‘Sacred Games’ done. Now what? Hear it from the horse’s mouth.
Nobody knows how many Netflix users there are in India. There are industry estimates, of course.
A report by Counterpoint Research pegs the number at 5 million subscribers as of 2017 end. Some others claim that's an overstatement, considering thousands of Indian users cancel their subscriptions after availing the free one-month trial.
Netflix has always been tight-lipped about country-specific numbers. Globally, it has about 130 million subscribers and is the largest — and most premium — video-streaming service that is slowly, yet surely, making cable TV irrelevant.
In early 2016, Netflix debuted in India - the world’s fastest-growing online video market. According to a FICCI-EY report, 250 million people in India viewed videos online in 2017; that is expected to double to 500 million by 2020. Netflix, of course, was the first global OTT service provider to enter the Indian market.
However, it took a while before it could pick up buzz, plaster its posters all over Indian metros, and dominate word of mouth - on the internet, at least. That happened with Sacred Games in July this year. Netflix’s first Indian Original series has been deemed a huge success, and most importantly, made the service familiar to the average Indian.
And the show has just begun…
YourStory caught up with Michael Spiegelman, Vice President - Global Product Innovation at Netflix, to understand the company’s India strategy, learnings from the market, and what lies ahead in terms of content, partnerships, innovations, etc.
YourStory: Describe Netflix’s two-year journey in India. Put it in the global context. What makes India different?
Michael Spiegelman: It has been a good pace of growth for us these first two years in India. We have witnessed a huge appetite for entertainment, and plenty of fan enthusiasm for our content and service, with word of mouth for our movies and TV shows helping to fuel the growth. We have focused primarily on content, partnerships, and technology to build a great Netflix experience in the country.
On the content side, we have more than doubled our catalogue in India in the past year. Our content library today encompasses both original and licenced titles. The content investment has scaled at a very fast pace. In fact, it’s been the fastest investment we have ever made in any country since we launched. This really reflects the richness of content creators we can draw on - the best of Indian storytellers to create high-quality original series and movies.
Our first Indian Original Series was Sacred Games and since then, we’ve announced nine upcoming original series, including Ghoul, Baahubali: Before the Beginning, Little Things, Selection Day, Bard of Blood, Leila, Midnight’s Children, Crocodile, and Again, and original films like Love Per Square Foot, Lust Stories, and Brij Mohan Amar Rahe. Outside of series and movies, we have stand-up comedy specials with Aditi Mittal and Vir Das, children’s series Mighty Little Bheem, and an unscripted series on the Mumbai Indians and the Indian Premier League (IPL).
We’ve also been innovating on the product side to help our audience in India enjoy these stories. We take our responsibility to provide a great experience in watching content just as seriously as we take our responsibility to create great content, whether you’re enjoying Netflix on your phone, computer, or on your TV.
YS: What are the India-specific product innovations being brought about - be it on the device front (India being a largely mobile market) or on the pricing front, or in additional features, payment methods, etc?
MS: Netflix is constantly innovating to enhance the member experience. Over the last few years, we have been focused on quality and the streaming experience, specifically so when we expanded to 190 countries globally and the implication of what it means for subscribers in lower bandwidth environments and for markets characterised by high mobile usage. Of these advancements, a critical piece is how Netflix encodes video to allow users to stream good picture quality even in bandwidth conditions as low as 200kbps.
Our users can watch 20 hours of Netflix for just 2GB of data - and it is good picture quality streaming in lower-bandwidth conditions. On top of that, we have a mobile data saver feature on the app that let users control how much data they want to use when streaming on cellular networks.
Another offering that meets markets with lower-bandwidth environments is the download feature. Indians are among the top mobile downloaders in the world for Netflix content. We launched downloads in late 2016; and then a year-and-a-half later, we launched smart downloads (for now on Android only). Smart Downloads deletes an episode that a member has completed, and automatically downloads the next episode. We designed this feature specifically with India in mind to help members enjoy entertainment while they’re on the go, and be able to manage the bandwidth usage and storage on their phones.
