Indians have always been movie crazy, but the mobile phones are taking the screen mania to another level. It’s a unique market with 700 million phone users and has the world’s streaming giants beating a path to its door.
As smartphone adoption surges, along with the networks capable of transmitting high-quality videos, Indian market is seeing explosive growth that is attracting everyone from Netflix to Jeff Bezos and Rupert Murdoch. They are creating original programming, developing native language content and fine-tuning their pricing strategies in the country of 1.3 billion people to get consumers to pay.
While the Indian market for over-the-top video services was worth just Rs 21.5 billion ($296 million) in the year ended March, it’s expected to grow 45 percent annually through 2023, according to KPMG. By comparison, Netflix’s streaming business is expected to generate $7.6 billion of sales this year.
Right now it’s Hotstar, part of Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc., that has the lead, helped by the rights to key cricket broadcasts. But Amazon and Netflix are investing to win over users.
It’s not just the sheer number of people that is appealing to streaming companies, it’s their engagement with their phones. Indians are watching digital video content for an average 8 hours and 28 minutes each week, which is more than for TV, with that number jumping 58 percent from 2016, says a study by delivery platform, Limelight Networks.
As the global giants duke it out in India, another potential entrant looms large in the form of Asia’s richest man. Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio, with almost 240 million wireless phone users as of August, is acquiring rights to everything from soap operas and Bollywood films to the Winter Olympics for subscribers to its mobile phone network, on its way to becoming India’s largest.
For Netflix, which is in nearly half of all American households, India could hold the key to international expansion through the next 100 million new subscribers. Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings acknowledges that India is a tough market and those new users won’t come easy.
“In India, to be a mass product you also have to be in 20 languages and also do certain types of content,” Hastings said in an interview. “We’re targeting well-off people comfortable with English-language entertainment.”
For now, in the fight between global companies, victory belongs to the viewers.