Amazon Channels Lands in India

Amazon has rolled out its Amazon Channels third-party subscription streaming video platform  in India, the e-commerce behemoth’s 12th country offering Prime members direct and discounted access to SVOD services such as Netflix, AMC+, Paramount+, BritBox, Acorn TV and Starz, depending on the market.

WarnerMedia just pulled HBO Max from the platform, a decision that will reportedly cost the service 5 million subscribers.

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Amazon Channels in India is offering direct access to eight local streaming services, including Mubi for 1,999 rupees ($27) annually. The service markets itself for 499 rupees ($6.76) monthly. Netflix India offers a mobile-only basic plan priced at 199 rupees ($2.70) a month.

For India, where Amazon launched operations in 2012, and Prime Video in 2017, the country represents huge opportunities — and controversy.

In early 2020 (before the pandemic) when founder Jeff Bezos visited the country, he was met by protests from small business owners fearful the e-commerce giant would drive them out of business. In reality, Amazon generates a significant percentage of its revenue through third-party retailers.

Regardless, the Competition Commission of India has begun a probe of Amazon and Walmart about allegations the giants abuse their dominance via deep discounts, preferential treatment of select vendors and related backroom deals.

In August, Amazon and billionaire Narayana Murthy announced they would be ending a seven-year joint business venture that had sought to help small businesses sell on the Internet. India’s e-commerce market is projected to reach $1 trillion in size.

Netflix to Debut Indian Superhero Movie ‘Minnal Murali’

Netflix is set to distribute original Indian superhero movie Minnal Murali, one of the streaming video pioneer’s first Malayalam films. Directed by Basil Joseph, the movie sees Malayalam star Tovino Thomas play an ordinary man-turned-superhero Murali, who is struck by a bolt of lightning, which bestows him with special powers.

The film also stars Guru Somasundaram, Harisree Ashokan and Aju Varghese. The movie will premiere with dubs in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and English.

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“We wanted to create a superhero that people could relate to and connect with on an emotional level,” Joseph said in a statement. “Our efforts were focused on having a strong narrative that could stand on its own, while backing the action. I am glad that the film is releasing on Netflix.”

Pratiksha Rao, director, films and licensing at Netflix India, said the movie underscores the growing appeal of Malayalam cinema with innovative storytelling.

“As we expand our film slate to include more diverse Malayalam stories, we are excited to bring the widely anticipated Minnal Murali as a Netflix Film.

Disney+ Hotstar Reveals New Content Slate, Pricing Tiers

With 33% of the 103 million Disney+ subscribers originating from India, the media giant is ramping up its presence in the region, including new original Indian content — and cricket — for the branded Disney+ Hotstar platform.

The platform July 27 disclosed 16 new shows, including four movies: Bhuj: The Pride of India, comedy Hungama 2, thriller Collar Bomb and Bhoot Police. The service will also live-stream cricket tournaments Vivo IPL 2021 and the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.

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“The content slate demonstrates our relentless pursuit of bringing original and locally relevant stories to our consumers,” Sunil Rayan, president of Disney+ Hotstar, said in a statement.

Disney acquired Hotstar in its $71.3 billion acquisition of select 21st Century Fox assets in 2019, including 20th Century Fox Studio. Disney operates Disney+, Disney+ Hotstar, Star+, Hulu, Hulu + Live TV and ESPN+.

The platform, beginning Sept. 1, will bow new annual subscription plans for a mobile-only single device priced at INR499 ($6.69); two devices at INR899 ($12.06); and INR1499 ($20.12) for four devices. The single mobile-only plan currently costs INR399 ($5.36).

“With the newly introduced subscription plans, we want to make our content more accessible to our viewers by offering best-in-class entertainment while giving them an opportunity to choose the plan that best suits their needs,” Rayan said.

Ex-Legal Affairs Director Sues Netflix for Discrimination

A former legal affairs director at Netflix has sued the streaming behemoth, alleging racial discrimination and gender bias, among other issues.

In the lawsuit, filed July 13 in U.S. Superior Court in Los Angeles, Nandini Mehta alleges she was terminated after calling out the company’s tax set-up in India to senior management.

