When Netflix launched in India in 2016, Bollywood welcomed the godfather of streaming with open arms. “The producers looked at Netflix as this hen that’s going to lay golden eggs,” said a studio executive.
However, more than five years later, the ambitions of Netflix 100mn to find Subscribers from India look like hubris.
Today, Netflix has just 5.5 million subscribers in India, according to Media Partners Asia (MPA), a research and advisory firm. In contrast, MPA appreciates that Netflix’s competitorsAmazon Prime Video and Disney Plus Hotstar have 16 and 50 minutes respectively – the latter being boosted by rights to broadcast Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket matches.
Netflix doesn’t release subscriber numbers by country, but dissatisfaction with its progress in India was clear during an earnings call last month. “In every other big market, we have the flywheel turning,” said Reed Hastings, chief executive. “What frustrates us is why we haven’t been as successful in India.”
India is evading Netflix at a time when Subscriber growth slowdown elsewhere has made emerging markets a crucial part of its overall growth strategy. In recent quarters, the California-based group’s once-stellar subscriber growth has stalled in the US, its largest market, where it has been fending off new competition. Netflix stock has fallen about 37 percent since the start of the year.
To keep growing subscribers, Netflix aggressively expanded into Europe, Latin America, and Asia, investing heavily in local-language programming. India spent $400 million on local productions between 2019 and 2020.
“We’re pretty optimistic that in some ways India isn’t fundamentally different,” said Greg Peters, Netflix’s chief operating officer.
However, analysts point out that Netflix has been slow to address various India-specific issues, from pricing and distribution to the importance of commissioning more shows in regional languages like Tamil.
According to an industry veteran, Netflix’s approach was “more like ‘I’ve built the lines for the whole world, I just have to turn on the faucet in India,’ rather than having an India strategy.”
Crucially, Netflix hasn’t identified its target audience in India, according to three Indian entertainment experts who currently or previously have worked with the company. “When Netflix says my next 100 million subscribers will be from India [population 1.4bn]You need to know which 100 million,” said the studio exec, who asked not to be named to avoid undermining working relationships.
Netflix said: “We are proud of what we have achieved in India. . . Ultimately, our goal is to offer a wide selection of quality shows and films that delight entertainment fans around the world.”
Despite India’s massive Hindi and regional language entertainment industry churning out hit after hit, Netflix original content hasn’t garnered significant viewership in the country.
The latest data from RedSeer, a research provider, showed that just 4 to 6 percent of streamer-made programming viewed in India came from Netflix in January. Disney Plus Hotstar bagged 45 to 47 percent of this category.
Still, Netflix has made some big original gains. It says, without giving details, that it has garnered high viewership for violent thrillers holy gamesearned critical acclaim for the dystopian drama Leila and bagged an Emmy Award for Crime in Delhi.
His most watched Hindi film was Haseen Dillruba, a love thriller. In September, said Hastings Netflix had completed 70 Indian originals and had 90 more in the pipeline.
“We’re also investing in more diverse stories from all corners of the country to bring joy to members who speak different languages,” Netflix said.
But unusual offers have yet to be generated money robbery Style long-running hit series in India — holy games didn’t progress beyond the second series – and Omdia’s data analysis shows that foreign shows have topped Netflix India’s viewership charts for the past two quarters. Netflix has now shelved plans to open its first dedicated post-production facility in Mumbai.
In contrast, industry observers said Amazon was moving faster into regional languages and offering more content, while Disney Plus Hotstar was more successful in catering to mass-market audiences thanks to its rights to IPL and soap operas.
While Bollywood welcomed Netflix’s money, a pre-production creative complained about the company’s excessive “meddling in the creative process,” adding that the result was sometimes “formulaic.” Another executive complained that Netflix required their studio to use one showrunner and two directors for one show — an American production style.
“What was happening beneath the surface was all the high-profile talent. . . stay away,” said an industry veteran who works with one of Netflix’s streaming competitors.
In a country where customers enjoy some of the cheapest data in the world, Netflix’s prices have been steep and distribution partnerships limited, said Mihir Shah, MPA vice president.
Compared to Amazon and Disney Plus Hotstar “for a market so value conscious,[Netflix is]. . . at an expensive price,” said Shah. “If your data cost is between $2 and $2.50 and you create a shift [a streaming] Service that’s priced around $5 to $7 just doesn’t add up.”
Netflix is changing course, cutting monthly subscription prices in India by as much as 60 percent in some cases in December. The cheapest plan, mobile-only, is now 149 rupees ($1.99) per month, while the premium option is 649 rupees. However, that’s still well above rival Disney Plus Hotstar, which only charges Rs 49 for its mobile app or Rs 299 for its premium plan.
“Our recently announced pricing plans have made our service more accessible to consumers in India,” Netflix said.
Shah said the reduction would allow Netflix “to enter into deeper partnerships with telecom companies” — a strategy that has worked for Amazon and Disney, which have long been available as part of data or pay-TV packages.
Jio, India’s largest mobile operator, is now offering Netflix as part of postpaid mobile data bundles alongside Amazon and Disney. On TV, Tata Play, formerly Tata Sky, recently announced that it has added Netflix to Binge listings.
Of the major US media companies, Disney is the most successful in India. However, their supremacy could be jeopardized if they are outbid for media rights to the IPL in the coming weeks. A media company majority-owned by India’s largest publicly traded company, Reliance Industries, is expected to bid, as will Amazon and Sony Zee.
Despite Netflix’s frustrations in India, Bollywood is hoping it will stick around and spend money.
“Netflix may not have hot star numbers yet,” said a showrunner currently working with Netflix, saying it was a positive experience. “But unless you’re maybe half a dozen people to choose from . . . 99.9 percent of people in the industry would like to work with Netflix.”
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