News Analysis: Hollywood’s Indian Strategy — A Star in the Making

Move over, Bollywood. Legacy Hollywood is targeting the world’s second-largest population with low-cost streaming services and original content designed to be consumed on portable devices.

From the recent launch of Lionsgate Play from Starz, which also operates joint venture StarzPlay Arabia, to Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, Hollywood is targeting India’s 1.1 billion portable media devices as fertile ground for multi-billion-dollar infrastructure/content investments.

From 2019 through 2020, the SVOD market grew from 23 million subscribers to 57 million subs — and is predicted to reach 200 million subs by 2025, according to Futuresource Consulting.

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The top six Indian SVOD providers, including Disney+ Hotstar, Prime Video and Netflix, all boast heavy financial backing, marketing budgets and strong content production capabilities. Overall, there are approximately 30 active SVOD providers competing for the national and regional market share. Part of this mix includes Bollywood, with many local studios also launching their own direct-to-consumer services.

“Consequently, pay-TV operators are ramping up efforts in diversifying their offerings,” said David Sidebottom, principal analyst at Futuresource. “However, the learning curve for those shifting from satellite broadcasting to IP is steep and requires notable investment.”

When Disney acquired 21st Century Fox assets, included in the $71 billion purchase was Hotstar, a streaming platform with an Ace card: Indian Premier League cricket. As a result, India represents 30% of the Disney+ platform’s 95 million subscribers — just 9.5 million less than the service’s U.S. sub base.

“We did see a bump up when the IPL season started,” Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said on the fiscal call. “But we’ve also made it economical for a consumer to sign up for a one-year subscription versus going month-to-month. So those are some of the things that we’re looking at and utilizing to mitigate the churn that one could expect from IPL, but it’s a more diversified offering in terms of programming than just cricket.”

Indeed, the just-launched Star streaming unit within Disney+ and featuring general entertainment is seen as key to the platform reaching 300 million subs globally within three years.

“While North American markets remain critical for most streaming players, it is emerging markets such as India that will drive the next wave of subscriber growth,” Aditya Raghunath, research analyst with T.A. Pai Management Institute, wrote on The Motley Fool.

Netflix in 2019 launched a lower-cost mobile-centric subscription service in India, three years after bowing standard service in the country. The service’s original series, “Delhi Crime,” recently won the International Emmy for Best Drama Series.

“We’ve been growing every year. We’ve been just building our team, developing content, figuring out what works, whether that’s ‘Sacred Games,’ or ‘AK vs. AK,’ you know, just lots of different types of content,” Hastings told Fortune IndiaIndeed, Netflix is targeting India for much of its next 100 million subscriber growth.

“If you play very safe, you’re not doing justice to your audiences who deserve new storytelling,” said Monika Shergill, VP of content for Netflix India.

Amazon, which of course eyes India for its e-commerce potential, also offers Prime Video as a standalone service priced from $1.79 per month. Subscribers have access to ad-free content in myriad languages Prime Video lets users stream ad-free content in HD and 4K (at no additional cost) across various languages. The service also offers access to Prime Music, Prime Reading, Prime Delivery and Amazon Pay Credit Card, among other services.

“The number of hours Prime Video is watched in India in the last two years has grown by six times,” Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos told an Indian media event in 2019. “Prime Video is working well all over the world, and there is no place it is doing better than in India. It’s incredible.”

Lionsgate Play SVOD Service Launches First Original Indian Production

The Lionsgate-owned streaming platform Starz, which last year launched a low-cost, branded Lionsgate Play mobile app in India, is partnering with Lionsgate Television on its first Indian original series, a remake of the Golden Globe-nominated series “Casual.”

The series will kick off Lionsgate Play’s first original slate of drama, comedy, crime and action series for the Indian and South Asian markets, building on the success of such award-winning series as “Normal People” (nominated for two Golden Globes), “The Goes Wrong Show” and “Love Life.”

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Lionsgate Play is part of a Hollywood trend targeting India’s mobile device-centric consumer with streaming entertainment. The $1.37 monthly/$9.65 annual app is available to download across a broad array of platforms and devices, including the Google Play store, the Apple app store and Amazon Fire TV Stick. The market is projected to reach 200 million SVOD subscribers by 2025, according to Futuresource Consulting.