Mehta, an Indian citizen hired in 2018 and working in Netflix’s Mumbai and Beverly Hills, Calif., offices, claims she was “systematically discriminated against” after questioning the streamer’s tax liability strategy, according to the complaint. Mehta claims she was warned by superiors to drop the matter.

Netflix, in a statement to the Los Angeles Times, claims the allegations about the streamer’s corporate structure in India are untrue.

“The structure we established in India is typical for multinational companies and reflects our business needs and the relevant governmental rules,” Netflix said.

Netflix entered the Indian market in 2016 following a global rollout. It reportedly has more than 2 million subs in the region.

The suit contends Mehta was fired in April for using her corporate credit card for personal expenses. Mehta, in her suit, calls the claims “bogus,” claiming she was authorized to use the card for personal expenses.

Netflix says such authorization is untrue, and counters Mehta was warned to stop using her card for non-business expenses.

“Ms. Mehta was fired from Netflix for repeatedly using her corporate credit card for tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses,” said the streamer. “Mehta was instructed not to use her corporate card for personal expenses and given ample opportunity to correct her behavior. She did not and her employment was terminated as a result. We are confident her claims will be found to be totally lacking in merit.”

Separately, three movie marketing executives were reportedly let go after a group discussion about their boss — chief marketing officer Bozoma Saint John — was revealed on a social media platform.

“The depiction of the Slack messages in question being critical of marketing leadership is untrue,” Netflix said in a statement.

Saint John was hired in 2020 following high-profile stints at Endeavor, Uber and Apple.

New Data Finds Netflix, Disney+ Sentimental Opposites in India

As the subscription streaming video pioneer and first global SVOD service, Netflix dominates throughout much of the Asia-Pacific region, including in countries such as Australia and Malaysia. Yet, Netflix is losing favor in one of the region’s most populated countries, India, with consumer sentiment down year-over-year while sentiment for rival service Disney+ is up through May 2021, according to new information from GlobalData.

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Much of change has to do with the pandemic and interest in the sport of cricket, the latter the country’s national pasttime, whose professional league’s streaming rights are held by Disney streaming subsidiary Hotstar. Disney acquired Hotstar as part of its $71 billion acquisition of select 21th Century Fox entertainment assets.

Hotstar now represents a third (33%) of the 103 million global subscriber footprint of Disney+.

“Despite a year-on-year dip in market share in India during 2020, Netflix’s sentiments were much higher than Disney during the year,” Rinaldo Pereira, senior business fundamentals analyst at GlobalData, said in a statement. “In 2021, the company’s sentiments have dipped and are lower than Disney’s.”

During 2020, Netflix used a free weekend strategy to gain subscriptions in India, and the strategy worked. Yet, Disney gained even more subscribers due to its edge in pricing and local content, i.e. cricket, offerings.

Both Netflix and Disney have recognized the need to address the domestic market by adjusting price points and driving a mobile-centric strategy. Pereira expects further Netflix sub growth in India despite growing competition. At the same time, Disney + Hotstar is likely to remain in the top spot, with net sub additions plateauing in 2022.

Indeed, the company had twice as many mentions on social media compared to Netflix in 2020. Netflix’s India and APAC related social media mentions peaked in 2018 and have been on the downtrend since.

“For Disney and Netflix, geopolitics was among the top themes in [social media] sentences, in line with the Indian government’s new information technology rules in 2021,” Pereira said. “With Indian consumers unlikely to subscribe to every platform, companies with the right price points and the best local content will make the most of [the country’s] booming market.”

Netflix Ups Promotion of Free Branded YouTube Channel in India

Netflix June 15 announced it is streaming a 20th anniversary special on its Indian YouTube channel regarding the 2001 award-winning sports-themed drama Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, starring and produced by Aamir Khan and written by Gowariker.

Set in the Victorian period of India’s rule by Britain, the story revolves around a small village whose inhabitants, burdened by high taxes (“lagaan”), find themselves in a game of cricket against the Brits as a way to avoid the taxes.

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The original film was the third Indian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film after Mother India (1957) and Salaam Bombay! (1988).

