out jokes that poked fun at its corporate overlord from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, HBO’s Emmy-winning half-hour news satire talk show. (Most HBO programming is available on Hotstar in India, owing to a long-term deal between the two.) In Hotstar’s case, this is somewhat ironic, considering this comes from the same company that launched a marketing campaign built around the fact that it would never censor Game of Thrones. Gadgets 360 has reached out to Hotstar, Disney, and HBO, and we will update this story when we hear back from any of them.
Reddit users were the first to take note of Hotstar’s new self-censoring ways, and Gadgets 360 has since confirmed that the jokes involving Disney had been chopped off from the sixth season finale — “The Census” — of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which aired Sunday in the US. There are at least two such instances, which also involve zooming in to remove any on-screen mention of the joke. What makes this weird is that the latest Last Week Tonight episode wasn’t an exposé of Disney or anything. Oliver simply used the phrase “Disney fact” to poke fun at a variety of things, which stemmed from Micky Mouse’s participation in a 1980 advertisement for the US Census Bureau.
If you haven’t seen the episode in question and are still confused, here’s how it started. The aforementioned ad — watch the above video from the start for context — features people asking, “Can we count on you?” as wordplay on the census count, before Mickey Mouse shows up at the end to repeat the question. In response, Oliver wonders “Can we actually count on you, Mickey? It’s 1980, you’re in a tuxedo in the middle of the day, and your pupils are the size of personal pan pizzas. We all know what that means, Mick. You’ve been baking with booger sugar. Horking the rawdilla. Riding the white rail express to Blowmaha. What I’m trying to say here is, Mickey Mouse has a really serious cocaine problem. Listen, I’m just stating a fact. A Disney fact.”
It’s unclear if the Last Week Tonight episode was censored by Hotstar itself, in a bid to keep the overlords happy, or if the mandate came down from Disney itself. The latter seems unlikely — and is hopefully not the case — because it makes one of the world’s biggest companies come across as petty at best. After all, Oliver routinely, and deliberately, mocks HBO’s new owners — the American telecom giant AT&T, which owns HBO via its subsidiary WarnerMedia — all the time on Last Week Tonight. Those jokes are aimed directly at the company’s service and customer support. If AT&T can take such jibes in its stride, Disney should have no problem.
This unnecessary self-censorship takes Hotstar to the early days of Amazon Prime Video in India, when the Jeff Bezos-owned streaming service had opted to blur most nudity and excise all forms of profanity from content, in what it termed “Indian sensibilities”. Except this is corporate bootlicking, and not driven by what some viewers might find offensive. And more importantly, it betrays Hotstar’s true sensibilities. All its talk of not censoring Game of Thrones didn’t stem from the goodness of its heart, but the fact that the Internet is not subject to the guidelines imposed on TV channels in India. Moreover, Hotstar knew that GoT fans had been pirating the show for years, and the only way to get them on board was to deliver them an uncensored version.
For what it’s worth, India isn’t the first country where Last Week Tonight has had to deal with such stupidity. A British law prevents comedy programmes from using footage of the UK Parliament. Oliver & Co. have not only poked fun at this happening several times in the past, but have also gone out of their way to create special footage just for the British audience, to replace the missing Parliament footage in that particular Last Week Tonight episode. Sadly, that’s not the case for Hotstar’s self-censorship of Disney jokes. But since it’s not due to a law, Indian viewers of Last Week Tonight can simply watch the unedited episode segment over on YouTube.
Considering Hotstar doesn’t upload new episodes of Last Week Tonight until a day later on Tuesday — unlike most other HBO programming, which is available immediately after — we imagine most fans of the show have been doing that anyway. And those who want to watch the full episode have always known where to look. In fact, by meddling with the content, something it had vowed to not do with Game of Thrones to convince Indians to sign up for its service, Hotstar is now driving subscribers away.