Digitised & Desified – Has Netflix Painted Itself Into A Corner In India?

From the humble auto-rickshaw driver, to the ostentatious urbanized youngsters; India has undergone a major socio-cultural churning which is culminating with an insatiable appetite for on-demand content. Reliance Jio’s mind-boggling offer which provided free 4G data to new users for over 6 months only added fuel to the content fire raging across India today. In this particular piece we will focus on another major player who entered the fray with much aplomb, NETFLIX!

The buzz generated by NETFLIX’s entry into the Indian market was akin to a victorious emperor parading into an excited neighbouring kingdom. All of India’s ‘Online Generation’ was unanimous in its verdict that the entry of this video-streaming behemoth would change the way we consume video content as a nation; and NETFLIX would lead the charge!! They were right about the former, not so much about the latter. NETFLIX’s numbers a year after its launch paint a completely different picture. Not only were their forecasts way off, but NETFLIX is in nowhere near being the ‘Leader of this charge’ in the Indian market.

That mantle has been take up by the Fox owned Star TV group’s video streaming app ‘Hotstar’. Hotstar leading the video-streaming race in India, but their domination seems almost unassailable looking at the fact that their subscriber base is more than the next 4 video streaming competitors in the Indian Market. This is aside from the fact that global online retail powerhouse Amazon has also tapped into the online video streaming market with the addition of video content as a part of its Amazon Prime subscription.

Let’s take a look at exactly whom NETFLIX is up against in one of the biggest markets in the world:



Hotstar, the newest prodigy to from the Star stable in India, has set out to be one of the hottest and biggest on-demand video streaming providers in the world. Focused squarely on capitalizing the broad-based connect that the Star Group has already earned from the Indian audience. The two biggest driving factors for this success is Star’s foresight by focusing on the two largest segments of audiences in the Indian Market, Cricket Fans and the ardent followers of Indian K-Serials (Kahani Ghar-Ghar Ki) and the like. With the launch of IPL on Hotstar, downloads crossed 25 Million in a month and helped propel Hotstar into the ‘VOD Hall of Fame’. Although there is a subscription charge for getting an ‘All-Access’ pass for Hotstar, a large amount of content available on it is free to air

Subscription Price – INR 199/- a month



With the launch of Hotstar amidst much fanfare, Viacom 18 also decided to take an ‘Adapt or Die’ approach and launched their own on-demand video streaming app called Voot. With many of the Big Budget TV productions in India like Big Boss and other Hindi productions with massive following under its wing, Voot has clawed its way to the number 2 spot in the India on-demand video market with over 13.5 million subscribers. What sets Voot apart from market leader Hotstar and global player NETFLIX, is that there is NO subscription charge. They have instead adopted the advertising led VOD platform, which seems to have been well received by a price conscious Indian Market.

Subscription Price – Free



The surprising entrant into the VOD services in India was Amazon. Not that nobody expected such an innovation from the Giant e-tailer, but not many thought that VOD would be the avenue Amazon would take for digging deep into online consumer of today. The difference with Amazon videos is that Amazon offers a large selection of curated video content to subscribers of Amazon Prime as an ancillary service rather than a focus point. Amazon Prime offers it’s a host of other benefits like same day shipping etc. and videos are just another bonus to help garner more subscriptions to Prime. This strategy is rooted in the fact that studies indicate that Amazon Prime Users in the US spend close to 1500$ per year, almost triple of what non-prime users would spend. And it looks like this gamble might pay off in India as well.

Subscription Price – INR 499/- per Year



With all the big media houses jumping onto the VOD bandwagon, it was only inevitable that Sony would also enter into this market. Sony has a number of blockbuster Hindi TV productions under its umbrella like CID and Office Office which have tremendous recall among the vernacular TV audiences. Other than that they have a rich archive of older Sony productions like the Filmfare awards which can be viewed on Sony LIV. However there seem to be a lot of issues regarding the login process and streaming issues which have dampened user expectations and experiences which have had an overall effect on their subscription base.

Subscription Price – INR 149/- per month


The above mentioned list has been placed in order of subscription base in the Indian Market. NETFLIX as of today stands at Number 5 in this list, a number which does not sound enviable at all, considering that NETFLIX is the world leader on subscription based VOD platforms. If we take a closer look at why NETFLIX faltered, it is easy to pinpoint their pre-launch statements which effectively said “We will concentrate on the niche western content consuming audience who have access to high disposable incomes, smart phones and high speed internet at the beginning, and then take it forward from there”.

This strategy seemed plausible at first due to industry overestimation of the NETFLIX brand name and the vast and brilliant content offered by NETFLIX in western markets. But with the launch of NETFLIX in India, came the heavy drop of reality for its excited potential users that the content on NETFLIX India was not even 15% of the content available in the West. This was an unacceptable situation for the urbanized Indians who were used to consuming English TV shows and movies simultaneously with the West. Even delayed release dates in India did not hamper this sheer appetite for global content as soon as it’s launched primarily due to lax enforcement of piracy laws and easy access to illegal file sharing and VOD websites offering the same services for free. However the Indian Government seems to have cracked down in many of these online platforms which have further nudged Indian Users into the laps on various VOD players.

For NETFLIX to gain a strong footing in the India, they are going to have to completely re-vamp their India strategy and go in for a more pragmatic approach in the world’s most price-sensitive major market. Going by the fact that a subscription to NETFLIX in India costs INR 799/- per month, in comparison to Hotstar which costs only INR 199/- per month, either they will have to open up access to at least 75% of the content available in Western Markets or lower their pricing to more ‘standardised’ levels. Also in a country with over 22 official spoken languages and strong demand for regional content, there needs to be greater investment in garnering more region-specific content which will help them get in the overwhelmingly large vernacular audience in India. It is well known that India has one of the largest urbanized populations in the world and a sizable portion of them are heavily invested in English language content, but even this is still a miniscule number compared to the overall size of the market. If NETFLIX desires to play catch-up with Hotstar, and even better overtake Hotstar, they will need to pay greater attention to mass appeal content which can connect better with Indian audiences instead of half-baked India-centric NETFLIX originals (Bhraman Naman and the likes). Overall this is a fantastic period for content creation and dissemination in India. With these many avenues to choose from, we foresee a dip in TV sales across many of the major towns and cities in India.

Hope you’re listening, NETFLIX India!

Comments (2)

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