“Lionsgate Play continues to gain momentum in India, proving to be a strong driver of Starz’s international growth,” Jeffrey Hirsch, Starz CEO said in a statement.

The series will be directed by Kunal Kohli, the Bollywood film director known for films such as Hum Tum and Fanaa, and will star Lara Dutta and Prateik Babbar. The former Miss Universe 2000, Dutta has starred in the films Housefull and Don 2, among others. Babbar starred in Jaane Tu, Mumbai Diaries and numerous other films and premium series.

Since Starz began its international rollout in 2018, the StarzPlay global subscription platform is now available in 56 countries, including its StarzPlay Arabia joint venture.

“Our ability to kick off the Lionsgate Play original slate with the remake of a great intellectual property, shows what we can achieve through the continued collaboration of our Starz, Lionsgate Television and Lionsgate India businesses,” said Lionsgate Television Group Chairman Kevin Beggs.

The Indian Connection: U.S. Streamers ‘Full Go’ Targeting Second Most-Populous Country

With China effectively shutting the door to U.S. streaming services looking to launch operations in the erstwhile communist country, companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney are aggressively targeting India to jumpstart subscriber growth.

With 1.4 billion people, including 1.1 billion on portable media devices such as smartphones, India is fertile ground for SVOD platforms looking for growth to justify multi-billion dollar infrastructure/content investments and the future of their movie/TV program distribution.

In 2020, there were about 60 platforms operating in India, with YouTube, Disney+Hotstar, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Facebook representing 85% market share, according to Media Partners Asia. The country’s OTT video market is projected to grow 26% annually, reaching $4.5 billion in revenue by 2025.

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“Subscription based online video services benefited significantly in 2020 as the country went into the lockdown,” MPA executive Mihir Shah said in a statement.

Assisting sub growth is a massive market of affordable smartphones, inexpensive data plans and limited government regulation on foreign content streaming within its borders. The latter could be changing as the government’s ministry of information and broadcasting recently granted itself for the first time jurisdiction over streaming video content.

The Indian SVOD market will remain competitive as Disney+Hotstar continues to scale its business, while Netflix and Prime Video deepen partnerships with mobile and fixed broadband operators, according to Shah.

“Local premium content and sports rights will help broadcaster-backed platforms gain share,” Shah said. “Increased reach and engagement with rural millennials will improve monetization for short-form video platforms.

Indeed, Disney, through its acquisition of 20th Century Fox, inherited Hotstar, the Indian video service streaming movies and shows in 8 Indian languages. The upside to Disney+ has been immediate. The service topped 88 million subscribers last month, with 30% of that growth originating in India via the rebranded Hotstar service.

Netflix’s first original Indian drama, “Sacred Games.”

In 2018, Netflix co-founder/co-CEO Reed Hastings said the SVOD pioneer was shooting for 100 million Indian subs — driven in part by a mobile-only plan priced at 199 rupees ($2.72) per month. Disney+Hotstar has a similarly priced plan. Netflix reportedly spent about $400 million on Indian content in 2019 and 2020 — enjoying global success with original dramas “Sacred Games,” and “Delhi Crime,” among others.

“In the U.S., people pay $50 for mobile phone access,” Hastings told a leadership summit in New Dehli in 2019. “Pricing is very low here, and the market is very large. That’s why our 199 rupees a month pricing is very competitive.”

Amazon Jan. 13 launched a new $1.20 monthly mobile-only video streaming plan — the cheapest among U.S. services operating in India. The service is through a partnership with wireless carrier Bharti Airtel, offering prepaid subs video streaming for 89 rupees ($1.20) a month after a 30-day free trial. The offer also includes 6 gigabytes of data. Airtel has about 300 million subscribers.

Amazon reportedly is eyeing securing Indian Premier League cricket in the future, with Disney+Hotstar’s carriage rights ending in 2023.

