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To beat Netflix, Amazon has signed on almost every big-name stand-up comedian in India

By Madhura Karnik

American video-streaming platforms Amazon and Netflix are now collaborating with India’s stand-up comedians to strengthen their presence in Asia’s third-largest economy.

On Jan. 19, Amazon Prime Video announced a partnership with Only Much Louder (OML), a media and entertainment firm, to stream exclusive specials of 14 popular stand-up comedians and comedy groups. These include East India Comedy, Kanan Gill, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Zakir Khan, and Naveen Richards. The hour-long shows will be aired from May 2017. OML manages these performers and also the comedy group All India Bakchod (AIB), with which Amazon has tied-up separately for a show called The Ministry.

All these shows will be available to Amazon Prime subscribers globally.

Earlier, Hotstar, the digital content platform of Star in India, had signed up AIB for an exclusive news-based show, On Air with AIB, on the lines of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. In September, Netflix announced an original series with comedian Vir Das. He joins other performers such as Aziz Ansari, Louis CK, and Bill Burr, who have special shows on Netflix globally.

Serious business

These collaborations indicate that comedy is serious business for video-streaming websites in India. It is often a win-win deal: The comics get a global platform and the websites get to widen their subscriber base.

“Comedy works globally—it spreads happiness, has high customer engagement and can be consumed at any time, night or day,” Nitesh Kripalani, director and country head, Amazon Prime Video India, said in an email.

For Netflix, it is about providing more variety to subscribers. “What you will find about Netflix is that it offers something for everyone, from comedy series to drama, from documentary-series to stand-up specials to films. Our approach to entertainment is to offer a robust mix of titles to appeal to a diversity of tastes within a country and around the world,” a Netflix spokesperson said in an email. 

Stand-up comics in India typically used YouTube as a platform, with some of them going on to become instant sensations. The Google-owned video website even arranged a comedy week in India in 2013, showcasing curated content. However, not all stand-up comedians made money through YouTube. Only the most-viewed channels generally attract advertisers. So, the deals with Amazon and Netflix will ensure a good revenue stream.

Globally, such platforms themselves have benefited from comedy originals and have been generous in paying artistes. While the exact value of the deals with Indian performers is unknown, Netflix reportedly paid American stand-up comedian Chris Rock $40 million for two comedy specials.

Engagement matters

India’s digital media industry has grown in the recent past following the smartphone boom and the increasing reach of basic internet in the hinterlands. The market is estimated to grow to Rs20,000 crore (nearly $3 billion) by 2020, according to estimates by EY (pdf), a consultancy.

Businesses like Amazon and Netflix, hence, need to quickly ramp up their content. Apart from comedians and comic groups, they also have tie-ups with leading Bollywood production houses. Amazon has collaborated with director-producer Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, while Netflix tied up with Red Chillies Entertainment, actor Shah Rukh Khan’s venture.

Netflix is also focusing on regional content, including the “best of regional cinema (Tamil, Gujarati, Punjabi, and Marathi).”

From comics to Bollywood biggies, digital media won’t spare anyone.