US-based video streaming platforms and arch rivals Netflix and Amazon have extended their battle to the Indian market, where they have set aside Rs2,000 crore each for acquiring content to attract subscribers.
Amazon Prime Video has taken an early edge over Netflix, signing up 9.5 million active subscribers since its launch in December. At 4.2 million a little over a year after its launch in India, Netflix has less than half the number.
To be sure, Amazon’s aggressive pricing helps. Amazon Prime Video’s unlimited ad-free, on-demand service comes for an annual subscription of Rs499 , against Netflix’s Rs500 for a single month.
Content producers being courted by the two say both are very aggressive, have ambitious programming budgets and keen to stream original content to their platforms.
“Having met both, I can vouch for the fact that both are sold on the India story,” said Apoorva Mehta, chief executive at Dharma Productions, which produced the recent Bollywood hit Badrinath ki Dulhania. “They are both equally aggressive when it comes to content. Both want to address the huge content gap that exists between Narcos (a popular Netflix original) and Naagin (a soap on Colors TV),” added Mehta.
Both Netflix and Amazon are focused on quality, said Hyunwoo Thomas Kim, president and chief executive of Kross Pictures, a film and TV production company based in South Korea.
“I could not really see the difference between the two because they are going for quality of storytelling to attract new members,” said Kim, who has signed a deal with Amazon to produce a Hindi series called Suspect X to be directed by Sujoy Ghosh, the man behind the film franchise Kahaani starring Vidya Balan. Kim’s company is also in talks with Netflix on a Korean series for Indian audiences.
Both Amazon and Netflix are eyeing original content. “On the originals front, we are focused on finding great Indian stories—not just for Indians, but for the world. Sacred Games is our first announced Indian original series, and partnering with a top studio like Phantom Films speaks of the kind of quality we are looking at,” Netflix said in a statement.
Netflix’s local content acquisition has been slow. It has forged partnerships with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment and Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, and their movie productions will be streamed on the platform in the April-June quarter. The Viacom 18 deal will bring Hindi movies such as period drama Rangoon, action thriller Force 2 and Margarita with a Straw, a coming-of-age film about sexuality, disability and love to Netflix subscribers.
Through these, it has access to a library of more than 50 films, including titles such as Sultan, Kabali and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. It has also announced 18 original shows for India, making it Amazon’s largest market for original shows outside the US.
“We believe that original content in partnership with top and passionate filmmakers, talent and writers and the availability of latest and exclusive movies and TV shows from top Indian, US and international studios/production houses will result in a larger base of customers,” said Nitesh Kripalani, director and country head of Amazon Prime Video India.
Both streaming platforms are also spending big bucks on web series, said Ashish Patil, vice-president (brand partnerships and talent management) at Y-Films, the youth arm of Yash Raj Films, and creator of popular web series Bang Baaja Baaraat, Man’s World and Ladies Room. “The kind of money we or TVF (The Viral Fever) would be spending on an entire series, they are spending on an episode. Our budgets range from Rs50-75 lakh while they spend Rs8-10 crore across 10 episodes. That’s the budget of a mid-sized feature film. It’s a ridiculous, voracious appetite for content,” he said.
It’s easy to see why India has become the next battle front for Amazon and Netflix—it is the only major market in the world where the number of internet users is growing rapidly. According to venture capitalist Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report, the number of internet users in India grew 40% in 2015 to 277 million.
Competition can only intensify. In March, when Reed Hastings, co-founder and chief executive officer of Netflix, visited India for the first time, he spoke of a content war in the country. “When it comes to bidding with other players sometimes we win, sometimes we don’t. When we win it’s often because we can give a global platform to that content,” Hastings said.
Amazon’s Kripalani said there will always be healthy competition to land the best content, “but we remain customer-obsessed and not focused on competition”.
Also Read: Amazon to step up India investments further