“India is one of our fastest growing territories in the world with very high engagement rates,” Jay Marine, VP of Prime Video Worldwide, said in a statement. “Buoyed by this response, we want to double-down by offering our entertainment content to an even larger base of Indian customers.”

Amazon Bows $1.20 Mobile Video Streaming Plan in India

With 1.33 billion people, India is the second-largest country in the world by population after China. Amazon Jan. 13 launched a new $1.20 monthly mobile-only video streaming plan targeting the country’s 1.1 billion cellphone users.

The service is through a partnership with wireless carrier Bharti Airtel, offering prepaid subs video streaming for 89 rupees ($1.20) a month after a 30-day free trial. The offer also includes 6 gigabytes of data. Airtel has about 300 million subscribers.

“We want to democratize the access to content and through this unique offering reach hundreds of millions of users,” Gaurav Gandhi, director and India head for Amazon Prime Video, told Bloomberg.

Gandhi said that about 85% of Internet access in India is done through mobile devices with 90% of all mobile subs using prepaid plans. Netflix India currently offers a mobile-only plan for 199 rupees ($2.72) while Disney+Hotstar offers basic service for 99 rupees ($1.35).

India’s streaming video market is projected to reach $4.5 billion through 2025, according to research firm Media Asia Partners, which added that local original streaming content approached $700 million in 2020.

Amazon, which reportedly is looking to bid for Italian Serie A professional soccer, is also eyeing Indian Premier League cricket, which Disney Hotstar holds the carriage rights to through 2023.

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Report: India’s SVOD Market Topped $1.4 Billion in Revenue in 2020 — Driven by Netflix & Co.

New data from Media Partners Asia found India’s subscription VOD market generated about $1.4 billion in revenue in 2020, with projections of $1.9 billion by 2025 — with 80% of the revenue generated by Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video. Indeed, 30% of Disney’s 88.6 million SVOD subscribers originate in India.

With 1.36 billion people, India trails just China as the most-populous country in the world. Unlike its erstwhile Communist neighbor to the East, India features open markets for SVOD highly coveted by Netflix, Disney and Amazon, among others.

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The country has been a major focus for Netflix, with the SVOD pioneer investing more than $400 million in content and infrastructure over the past two years — including adding a Hindi language option.

“Subscription based online video services benefited significantly in 2020 as the country went into the lockdown,” Mihir Shah, VP at MPA, said in a statement. “Key players are investing in premium local content while leveraging sports, movie rights and aggressive consumer pricing to drive subscriber adoption.”

MPA said YouTube remains the market leader in ad-supported VOD, accounting for 67% of total online video advertising in 2020. Its market share is expected to decline to 55% in 2025 as domestic broadcaster-backed platforms and short-form video players expand market share.

MPA estimates that online video advertising reached an estimated $909 million in 2020, down about 2% from 2019. OTT content investment reached $700 million. With budgets for original and local content acquisitions increasing, costs are projected increase by 18% annually through 2025 to $1.6 billion.

“Local premium content and sports rights will help broadcaster-backed platforms gain share,” Shah said. “Increased reach and engagement with rural millennials will improve monetization for short-form video platforms.”


Lionsgate Play SVOD Service Bows in India

Starz has launched the direct-to-consumer OTT app Lionsgate Play in India, making premium Hollywood content available in multiple Indian languages, the company announced.

The service is priced at INR 699 for a year or INR 99 per month. In India, the app will be available to download across platforms and devices including the Google Play store, Apple app store and Amazon firestick.

New content available at launch includes the Anna Kendrick starrer “Love Life,” a fresh take on a romantic comedy anthology series; “No Man’s Land,” a Syrian civil war series; and “The Goes Wrong Show,” a comedy series with each episode having a different theme, including a period romance, spy thriller, a Deep South melodrama and a Christmas fable.

Movies offerings include the Jennifer Lopez starrer Hustlers, Gerald Butler’s action thriller Angel Has Fallen, the fantasy thriller Hellboy, and the action comedy The Gentlemen, starring Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant.

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Starz first launched internationally with its Starzplay international premium streaming platform in 2018. This month it will expand its global footprint into 55 countries throughout Europe, Latin America, Canada, Japan and India.

