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QZ&A

Amazon Prime Video’s India mantra: “Variety is what sticks with viewers”

By Suneera Tandon

India’s digital content market has seen an influx of several players, foreign and local, in recent years. But with the medium still pretty new to the country, most are still experimenting with content.

Amazon Prime Video, the online video-on-demand service of the world’s largest online retailer, is no different.

Since it entered India in December 2016, the over-the-top (OTT) platform has experimented with a series of genres, including reality TV. It has even created original content for India, including in some local languages.

By the end of 2017, Prime held nearly 10% of India’s OTT streaming market with over 610,000 subscribers.

The platform plans to launch some 10 original Indian series over the next one year, including in local languages like Tamil and reality shows like Hear Me, Love Me featuring Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty.

Quartz spoke to Vijay Subramaniam, director and head of content at Amazon Prime Video, India, about what Indians like and the company’s strategy here. Edited excerpts:

What kind of content are Indians coming to digital platforms for?

A couple of things…including some pretty obvious trends like their love for movies…what kind of movies they want to watch. Viewers want the latest stuff and they want it as soon as it can be made available. So we built our catalogue accordingly.

Another thing Indians want is high-quality fiction cinematic experience that is limited in episodes and has multiple seasons, with great production quality. So we saw an opportunity there and dug our heels right in. Within that, while we are building fiction, we also explored the role of unscripted or reality TV, especially among youngsters. Comicstaan is a great example of how we looked at comedy.

We have more such unscripted shows we will announce shortly, catering to themes that young adults in India care about.

What are some of the themes that have worked for Prime Video so far?

Viewers love comedy. Within comedy, there are multiple genres that people are telling us they love. For example, stand-up is very popular here.

Second, is cinematic quality and storytelling. The expectation is that the presentation should be cinematic in nature. The third thing we have picked up is that variety means different things to different people. Variety is what sticks with Indian viewers. They want a bit of everything…So we make sure we don’t over-index on any one genre.

What is Prime Video’s content strategy for India?

(It) will keep evolving as we are just getting started.

Having said that, what we really did commit to initially was being a premium entertainment destination. Within that, we looked at originals and committed to them.

The second part of our strategy is to be able to serve customers in a locally relevant manner. We have content in five Indian languages today and we will go deeper. We launched our first Telugu series in June as a test, and we will launch a Tamil series in the fourth quarter of this year.

We are picking more cues on what stays and what changes. In some cases, we are even able to double down; comedy being a case in point. You will see us do comedy in both the fiction and the unscripted space.

How open are big production houses and film stars to OTT platforms now?

We were fortunate with the enthusiasm that (content) creators demonstrated when we came to India. Be it senior comics or seasoned producers like Excel Entertainment (a production house) or Kabir Khan productions, they all came forward very enthusiastically. That allowed a lot many people to come to us with the conviction that this is the bold new way to tell diverse stories.

Do you think you have been late to get on to original content compared to Netflix?

This is exactly how we planned it. Look, it takes anywhere between 18 to 24 months to put a series out because this is high-quality production and the writing process is demanding. We expect this to get better as creators and creative ecosystems start handling more volumes of such work.

Will Amazon reduce prices or bifurcate its price points going forward?

We are happy with where we are right now, we are just getting started. The distribution piece is an interesting and important one, our goal is to get Amazon Prime to customers at their convenience. Our focus always remains on the value we are able to provide to the customer.