NETFLIX CAN'T CHILL

Netflix has a big battle ahead to win subscribers in India

Obsession
The Next Billion
Quartz india
Obsession
The Next Billion
Quartz india

Netflix isn’t having it easy in India.

With stiff competition from local and global players in the country’s Rs1.26 lakh crore ($19.2 billion) media and entertainment industry, the American video streaming giant has recognised that a war lies ahead.

“There’s a great battle with Hotstar, YouTube, and Amazon and many others, all competing for a consumer’s time. We are one of the choices, but what’s unique about Netflix is that we’ve got an international titles combined with great local talent,” CEO Reed Hastings said earlier this month.

Netflix is currently up against 29 other over-the-top (OTT) content providers in India, according to the recently released Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report, 2017, by KPMG India and the FICCI. And its subscription numbers show that there’s a long way to go before Netflix can match competitors like Star India’s Hotstar.

The biggest disadvantage is likely to be Netflix’s steep pricing. A Hotstar premium subscription costs just Rs199 per month, compared to Netflix’s starting rate of Rs500. And Amazon Prime video charges an annual fee of Rs499 for unlimited video access, as well as prime delivery for orders on its e-commerce platform.

While the KPMG India-FICCI report doesn’t specify whether Netflix’s active subscribers have all paid Rs500 or more (the numbers could include users in the middle of a free trial), an analysis by news website Medianama suggests that the company has only between 200,000 and 300,000 paid subscribers in India. It based this on a right to information response received in February.

Here’s how Medianama explained its methodology:

The LTU (large taxpayer unit) responded that Netflix paid Rs2.20 crore in taxes for January 2017. We divided this number from the service tax rate that Netflix charges for their most expensive plan, and the rate they charge on their least expensive plan. With this, we arrived at a range of subscribers, between 211,500 and 337,300. Since there are three separate plans, it is unlikely that either extreme in the range is close to the number of subscribers that Netflix has in India, so we are assuming that the number is somewhere between 2 and 3 lakh.

Local content and mobile first

Another speed bump for Netflix in India is that a number of local media networks, including Zee TV and Viacom 18, are launching their own platforms. Ozee TV and Voot, for instance, typically have more native content. And with smartphone penetration spreading to the hinterlands in India, mobile is becoming an important channel for video consumption, a big boon for local channels.

Video currently accounts for 60% of mobile data traffic, according to the KPMG India-FICCI report, and mobile video traffic is estimated to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 63% between 2016 and 2021.

“In India, the number of video-capable devices and connections are expected to grow 2.2-fold between 2016 and 2021, reaching 800 million in number,” the report added.

But Netflix’s content in India is still very urban-centric, and making inroads in rural India could take several years for the Los Gatos, California-based firm. For now, Netflix has tied up with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment for movie content and comedian Vir Das for an original show to cater to the local audience, but this might not be enough. Moreover, faster 4G-based internet services, including Reliance Jio, are making live sports a big hit on mobile devices, and that’s a category in which Hotstar has an edge.

So, while the opportunities are plenty in India, Netflix has a lot of work ahead.

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