Still buffering: Is Netflix India worth your money?

  • Pranav Dixit, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jan 31, 2016 13:53 IST
Netflix’s entry into India could be a turning point for online video streaming, as long as internet speeds and data costs keep pace.

Now that it’s been three weeks since Netflix officially launched in India (and 130 other countries), it’s time to take stock. Yes, it will still run you at least Rs 500 a month; streaming an entire season of Orange is the New Black in high-definition will chew through your puny data cap in a matter of days, if not hours; and no, you still can’t have House of Cards, Netflix’s flagship original, because of the company’s licensing agreements with television networks in India.

The jury’s still out on whether getting a Netflix subscription in India is “worth it.” According to a survey, 93 per cent of the titles available on Netflix in the US are not available in India. And then, there’s that quintessential Indian conundrum: Why should I pay for data and Netflix if I can just torrent anything I want for free?

All these concerns are valid, but there is no doubt that Netflix’s entry into India is a watershed moment for online video streaming in a country that holds the distinction of having some of the lowest internet speeds in the world.

“It’s a great endorsement to the internet as a delivery mechanism, and it’s great for the industry,” says Udaynandan Reddy, founder and CEO of Yupp TV, an online streaming platform that started in 2007 to deliver live Indian TV to Indian expats around the world. YuppTV only launched in India in October 2015 — because the timing was perfect, says Reddy.

Read: Netflix too pricey for unconnected India, may face net neutrality issues

Smartphones are projected to rise to 300 million in the next two years, and nearly 50 per cent of the country’s population is under 25 years of age.

The millennials are hungry for video and traditional television delivered over DTH isn’t cutting it anymore. The number of video streaming platforms in the country has exploded (see the box for some of the most popular ones).

And later this year, Reliance Jio with its own video content is expected to make a splash. According to a report by The Economist, 2015 marked the first time that consumers of media globally spent more time watching videos online than TV.

Read | Netflix comes to India: 5 shows to kickstart the bingefest

Being in the video streaming business in India — whether as a platform or as a creator — in the time of Netflix is exciting. Not only does the platform ratify your existence, it also validates your revenue model if you charge for access in a country that shies away from paying for digital content.

“We have half a million monthly paying subscribers,” says Rajiv Vaidya, CEO of streaming platform Spuul. “And we’re growing 10-20 per cent each month. We are absolutely cash positive.” Abhesh Verma, COO of nexGTV, a streaming service that introduced the subscription model in India in 2011 and added advertising only a year later, agrees.

A million people pay for nexGTV each month, he tells HT, with over 20,000 hours of content watched predominantly on mobile devices. Clearly, it’s boom time. “There are 38 — 38! — video streaming platforms launching in India in the next five months!” says Ashish Patil, business and creative head Yash Raj Films’ Y Films, a “youth” unit that makes cinema-quality series for YouTube (hits include Man’s World and Bang Baajaa Baaraat). “As a content creator, that’s great!”

Source: Deloite India April 2015 Report Digital Media: Rise of on-demand content

There is a need, however, to temper expectations, according to The Viral Fever’s Arunabh Kumar, a content creator who pioneered web series in India with Permanent Roommates in 2014 and followed it up in 2015 with another smash hit, Pitchers. “The explosion of streaming services is a bit of a hype,” he says. “It’s not that hard these days to build a streaming platform. I think what is going to happen eventually is that the market will correct itself. You’ll see a lot of players both creating and delivering content but customers will ultimately vote for only a few with their money and their time.”

Here’s what’s happening in the Western world: Linear TV consumption — the act of actually sitting in front of your TV and watching something live at the time it airs — is fading.

Thanks to broadband penetration, more and more people, especially young people, are ditching traditional cable connections for streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, and HBO Now. Doing this is often cheaper than paying for expensive cable packages, and comes with the added convenience of being able to watch what you want where you want and — most importantly — on any device you want.

In India the story is slightly different. Linear TV consumption continues to have massive reach and is the medium of choice for advertisers hoping to get their message to large, homogenous audiences, says Y Films’ Patil. Even Netflix agrees. “People still watch over a billion hours of linear TV each day,” says a Netflix spokesperson.

