Netflix wants to save Indians from crap on TV with its big-budget shows

Magic bullet?
Magic bullet?
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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Indians love cinema, but Indian television is terrible. And the world’s largest video streaming company wants to step into that yawning gap.

“…it’s a culture that loves cinema and is kind of television-starved,” Theodore A Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix, said in New York earlier this week. “There’s not really great local television in India, and what we’re trying to do is something really new to the country, which will be kind of cinema-infused television.”

In other words, Netflix—which has already tasted success with its first made-in-India original movie, Love Per Square Foot— is now looking to create big-budget cinema-like content for consumption on small screens.

The streaming service, which has five million subscribers in India, is in the process of producing at least six more original shows for the country, Sarandos said. Sacred Games, starring Bollywood actors Saif Ali Khan, Radhika Apte, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, is releasing on the platform on July 06. Selection Day, based on Booker Prize-winning author Aravind Adiga’s novel, White Tiger, has also gone on the floors. And new-age Indian storytellers like Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane are taking to Netflix to create content.

Netflix’s strategy could be successful given that even the big-budget television shows in India, like “Aarambh: Kahaani Devsena Ki” or “Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat,” are outdated and come with novice production value.

“India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25. This is the age of a young demographic that loves binge-watching sci-fi, action, and comedy genre shows,” Subrat Kar, CEO and co-founder of video analytics startup Vidooly, said. “We all have to agree that there is a need for a new type of content with apt production budget to steer off Indian audience’s attention to something better.”

Netflix in India

So far, Netflix lags several local competitors in India mainly because it does not offer much for viewers who are obsessed with content in Hindi and regional languages. While domestic platforms, and even Amazon’s Prime Video, boast of a large library of regional content, Netflix’s catalogue has very little Hindi-language content and next to no regional shows and movies.

Its international shows like Narcos and Stranger Things have a huge fan-following in India, but the company will need to up its game if it wants the country to become a key contributor to its next 100 million subscribers. Also, Netflix is the most expensive over-the-top (OTT) service in the country, charging more than double of what local competitors charge.

In the leaderboard of OTT platforms in India, homegrown player Hotstar dominated with 15 times the number of users than Netflix’s subscriber base as of December 2017, according to Hong Kong-based Counterpoint Research.