Netflix, which launched service in India in 2016, reportedly has about 1.5 million subscribers, which trails Amazon Prime Video (2.5 million) and Disney + Hotstar with 3 million. Since launching an inexpensive mobile-only subscription plan, Netflix also bowed a branded YouTube channel, which offers content trailers and previews. The channel has more than 13.2 million subscribers.

Streaming of Chale Chalo Lagaan — Once Upon An Impossible Dream on the YouTube channel affords Netflix the opportunity to reach non-subscribers with a program dedicated to a popular movie.

Lagaan is one of the most iconic creations of Indian cinema,” Monika Shergill, VP of content for Netflix India, said in a statement. “It is an epic tale that won hearts everywhere and showed the brilliance of Indian storytelling on the global stage. It’s an honor for Netflix to celebrate 20 years of Lagaan with the incredible team behind this film. We’re excited that this powerful and inspirational story continues to entertain audiences around the world with Netflix.”

The movie is currently streaming on Netflix in more than 190 countries.

Netflix Opening Mumbai Production Facility

Netflix is opening a wholly-owned content production facility in Mumbai, India. The move comes as the world’s largest SVOD service finds itself trailing upstart Disney+ in the region — the latter having 33% of its 103 million subscribers coming from India due to the acquisition of the Hotstar streaming service through the 20th Century Fox deal.

To be fully operational by June 2022, the facility will have 40 offline editing rooms designed as a flexible, collaborative and inspiring environment for showrunners, directors, editors and sound designers. With innovation and collaboration as the key focus, the facility will pioneer advanced media management workflows that will allow partnership with India’s post-production community.

Netflix first launched service in the world’s second most-populous country in 2016. India’s vast diversity and cultural heritage presents a window of storytelling opportunity, from books and songs to plays and folktales.

We saw this last year with an increase in viewing of stories across formats, genres and languages,” Netflix said in a statement. “Whether it’s our favorite preschool hit series “Mighty Little Bheem,” International Emmy winning series “Delhi Crime,” or our beloved films like Guilty, Ludo, Pagglait and Paava Kadhaigal, it’s been an incredible ride.”

Netflix has invested ₹3,000 crores ($410 million) in local programming through 2019 and 2020. In March, the service announced a lineup of 41 titles, including films, series, documentaries, TV reality and comedy.

In 2020, Netflix bowed NetFX, a platform that enables multiple Indian artists to work on VFX for titles globally.

“Our goal is to keep improving the overall experience for our talent and industry partners, and equip them with the best resources to tell authentic stories in the most engaging  manner,” Netflix said. “We are in a golden age of entertainment in India – this is the best time to be a creator and consumer of great stories.”

Report: Global Pay-TV Market to Add 15 Million Subs Through 2026

Pay-TV isn’t dead. Despite living in an over-the-top video ecosystem, new data from Digital TV Research projects the addition of 15 million pay-TV subscribers between 2020 and 2026, bringing the global subscriber base to 1.02 billion. Through 2026, 92 countries will add pay-TV subs and 46 countries will lose subscribers.

China and India together will continue to provide just under half the world’s pay-TV subs. China will lose 10 million subs who see OTT video platforms as more appealing than traditional pay-TV. However, India will add 21 million pay-TV subs. The U.S. will be the biggest pay-TV loser — down by 16 million subs through 2026.

Online TV platforms will add 63 million subs through 2026 to take its total to 378 million. There will be 412 million cable subs (both analog and digital) by 2026 — 46 million fewer than the 458 million subs recorded in 2020. Satellite TV will lose 8 million subs to total 203 million. Pay-DTT (digital terrestrial television) will grow by 6 million subs to reach 25 million. Many of the DTT subs will be in Africa.

Report: Indian Pay-TV Market to Reach 134 Million Subs by 2025

India may be the future growth market for U.S. subscription streaming video services, but world’s second most-populous country isn’t abandoning linear pay-TV.

New data from Media Partners Asia suggests consumers in India may love streaming video, but they still love satellite and online TV. The research firm predicts that more than 96% of pay-TV households will be digitalized by 2025, with total subscribers growing from 127 million in 2020 to 134 million by 2025. Advertising and subscription revenue will top $12.3 billion.