Traditional TV will still be around for a long time, although it will be a bit like AM radio still surviving in the age of FM, according to YuppTV’s Reddy.

“Millions and millions of households in the country already have DTH and cable, and a fraction of that have broadband,” he says. “It will take a long time to change that.”

So what’s next for Netflix? Already, the company is racing to expand its India catalogue. According to a company spokesperson, Netflix “almost immediately adds more content” after it launches in most markets, and typically doubles its catalogue size in the first year.

Assuming that happens in India, it will take Netflix’s catalogue in the country from lacklustre to acceptable, but the company isn’t stopping there. It plans to spend $5 billion on programming rights including more than 30 new Netflix original series (this includes new seasons of existing series — it doesn’t mean 30 new Netflix shows) and 10 original movies this year.

“It’s this kind of content that you can’t get anywhere else that will drive [Netflix’s] growth,” says Y Films’ Patil.

Further growth is almost entirely linked to how fast India’s broadband and 4G infrastructure grows in the coming years. That and the company’s ability to adapt to India’s unique market conditions, similar to others like YouTube, which allows Indian users to download videos and play them back offline to compensate for lacklustre 3G speeds, and Uber, which changed its credit card-only policy in the United States to accept cash in India.

In India, the revolution will be streamed. Just give it a couple of years to buffer.

Who needs real TV when there are dozens of video streaming services available to you right now? Here are some of the biggest ones

Offers over 35,000 hours of entertainment, sports, and movie channels owned by Star India. Hotstar is free and supported entirely by advertising.

Wynk Movies
This Airtel streaming app offers content from ErosNow, HOOQ, Sony LIV, YouTube and DailyMotion. The cost ranges from nothing to Rs 250 a month.

Offers over 900 movies and TV shows to stream online or download. It has three pricing tiers: Free, Premium, for Rs 300 a month and Special that allows films on rent.

Web series on YouTube
YouTube’s a great place to online video-stream. It offers content made by and for independent creators like The Viral Fever and Y Films. And it’s free.

Hungama Play
Claims to have country’s largest streaming catalogue, with over 7,500 movies from Indian and international studios. Rs 249 a month gets you everything on offer.

Offers access to over 1,000 movies and 155 Indian television channels that you can stream live. The cost ranges from nothing to Rs 125 a month.

Offers over 200 TV channels and thousands of movies. Catch up on daily soaps for 10 days after they air. Costs Rs 5 a day, Rs 30 for a week, Rs 99 for a month.

House of Cards, Netflix’s flagship original, isn’t available on Netflix India thanks to a hodgepodge of licensing agreements with Indian television channels. Bummer. Luckily, the streaming service makes up for it with other stellar original content. Don’t miss these shows…

* Narcos
Created by: Chris Brancati, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro
Starring: Wagner Moura, Boyd Holbrook, Pedro Pascal
Set and filmed in Colombia, this violent drama tells the true-life story of notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, who, at the height of his power, supplied an estimated 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the United States.

* Making a Murderer
Created by: Laura Ricciardi, Moira Demos
Featuring: Steven Avery
This 10-part documentary explores the story of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who, in the midst of exposing corruption in local law enforcement, was arrested and spent 18 years in prison for sexual assault and attempted murder, before being exonerated. Shot over 10 years, it was released in the US last month and had such an impact that it sparked two public petitions asking the President to pardon Avery; requests that the White House turned down citing jurisdiction issues.

* Master of None
Created by: Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang
Starring: Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang, Noel Wells, Eric Wareheim
This series set in New York City follows a 30-year-old actor as he fumbles through his life and career. Ansari co-created the show with former Parks and Recreation writer Alan Yang.

* Marvel’s Jessica Jones
Created by: Melissa Rosenberg
Starring: Krysten Ritter, David Tennant, Rachael Taylor
Marvel Comics’ legendary female superhero decides to reboot her life and become a private investigator, in this Netflix original based in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

* Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Created by: Tina Fey, Robert Carlock
Starring: Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Jane Krakowski
Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, producers of the iconic TV show 30 Rock, this hysterical comedy follows a young woman as she tries to navigate New York City in the months after she is rescued from a cult.

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