Suitable suitor for Indian eyeballs?

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In 1997, Los Gotas, California, two ambitious gentlemen began a flat rate DVD-by-mail service after one of them, Reed Hastings, had to cough up $40 as overdue fine for a copy of the movie Apollo 13. Today, with the launch of its website in India along with 129 other countries, the enterprise stands as the largest multinational provider of on-demand media streaming service. While users in the US and several other countries have already sworn their allegiance to Netflix, India, with more than 400 million internet users and growing, has endless opportunities. The terrain, however, will not be all smooth, with several aspects requiring specific solutions.

Global expansion comes on the heels of the necessity for Netflix to assure investors of further growth prospects. There is much to explore in the broadband market outside the US and substantial growth will only be possible when markets such as India are tapped. Also, Netflix intends to establish itself as original content provider and the expansion will bring a large part of the world on its radar. Similarly, larger the global reach, greater the distribution rights for content providers.

Talking about content, Netflix in India offers an exciting collection of movies, documentaries and shows, both licensed and original. But given that the subscription rates are not much lower than US rates, the catalogue doesn’t satisfy the user’s expectations since only about 7 percent of the US content is available here. This caters primarily to the English- speaking audience, a handful in the Indian context, who already have access to much of Netflix content from other sources. Famous series such as  House of Cards, Agents of Shield and Breaking bad that hook users immediately are not available owing to licence issues.

Regarding local content, though we have popular movies such as Piku, Lootera, Andaaz Apna Apna and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, the choice is extremely limited. It lacks recent releases and popular TV shows currently running on entertainment channels. Netflix can hope to call the shots only when it taps the regional market with content in local language and talent. But the subscriber might be indulgent, since the talk of the town is that the content will only get better. While original series and movies remain the highlight, local content will be given due importance.

“In India in particular, we have licensed almost a hundred local Indian Bollywood titles, classics, some recent ones, and some indie cinema that we’re excited about,” Chitavan Patel, Content Acquisition Director of Netflix told a technology website.

Filmmaker Devashish Makhija has an interesting perspective on content. “The indigenous content, I think, will be partly tailored to the consumption habits of the West as well. Nothing a company like this makes will be solely for an indigenous market. In the short term this might give the illusion of ‘better’ content. But what it will lead to in the long term is an erosion of the true indigenousness of our content. Like it happened with the studios when they came in to India to make films. At first, Disney tried to make indigenous content. But now all they want to do is to remake their American hits in Hindi with stars,” he reflects.

Netflix does score brownie points for some clever moves. It is not certain, as yet, if we can expect same day online release of Hollywood and Bollywood movies. But Netflix has previously achieved the feat of online release prior to the theatrical one, cases of point being Beasts of No Nation and The Ridiculous 6. Regional content will be another deciding factor and Patel has said they already have some Gujarati and Punjabi content in the kitty. As many as 24 new original feature films and 31 new series or seasons are in the pipeline. Their service also includes ratings guides which are based on Netflix’s own global rating structure and episode synopses to help users decide.