“India has always been a key market for us,” Jeffrey A. Hirsch, president and CEO of Starz, said in a statement. “The large and diverse population, increased data usage in urban and rural markets, and adoption of OTT across all demographics created an exciting opportunity for us to launch Lionsgate Play. We’re confident that our unique, exclusive and exceptionally curated content will generate a great response from Indian audiences.”

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“We will also be launching Indian originals in the coming months, featuring untold edgy urban stories from some of the best creative minds in the Indian film industry,” Rohit Jain, managing director of Lionsgate South Asia, said in a statement. “And we will continue our Lionsgate Play journey by adding to our deep roster of premium content through partnerships with exciting millennial stars like Kriti Sanon, Tiger Shroff and Sanjana Sanghi increasing the breadth and scope of entertainment for our subscribers.”

Analyst: India, Cricket to Drive Disney+ Sub Growth

‘The Mandalorian” has met its match: Cricket. Both entertainment choices in the U.S. and India look to drive Disney+ global subscriber growth over the next five years.

Based on September 2020 results, Digital TV Research expects five global over-the-top video platforms to have 678 million paying subscribers by 2025. Disney+ will add 112 million subs between 2020 and 2025 to take its total to 194 million — about what had through Sept. 30. Netflix will increase by 73 million subs — underscoring strong growth even for the SVOD pioneer.

Driving Disney+ sub growth will be ongoing service launches in the U.S. and India — the latter accounting for 25% of the service’s subscribers through Sept. 30. Why? The sport of professional cricket played in India.

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When Disney acquired 21st Century Fox’s assets, it assumed control of Hotstar, India’s top OTT video platform. Over the summer Disney quietly launched Disney+ Hotstar in the region, in addition to further Disney+ expansion in Europe.

Simon Murray, principal analyst at Digital TV Research, said initial sub growth at Disney+ came from the U.S., mainly due to the discounted price bundle of Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu, and 12-month access for Verizon customers. More recently, India’s Disney+ Hotstar subs count has rocketed due to its coverage of IPL cricket.

“The U.S. and India will account for nearly half of Disney+’ subscriber base by 2025,” Murray said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Netflix’s revenue will reach $37 billion by 2025 — up by $17 billion on its 2019 total. Disney+ will generate $13 billion by 2025 — impressive since it only started service a year ago. However, this is a lot lower than Netflix due to lower ARPUs charged in developing markets.

Netflix Unveils 17 New Originals in India

With China walled off to Western subscription streaming video platforms, India with more than 1 billion inhabitants (and exploding mobile device consumer) is a prime growth market for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.

Netflix has unveiled a lineup of 17 original stories, including six new films and two episodic series — ranging from thrillers to romantic comedies to lighthearted dramas targeting Indian and global subscribers.

“We know our members have unique tastes, moods and needs,” Monika Shergill, VP of content for Netflix India, said in a statement. “Together with the finest stories from around the world and our rapidly growing selection of licensed titles, we want to give our members something to discover and love on Netflix every day.”

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Localized Netflix movies include Ludo, a comedy drama about four people whose lives collide with each other (featuring Abhishek A. Bachchan,  Rajkummar Rao, Aditya Roy Kapur, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Pankaj Tripathi and Pearle Maaney); Torbaaz, a story of transformation (starring Sanjay Dutt); crime thriller Raat Akeli Hai(featuring Radhika Apte, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Aditya Srivastava, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Khalid Tyabji, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Nishant Dahiya and Shweta Tripathi); Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, a drama about two cousins and their quest for freedom (starring Konkona Sensharma and Bhumi Pednekar); romantic comedy Ginny Weds Sunny (featuring Yami Gautam, Vikrant Massey) and award-winning animated romance film Bombay Rose, the first Indian animation film ever selected to open Venice Critics’ Week.

