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BROADCAST DISRUPTION

Will urban India choose Netflix over English film and entertainment TV channels?

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Reuters/Mike Blake
Pass the remote.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

It’s now been a fortnight since Netflix’s arrival in India, and the subscription-based service is already drawing eyeballs. It recorded average daily visits of 209,000 on desktops between Jan. 06 and Jan. 19, according to SimilarWeb, a market intelligence company tracking online traffic. It also recorded an average of 1.7 million daily page views in the same period.

The launch—announced on Jan. 06, alongside 129 other countries—makes India the largest country in terms of population where Netflix now has a presence. And India has the potential to become one of its biggest markets.

The country’s population is not just big, it’s largely urban and young. A new survey by the World Economic Forum found that half of all millennials (people who are now aged between 15 and 34), who use digital media for over 14 hours a week, are willing to pay for “premium entertainment” content.

That, coupled with India’s smartphone boom, could fuel Netflix’s robust growth.

“Given India’s position as the world’s hottest smartphone market, and its strong year-over-year growth in app usage, we anticipate significant Netflix mobile app growth in the weeks and months to come,” Joel Zand, a digital insights manager at SimilarWeb, told Quartz.

But what does that mean for Indian TV broadcasters, particularly the English general film and entertainment channels?

After all, both—English TV channels and Netflix—are wooing the same audience: urban, young viewers. The advantage Netflix has is that TV channels in India are not up-to-date. Typically, English-language TV channels don’t always broadcast American shows simultaneously in India.

“India as a market watches content in a strip format, i.e. Monday to Friday. The US is more chequerboard (or once a week). This itself makes it impossible to simulcast with the US,” Vivek Srivastava, senior vice-president and head, English entertainment cluster, Times Network, told Quartz.

Essentially, Indian broadcasters would have to wait for several weeks after any series is telecast in the US, so that all its stacked episodes can be shown in strip format here. Besides, broadcasters do little to promote overseas blockbuster shows in India.

“TV series in India typically gather traction in their third or fourth seasons. This is because broadcasters have not marketed individual properties but relied on word-of-mouth,” Srivastava added. Times Network owns Romedy Now, MN+, and Movies Now, among other channels.

In comparison, Netflix thrives on its audience binge-watching TV series and films from its humongous catalogue. It also helps that Netflix owns a bunch of original shows, which people have known to watch faster than traditional TV. (Indian channels are now promoting binge-watching and closing the gap on broadcasting content on real-time basis. Colors Infinity, a newly launched English entertainment channel, is telecasting 10 back-to-back episodes of American TV series, Mad Dogs, as premiered in the US.)

In any case, on Indian TV, viewership share of English general entertainment and movie channels is less than 1%. It even saw a marginal decline from 1.1% in 2013 to 0.9% in 2014, according to a report by consulting firm KPMG and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Indian TV is dominated by Hindi general entertainment channels, which commanded 31.2% viewership share in 2014, followed by regional general entertainment channels at 17.9%.

With this new arrival, they may have to shape up—or ship out. “Netflix is only going to make TV channels work harder. They cannot be complacent,” Aseem Vohra, head of media & entertainment, Grant Thornton, a consultancy firm, told Quartz.

The other side

Although, there are a few obvious challenges Netflix will have to overcome here.

First, even in an extremely cost-conscious market like India, Netflix isn’t pricing its service terribly low. Currently, it offers subscriptions for three different models in India—basic, standard, and premium, priced at Rs500, Rs650, and Rs800, respectively—with the first month being free and unlimited.

“Netflix’s basic subscription plan is at par with the premium cable and DTH (direct-to-home) packs in India. Combined with high data costs, this global advantage looks difficult to adapt to the Indian market,” Gaurav Gandhi, COO of Viacom18 Digital Ventures, said. Viacom18 Digital Ventures is owned by Viacom18, which runs Colors Infinity and Comedy Central, among others.

In the US, for instance, the US cable TV average revenue per user is almost five times higher than Netflix’s, giving the latter a remarkable price arbitrage advantage. What Netflix can probably do to counter that is temporarily slash prices.

“Netflix would have to go for aggressively low pricing. Once Netflix has been made into a habit, and they have won over customers, it would slowly pick up,” Grant Thornton’s Vohra said.

The second factor is that Netflix cannot open its entire library to Indians. ”Broadcasters have exclusive multi-year content deals (with studios and shows),” Srivastava of Times Network said. So, Netflix’s library currently consists of a limited number of movies and TV series. It doesn’t even have its own marquee originals—House Of Cards, for instance—for streaming in India.

There’s a catch, however. Users are known to bypass all such restrictions on streaming content using virtual private networks (VPNs), or proxies, to access content from everywhere. So, even if Netflix plans to block VPNs, the content may remain unrestricted.

Finally, there is India’s internet problem. ”Globally, Netflix content is viewed primarily through larger screens over broadband connections. To watch an hour of content in HD, one would consume around 3GB of data (and 7GB for ultra HD),” Gandhi explained. “Data costs in the country in their present state are too high for this.”

Yet, one thing is a given: How urban India watches films and TV shows is set for a makeover.

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