In February 2018, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said at a global business conference in Delhi that the next 100 million subscribers for the streaming giant are now coming from India. He said that this would be possible due to the expansion of Netflix as well as the Internet becoming cheaper.
Three years later, Reed Hastings hasn’t been that excited about India. In an investor call last week, he expressed his disappointment at the poor success of his California-based company in India.
He said, “The good news is that we are growing fast in every major market. But what is frustrating and troubling us is why we are not able to achieve this kind of success in India. ” However, he also said that the company is definitely moving ahead in India.
According to a media consultancy named Media Partners Asia, India’s $2 billion streaming market is filled with around 100 million subscribers. Netflix has been making a splash here since its launch in India six years ago.
According to estimates, Netflix has about 55 lakh paying subscribers in India. However, despite this, Netflix, the world’s largest streamer, lags far behind its main rivals – Disney+ Hotstar (46 million subscribers) and Amazon Prime Video (19 million subscribers) in India.
‘sacred games‘ from netflicks got recognition in India
Netflix made a splash in India after the ‘Sacred Games’ series in the year 2018. This thriller based on gangsters by well-known Bollywood actors and two of India’s best filmmakers caught everyone’s attention and the series started garnering a lot of accolades soon after its release. The Economist Magazine said that Netflix’s first original series has proved that India has “the future of this new combination of old talent from Hindi cinema, the values of Hollywood and the billions of rupees of Silicon Valley”.
However, this did not actually prove to be the case. India is a huge entertainment market. There are TV sets in more than 200 million homes and many channels can be seen on TV for less than four dollars (Rs 300). Most of the Indian consumers like to watch movies, sports and news for entertainment.
Consumers in India have now started watching shows based on true stories. For example, the thriller ‘Scam 1992’ based on stock trading was streamed on SonyLIV last year and within no time it became a popular series.
Dark heartland thrillers full of action and abuse are also grabbing the attention of the people. But this is something that is not usually seen on TV in Indian homes sitting with the whole family. “Consumers want to see good content for money and time,” says Vikram Malhotra, CEO of a leading company called Abundantia Entertainment.
metflicks mobile plan price reduced by 60 percent
Netflix has tried a lot to woo the consumers in India. In this episode, the company has reduced the price of the mobile-only plan by up to 60 percent to Rs 149 per month. Apart from this, the company has spent more than $ 400 million i.e. more than 3 thousand crore rupees to make more than 50 films. Of these, more than 30 were Hindi language films and shows.
Industry experts believe that most of these films did not live up to the expectations. According to media consulting firm Ormax, Netflix had only one series in the top 15 most-watched streaming shows in the Hindi language last year. Its name is Kota Factory, which is the story of troubled college students.
While the reality dating series Indian Matchmaking and the recent DeCupled have been talked about, Netflix still seems to be largely associated with exotic stories like Squid Game, Money Heist. Film critic Shubhra Gupta of The Indian Express newspaper says, “Netflix is still known as an expensive service for the rich. It is still seen as a foreigner.”
Rival Streaming Services Netflicks left behind
Rival streaming services have overtaken Netflix. Disney+ grew rapidly mainly because of the individual sports broadcasts. In the world’s largest cricket market, Disney owns major digital broadcast rights, including the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Amazon Prime Video offers a vast platform of programming in 10 Indian languages. Its action-drama ‘Family Man’ was the most-watched Hindi streaming show last year. Apart from this, the gangland drama ‘Mirzapur’ was also a hit across the country.
Prime is also a great option for people who crave for movies. According to Ormax Media CEO Shailesh Kapoor, about 40 percent of blockbuster films in Indian languages are under Prime. From this year on Prime is going to start live broadcast of cricket match played in New Zealand. Prime also allows its members to pay for one service and enjoy eight other smaller streaming services as well.
Industry experts say Netflix spent millions of dollars to replicate its global success in India while simultaneously adopting its “international playbook”. The company also partnered with major Bollywood studios and producers for shows and films.
Experts say that it only grabbed headlines and nothing more. “None of these producers had any experience in making streaming shows, and most of them turned out to be flops,” said the industry’s top executive, who did not wish to be named.
Mihir Shah, vice president, Media Partners Asia, says, “Netflix needs to go deeper into its regional content and at the same time ensure that consumers continue to get fresh content.”
Netflix says that the company is proud of all the content it has introduced since it entered the Indian market in 2016. A company spokesperson said, “We focus on entertaining our members with the best of stories in all formats from drama to comedy, thriller to romance and fiction to non-fiction.”
To be a hit in India, you have to focus on local content
He added, “Netflix is also investing heavily to bring different stories from all corners of the country, to delight our diverse language-speaking members.” Last month, Netflix released the Malayalam language superhero film ‘Minnal Murali’. According to one critic, this film can compete with Marvel superhero films.
According to industry estimates, India’s streaming market will more than double by 2026. But the addition of millions of subscribers means that Netflix will now need to deliver content on an even larger scale. In other words, Netflix will have to be more local.
It will not be easy. There are already more than 75 streaming services in India. Only a few of these have been hits while most are flops. Shailesh Kapoor says, “Out of 225 shows launched in Indian languages on streaming services last year, 170 were in Hindi language. Of these, only 15-20 were successful. Everyone is serving more and more content and experimenting But remember that India is a complex market.”
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