Indian Netflix users watch more content on mobiles as compared to users anywhere else in the world, prompting the video streaming giant to launch its new, low-cost, mobile-only subscription plan in India, Netflix told CNBCTV18.com in an exclusive interview.
During the last three years, India has witnessed the fastest growing content investment from Netflix in any country globally, as the streaming giant plans to focus on developing more original Indian content after the roaring success of Originals such as Sacred Games and Lust Stories. The global OTT service provider recently announced thirteen original movies and nine series ranging from genres such as young adult and horror to drama and fantasy.
Edited excerpts from the interview: How has Netflix’s journey in India been so far since its launch in January 2016? Has this growth been in line with your expectations?
We are in a golden age of entertainment in India. India is a vibrant, young, mobile-first, entertainment-centric and diverse country where we want to work with the best storytellers and help them find global audiences. Over the last three years, India has seen the fastest-growing content investment for Netflix in any country globally. People in India love movies and television and with our deep investments in great content, we are moving as fast as we could have dreamed. We have already launched 9 original films and 7 series, across genres from young adult to horror, drama to fantasy. They have been filmed all over India, from Leh to Mumbai to Kerala. Expanding our slate of Originals, we have announced 13 more films and 9 more series from India. This is in addition to our standup comedy with Vir Das and Aditi Mittal, our original kids series, Mighty Little Bheem which won fans globally, and our unscripted series, Cricket Fever: Mumbai Indians.
Netflix has consistently grown in India even as other markets have shown strain. According to some estimates, Netflix has lower than two million Indian subscribers. Is this correct? What is your annual growth rate in India?
We don’t share region-specific growth rates or subscriber numbers. Globally, we have 151 million paid memberships in over 190 countries. India is one of the world’s great centres of entertainment with diverse tastes and a vibrant industry that caters to this enthusiasm. And as we invest in partnering with creative talent from across the country, and with our broadened access through our recently launched Mobile Plan, we are hopeful that more Indians discover and relate to the joy of Netflix.
Netflix India is primarily regarded as a premium service. In terms of both pricing and content, the majority of Netflix users seems to be an English-speaking urban audience. Is Netflix looking to take over the other sections of the audience and if so, how will its content and pricing strategies change to accommodate the same given that you have announced a cheaper mobile plan in India? Could you also shed some light on the cheaper subscription plan that Netflix is planning to launch in India?
Our members in India watch content on mobiles more than members anywhere else in the world. Recently, we launched our fourth plan in India, in addition to the existing basic, standard and premium plans, for Rs 199 a month. With this plan, our members can now enjoy all of Netflix’s content — uninterrupted and without ads — in standard definition (SD) on one smartphone or tablet at a time. We strongly believe that this plan broadens access for Netflix and better suits the audience who prefer watching content on smartphones or tablets. Our other existing plans enable our members to watch Netflix on multiple devices, with multiple concurrent streams in SD, HD, Ultra HD, and 4K.
Our original content from India is largely in Hindi. We are also licensing more films from all over India, which includes many regional language films. As we steadily grow this catalogue, Netflix members can already watch local content in several languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Sikkimese, Urdu and Punjabi. Our Indian members have a curated library of some of the best indie and regional films to choose from on Netflix. When combined with popular global content from Stranger Things to the popular Spanish series, Money Heist we believe our Indian members have incredible content to choose from. We understand that people’s tastes are very broad, even in a single country like India and we want to be able to offer something for everyone. We are committed to working with producers, creators, talent and crew in India to create high-quality, curated content.
Indians love entertainment and are culturally tuned to finding moments of joy at any time of the day. Our members here continue to be among the most active users of our downloads feature, taking Netflix content with them on flights, to work, and everywhere they go! Almost half our members in India downloaded at least one film or episode-in-a-series in June 2019.
