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Indian Market: NetFlix fixing its net

, April 26, 2022, 0 Comments

netflix-indian-marketsWeekends are sacrosanct. The overworked Indian population strives to bond with their relatives, friends and make the most of the 2 or 1.5 or 1 day weekends. More often the conversations tend to have this one question in common “What have you been watching lately?”. I am often left clueless or overwhelmed by the content available on OTT and hence my answer to this question would be “What should I watch?” .

Until a few days ago my assumptions about popular OTT platforms were also wrong. I always assumed Netflix was as popular in India as it was in the USA, but the news articles on how Reed Hastings found the Indian market to be frustrating surprised and intrigued me.

In India, Netflix surprisingly is far less watched than it is heard about. It has just 5.5 million subscribers, only a quarter of the second-most popular, Amazon Prime that boasts of 22 million subscribers. Disney Hotstar the winner has a whopping 46 million subscribers, 9 time more than Netflix.

India being such a lucrative market, with a vast base of viewers having an average binge-watching time of 11 hours a week compared to the global average of 8 hours a week, what could have possibly gone wrong with Netflix in India? Do we give Netflix more time, before we judge it as a failure? There have already been so many reports and opinions in the media. However, I would like share my own perspective. 

I find this predicament of Netflix in India to be a classic case of improper product positioning. Netflix seems to have positioned itself to narrowly focused on the upper-middle class – an inference I primarily draw for 2 reasons 1) Pricing – with monthly plans starting from 149 Rs to 699 Rs and limited screens and a compromise on video quality and resolution. The simple fact is that the pricing reached this level only after an abysmal subscription initially when it was very highly-priced. In the year of launch in 2016, the annual subscription was 6000 Rs!. They seem to have straight up extrapolated western unit economics treating India just as an extended market with little regard to the local dynamic of the price sensitive market that India is 2)Target group of its content – Until recently, the content was esoterically, predominantly English appealing to mainly the urban elite. Localisation is a recent phenomenon and even now the newly on boarded regional content is not for the “Mass Indian Audience” as we call it. The anthologies, web series, or Netflix originals are not the kind that suits viewers of all segments. Netflix’s anthology mantra is miserably failing either due to repetitiveness in the themes or the extremely complex or convoluted storylines. Most of these anthologies deviate from mainstream cinema.

Netflix had a strong enough brand pull to woo the Indian viewer. Another trick they seemed to have missed is failing to get the eager audience hooked. Disney Hotstar hit it right by getting exclusive telecast rights of cricket matches. Cricket is one thing that binds India, irrespective of social class, religion, etc. Amazon Prime hit it right in a different way, more than the content, the advantages a prime customer gets are unmatched. Prime viewers get added benefits of an express delivery on the E-commerce platform, discounted express delivery, prime early access, etc. Another smart move by prime was to bring content from other popular OTT platforms like Eros Now, Hoichoi, Docubay, etc, onto prime, making it a one-stop-shop. Netflix has no such arsenal of secondary motivators to bring the customers back to the platform

Being a distant third, Netflix now has to battle it out on both frontiers. It not only has to catchup with the leaders but also protect turf against a stiff competition of regional OTT platforms like Aha (Telugu), Hoichoi(Bengali), Nee Stream(Malayalam), Koode(Malayalam), and YouTube. Some of these regional streaming platforms are free like Koode. Whereas, Aha and Nee Stream are charging as low as Rs 399. YouTube with its massive viewership and free content can give Netflix a run for its money. YouTube originals are also a runaway success. It is not just these streaming platforms, online shopping portals like Flipkart are also creating engaging content. 

One cannot yet conclude that Netflix is losing the battle. But given these observations how can Netflix reinvent from here on? A good starting point would be to look deeper to understand the mosaic of Indian viewership. One can say that the Indian audience is divided into multiple segments, there is the younger student community driven by boredom, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) binge-watches continuously and is updated with the most popular web series, the second segment is the working population in different stages of the family lifecycle. A bachelor/spinster does have disposable time and is driven by the office peer groups to watch the trending content, mostly driven by FOMO. You can have employees who have just begun their family and prefer watching content with their family members. Then there is the empty nest wherein the parents have all the time to binge-watch. Then there are the homemakers, who can watch the typical Indian soap operas. Any viewer has only 24 hours a day and 168 hours a week, an average Indian binge-watches 11-14 hours a week. The most popular age group that binge watches is 15-45 years. To increase its market share, Netflix has be part of many if not all of the entertainment needs of this critical group. This could involve a delicate balance of compromising a bit of its niche positioning without diluting its brand completely

Netflix can possibly find the missing hook in getting a show like “Big Boss”, “Kaun Banega Crorepati”, “and cookery shows”, “celebrity chat shows”. They can replicate their own success formula of reruns of popular sitcoms like friends, contextualizing it with popular Indian sitcoms of the ’90s and early 2000 like Nukkad, Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai, Shanti, Swabhiman. The recent success of reruns was Ramayan on Doordarshan which smashed all the world records and gained a massive viewership of 7.7 crore. People goes to prove the old world charm is not lost on the millennials and Gen Z. This can also help them pander to wider use cases of content consumption, complementing their current efforts inflight in partnership with content creators like Kapil Sharma. Getting exclusive rights on regional movies in the popular genre.

On the pricing front, Netflix has to justify or rather more accurately earn their premium. They can encourage free viewing of few episodes some of its popular series. This way viewers won’t hesitate try out and find why premium is justified, even if the eventual price point is higher. A strategy successfully deployed by ‘Audible’ in India. 

Apart from creating content for broader reach and justifying their premium, they can differentiate with innovative methods like “group watching”. Netflix had tried this feature in 2010 however the adoption rate was very low in the west, but Indians are a more social bunch so we never know. Hotstar has taken it to the next level by creating digital avatars on metaverse, they initiated this with their latest web series “Rudra”. Even though this initiative may not generate revenue, they are creating the buzz. One of the genres which have a lot of online activity but are not particularly explored by any OTT platforms is travel documentaries, the few that are available for the viewers are not so popular and never feature in the trending list. An opportunity for Netflix to make it its own. 

Five years is too short a runway for anyone to give up on a boisterous market like India and Netflix still has immense opportunity to bounce back. And in my own selfish interest, I hope to continue hearing suggestions on Netflix when I ask “What should I watch” in the long years to come