In general, operating in India has encouraged us to take a very mobile-focused approach to design an experience that makes viewing on the phone just as good as watching on a Smart TV.
Other areas of advancement at the infrastructure level include investments in our own content-delivery network - it boosts efficiency for us and our ISP partners. Our Open Connect programme supports hundreds of large and small ISPs to directly interconnect with the Netflix network for free in regional locations, rather than going through third-party transit providers.
Finally, we’re always looking for ways to help people easily pay for Netflix, so we have efforts continually underway to make that step simpler so people can quickly get to enjoying movies and TV shows every month without hassle.
YS: How do Indians consume Netflix? Share with us some key trends that reflect the audience psyche. Which are the most-watched genres? Which are the top shows?
MS: Our Indian members enjoy many of the same shows that Netflix members around the world enjoy - Stranger Things, Narcos, The Crown, Sacred Games, and Lust Stories. Lust Stories was a major success in India, and is our largest-watched original in percentage terms in any individual market in its first month. India is clearly a nation of people who watch while they commute, with Netflix members kicking off their binge while on the road.
Indians are 82 percent more likely to stream at 9 am, a behaviour that continues on the ride home too - peak streaming in India is at 5 pm.
YS: Elaborate on the distribution partnerships that Netflix is exploring in India. How does integration with DTH operators aid Netflix? Does Netflix really want to be seen as a mass service by being available on TV?
MS: We have been working on local partnerships to make sure that Netflix is even more accessible in India. Over 2017, we launched partnerships with Airtel Digital TV, Videocon, and Vodafone to make it much easier for Indian consumers to watch Netflix, whether on a set-top box or on a mobile. In April 2018, we announced a strategic partnership with Tata Sky, and in August, we announced an expansion of our partnership with Airtel through which subscribers of select Airtel Postpaid and V-Fiber Home Broadband plans will receive a three-month gift of a Netflix subscription. Earlier this month, we announced a partnership with Hathway through which their customers can use the Netflix button on their remote controls to seamlessly access and enjoy the best entertainment at high speeds.
Netflix is all about giving control to its members. We want to give the freedom to our members to watch Netflix anytime, anywhere, and on any device of their choosing, and to have it always be a great experience.
YS: Put the success of Sacred Games in context for us. What does it mean for Netflix in India, and for Indian content globally? Will bilingual shows be the next big focus now?
MS: We work hard to give our members around the world the ability to see Netflix in their preferred language with the choice of watching with subtitles or dubbing. We are thrilled with the reception to Sacred Games in India and around the world. In addition to subtitles in 24 languages, Sacred Games was dubbed in English, Brazilian Portuguese, Latin Spanish, Turkish, and is available in its original, Hindi. There are others like Ghoul, our horror series which launched last week, as well as Lust Stories, Love Per Square Foot, and Brij Mohan Amar Rahe, which are Netflix original films in India. Ghoul is dubbed in Tamil, Telugu and English in addition to Hindi.
We are thrilled with the love and popularity all these titles have received in India and around the world. We believe that a part of our mission is to make great Indian stories available to audiences around the world. We’re excited that this content is reaching people across all the 190 countries in which we operate, demonstrating that well-told stories have the power to connect us in ways we couldn’t expect just a few years ago.
YS: Lastly, a word on the competitive landscape. Reed Hastings, Netflix Founder and CEO, told the media here, “We are way behind YouTube and Hotstar in India. They are the real internet leaders.” Besides these two services, there is also Amazon Prime Video and other local players. So, how does Netflix operate going ahead? Is there a more localised strategy in the offing?
MS: In today’s world, where there are so many options for entertainment, our goal is to deliver a service that makes people want to watch Netflix. Delivering that service means we are constantly focused on making it better, continuing to add new movies and TV shows people will love, better personalisation, and a better streaming experience. We believe that the competitive environment means that people will have a lot of choice, which is good for the market and good for customers. We’re staying focused on creating great content and a great product experience, which we hope will delight fans of movies and TV shows throughout India.