Could you share some data about the viewing habits of Indian consumers with regards to Netflix? What are some of the most popular shows and movies that attract Indian consumers to Netflix? 70 percent of Netflix subscribers watch at least one film a week in India and as a percentage of overall time spent on Netflix, film viewing in India is the highest for any country worldwide. The number of films watched per month/per member in India has grown 50 percent since January 2018. Sacred Games was very popular in India. Two out of every three Sacred Games viewers were from outside India. In addition to subtitles in 24 languages, Sacred Games was dubbed in English, Brazilian Portuguese, Latin Spanish, Turkish, and is, of course, available in its original language, Hindi. Mighty Little Bheem had the largest launch of any Preschool Original to date, and was the second largest launch of any Kids Original animated series on Netflix. Ghoul was enjoyed by English-speaking Netflix members residing in the US, the UK, Australia and Canada - in these 4 countries, 45 percent watched with English dubbing, 37 percent watched with English subtitles Our members in India watch more on their mobiles* than members anywhere else in the world.
*Mobile viewing as a percentage of overall viewing across devices (TV, laptop and tablet) for Netflix members in a country.
Recently, Netflix India announced five new titles. Could you share some details on these upcoming titles? What drives Netflix to create original Indian content? Has the overwhelming response to Indian Netflix originals boosted Netflix’s plans to create more Indian content and can you tell us what’s in store for the audience in this regard?
Our recently announced five Netflix original series from India cuts across a variety of genres including Young Adult, drama, thriller, horror and comedy. The stories will appeal to mainstream audiences in India and around the world. The five series-- Bombay Begums, Mai, Betaal, Messy, and Masaba Masaba will be developed in collaboration with leading Indian studios from Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment and Anushka Sharma and Karnesh Sharma’s Clean Slate Films to Mutant Films.
We have already launched nine incredible original films and seven series in India. We have also announced 13 more films and nine more series which will be released on the service. The breadth of our stories with its authentic, local settings and complex characters have led audiences in India and around the world to discover and fall in love with them. We know that people want every type of story, for every mood and member of the family- uniting them in their love for entertainment. Our recommendation engine helps us find the right audience for all our titles across genres.
Netflix originals such as Sacred Games and Lust Stories are characterised by a bold and raw portrayal of experiences. Recently, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said that the government will look into the possibility of censoring streaming platforms like Netflix. What is Netflix’s position on this issue and how is the company planning to respond to this?
What we want to do is work with India’s finest talent to tell great stories -- stories based on drama, love, pain, loss and joy that entertain our members in India and around the world. We also want to empower consumers to make viewing choices that are right for them and their families: from ratings for our series and films, to multiple profiles, to pin controls for individual profiles.
In some ways, Netflix seems to be following the rulebook for the Brazil market in India, especially production featuring a local superstar. Do you agree?
We understand that all creative talent, including creators and actors are drawn to working on projects with a strong vision and voice. Our films and series could be driven by action or drama, they could be light hearted or serious, or just unconventional. What matters to us is that the talent should feel that it’s the right vision - we work with really well-known talent and established directors as well as new talent, voices and first-time directors and writers. We want to be a home for diverse storytelling and make it refreshing for talent and creators to do their best work with us. We offer the artistic freedom for great stories to find an audience in India and around the world.
We have been working on local partnerships to make Netflix even more easily accessible to our members in India be it on TVs through streaming devices and Set Top Boxes or on a mobile. Among our Set Top Boxes partners are Hathway and ACT where their customers can use the Netflix button on the remote controls to seamlessly access and enjoy the best entertainment at high speeds. We continue to ink relevant partnerships with telecom operators such as Airtel and Vodafone, mobile devices such as OnePlus 7 Pro (that enable Netflix content to be viewed in HDR), televisions such as VU TVs and more to offer our members an enhanced viewing experience. In June 2019, we announced
Netflix said recently entered into a new partnership with AT&T in the US to integrate into their new set-top box. In the US, you also partner with a wide range of ISPs and MVPDs, including Comcast, DISH, Verizon, T-Mobile, Charter, and Altice, in addition to AT&T. Are you looking at similar partnerships in India? Netflix Recommended Televisions for 2019 which include TV models from Samsung, Sony and Panasonic.