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MPA projects satellite homes will increase by 10 million to more than 68 million in 2025. Cable’s market share will decline 10% to 46%, while online TV will grow slightly.

“Robust backend systems, the ability to offer consumers flexibility in choosing channel packages, and the exit of leading private channels helped the satellite sector grow,” Mihir Shah, VP at MPA, said in a statement.

The report suggested that until fiber-based broadband availability increases, satellite TV will be the key pay-TV driver. Total pay-TV revenue, including subscription and advertising, declined 10% in 2020 from 2019 to $8.9 billion as the economic downturn post-COVID eroded advertising.

As the pandemic threat declines and new content emerges, including live sports, consumer and economic sentiment will spearhead a sharp recovery in 2021, according to MPA. After a 25% contraction in 2020, pay-TV advertising will grow at 12% through 2025.

“We expect that more consolidation will play out in the broadcasting industry [forcing] incumbent broadcast networks to recalibrate existing channel portfolios,” Shah said. “The economics of less-popular channels and several niche channels are no longer viable. A new and less draconian regulatory framework will help revitalize content creation, while also helping to bolster pricing power for pay-TV platforms.”


Disney+ Tops 50% of Indian SVOD Subscriber Market

In the lucrative — and booming — Indian subscription streaming VOD market, Disney+ is beating industry veterans Netflix and Amazon Prime Video handily. New data from London-based research firm Omdia (formerly IHS Markit) finds the service accounted for 50% of all SVOD subs in India in 2020. India represents 30% of Disney’s 100+ million SVOD subs globally.

Online video subs revenue grew 142% primarily due to the global pandemic, with revenue rising from $265 million in 2019 to $639 million at the end of 2020. Disney+ Hotstar and Netflix accounted for 78% of the total online video subscription market revenue.

Disney acquired Indian digital platform Hotstar through its $71.3 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox assets two years ago.

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Over the past year, Disney+ Hotstar has tripled its subscriber base from 8 million to 25.6 million. This growth is partly down to the bundling of Disney+ and Hotstar, as well as the postponement of the start of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket from April to September as well as competitive pricing plans and exclusive rights to foreign content such as “Game of Thrones.”

Netflix India also grew its subscription base significantly, rising to 4.4 million, up from 2.4 million in 2019.

“The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the growth rate of an already dynamic and robust OTT market,” analyst Constantinos Papavassilopoulos said in a statement. “The basic elements that will propel the market to further growth in the near future are already there: very affordable mobile broadband prices, high penetration of smart-phones, a population eager to consume more content, an ever-growing investment in Indian originals and a plethora of choices with more than 40 OTT services operating in the country.”

Indeed, India is a market obsessed with mobile access to media. The world’s No. 2 population has more than 1.1 billion cellphone subscribers. Omdia says 82% of Indian online video services are accessed through smartphones, with only 39% accessing content through dedicated TV apps.

Disney+ Hotstar offers three content packages. The VIP plan (INR 399 per year) offers dubbed local language content, while Premium (INR 299 per month) offers both English and dubbed version of content. In terms of device access, the VIP plan only allows its subs to watch on one screen in HD while Premium plan allows subscribers to watch on two screens simultaneously in Full HD.

Separately, India was the launch site for Netflix’s first mobile-only SVOD plan, while Amazon bowed a $1.20 priced Prime Video plan. Lionsgate launched a branded SVOD service in India, dubbed Lionsgate Play, to go along with its Starz Arabia streaming service.

In 2021, Amazon and Netflix will continue their large investment in original Indian content, with the two services set to invest around $340 million, representing 52% of the total content investment. Omdia expects that close to 400 original titles (mostly series) will be produced this year by foreign and local Indian OTT services.

By offering affordable streaming plans and partnering with large telecoms such as Jio Reliance, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India, Omdia expects that mobile-only SVOD subscriptions will continue to grow over the next couple of years. However, these plans face increased challenges from traditional pay-TV services, which are aggregating OTT video with their core linear TV service.