First the good news. Netflix is finally — finally, finally finally — available in India. Which means it’s goodbye productivity, hello House of Cards, Jessica Jones, Master of None, Narcos, Orange is the New Black…I could go on and on. There’s a lot to be be excited about. Sadly, there’s also a lot to not be excited about.
The days leading up to India’s Netflix launch were rife with speculation about how much the service would cost here. A monthly Netflix subscription in the United States costs $8.99 (about Rs. 600), but Indians made a reasonable assumption that it would be priced much lower in the country. After all, Apple Music, which costs $9.99 (about Rs. 670) a month in the US costs just Rs. 120 a month in India.
We were wrong. Netflix in India starts at Rs. 500 a month for its cheapest tier that doesn’t include high-definition video. The next tiers are Rs. 650 and Rs. 800, which include HD playback, and the ability to play back Netflix content and multiple devices at the same time.
That’s a lot of money to spend on a single service. As points of comparison, BoxTV and HOOQ cost Rs. 199 a month respectively, while EROS Now is Rs. 49 a month. Others like HotStar are free, since they are ad-supported. When you add the cost of an average monthly plan from a provider like Tata Sky that runs anywhere between Rs. 300 and 700 a month, the cost of paying for access to video content starts becoming prohibitive.
And there’s also the cost of internet access — data in India is some of the priciest in the world.
According to The Wire, Netflix has just over 80 Indian movies, a majority of which are Hindi. You do get access to all of Netflix’s original content like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black (uncensored!), but to really attract users, the company really needs to flesh out its catalogue.
Between HotStar’s tie-up with comedy group All India Bakchod and independent groups like TVF leveraging YouTube as a platform to get audiences, online video in India is exploding. Netflix has its work cut out for it, but it seems like CEO Reed Hastings is in no hurry. When asked by reporters if Netflix would fund and produce content in India, he said that Netflix was first focused on sharing global stories and global titles.
The biggest roadblock in Netflix adoption in India is the poor internet speeds and ridiculous data caps. Netflix recommends that its users be on a minimum of 512 kbps broadband connection, and 5 Mbps if they want to stream content in high-definition. That’s far below average internet speeds in India.
But ultimately, it’s less about the speed and more about how much data an internet service provider allows you to consume. An hour of watching standard definition content on Netflix consumes about 300 MB, which HD content will take up 3 GB each hour. Binge-watch a few seasons of your favourite show, and you’ll be blowing through your data cap in a day if you are not careful.
According to a report in the Hindu Businessline, Netflix is planning to tie-up with internet service providers to make data consumed as a part of Netflix viewing not count against a user’s monthly data cap. This, however, could open a whole new can of worms as it would be a violation of net neutrality.