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Other Netflix original films include the true story of Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (starring Janhvi Kapoor, Pankaj Tripathi, Angad Bedi, Viineet Kumar, Manav Vij and Ayesha Raza Mishra); a dysfunctional family drama Tribhanga – Tedhi Medhi Crazy (featuring Kajol, Tanvi Azmi and Mithila Palkar); horror film,  Kaali Khuhi (featuring Shabana Azmi, Satyadeep Mishra, Sanjeeda Sheikh and Riva Arora); Serious Men, a drama based on Manu Joseph’s novel (starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Nassar, Shweta Basu Prasad); police drama, Class Of ’83 (featuring Bobby Deol, Bhupendra Jadawat, Hitesh Bhojraj and Annup Sonii) and dark comedy, AK vs AK (starring Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap).

New series include “Mismatched,” a young adult romance (starring Prajakta Koli and Rohit Saraf) based on Sandhya Menon’s book ‘When Dimple Met Rishi’ and “A Suitable Boy,” based on the critically acclaimed book by Vikram Seth (starring Ishaan Khatter, Tabu,  Tanya Maniktala, Rasika Dugal, Shahana Goswami and Ram Kapoor), which will be available on Netflix globally except in the United States and Canada.

They join the lineup of upcoming series, which includes “Masaba Masaba” (starring Masaba Gupta and Neena Gupta as themselves with Neil Bhoopalam); “Bombay Begums,” a contemporary drama (featuring Pooja Bhatt, Amruta Subhash, Shahana Goswami, Plabita Borthakur and Aadhya Anand) and dramedy, “Bhaag Beanie Bhaag” (earlier titled Messy, starring Swara Bhasker, Ravi Patel, Dolly Singh and Varun Thakur).

Disney+ Launching in India on April 3

Eager to expand its branded subscription streaming video service worldwide, Disney+ will launch April 3 in India with sister over-the-top platform Hotstar.

Disney acquired Hotstar, which reportedly has 100 million monthly views, as part of the $71.3 million 20th Century Fox transaction.

India, with the second highest population behind China, has become hotbed for American media companies seeking to tap a consumer base that exceeds 1 billion.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week ordered citizens not to leave their homes in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

“To save India, every citizen of India is being banned from 12 o’clock tonight, on exiting homes, completely,” Modi said in a series of March 24 tweets.

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Sony Pictures, WWE Partner for India Distribution

Sony Pictures Networks India Private Ltd. and WWE March 31 announced a five-year extension with an expanded broadcast/streaming agreement.

The deal will deliver WWE’s weekly flagship programming and localized content in India and the Indian subcontinent, making SPN the exclusive home to WWE in-ring content across its television and digital platforms.

After China, India, with more than 1.35 billion people, has a bigger population than the next five most populous nations — the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan and Nigeria — combined.

That’s why Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and, now, Sony Pictures and WWE, all place India high on their SVOD distribution lists.

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As part of the agreement, SPN will have the rights to air “Raw,” “SmackDown,” “NXT” as well as WWE pay-per-view specials live on its sports and digital platforms in English, Hindi and regional languages.

The expanded partnership also provides SPN the rights to WWE Network, which hosts thousands of hours of content to be made available to audiences in India through SonyLIV, SPN’s over-the-top video platform.

SPN will curate content from WWE’s extensive video library, which includes live events, classic matches, interviews with Legends, reality shows and documentaries, among other content, on its own platforms.

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“WWE has been consistently ranking in the top three properties across all sports networks in India, dominating the sports entertainment space,” Rajesh Kaul, head sports and chief revenue officer distribution at Sony Pictures Networks India, said in a statement.

James Rosenstock, EVP of WWE International, says India remains a strategically important market for WWE, adding that locally based SPN has been an “extraordinary” partner in helping to grow the pro wrestling fanbase in the region.

“The partnership gives our passionate fans new opportunities to engage with the WWE brand,” Rosenstock said

WWE is one of the most-watched sports properties in India, and India ranks #No. 1 for WWE YouTube consumption and No. 1 in WWE Facebook followers, according to the company.

While there remains a shutdown on live performance events, WWE has been actively recruiting Indian athletes and performers. Last year, WWE hosted its largest tryout in history, where more than 70 top athletes from India showcased their abilities in Mumbai. Four Indian recruits were selected to begin training at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Fla.