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September 05, 2017

How Netflix Came To The Rescue Of Content Lovers In India

Text by Tina Dastur

Jessica Lee, vice president of communications, Netflix Asia, tells us about online properties overtaking the television in the race to win the crown for video content

Today, we live in the age of information and technology. Given the rate at which video entertainment is being ravenously consumed, it is hardly surprising that the digital space is rivalling television in terms of popularity. After all, who wants to wait a whole week for a new episode when one can simply binge-watch an entire series online in a matter of days? And this is exactly where a property like Netflix steps in. Be it movies or TV shows, Netflix has revolutionised the way we watch video content today. In fact, what makes the company so sought after is its wide gamut of original content. From movies like War Machine and Okja (both 2017) to a host of shows like Narcos, House of Cards and The Crown, Netflix offers its viewers the world over the opportunity to be a part of more current experiences. Even though Netflix India commands the steepest monthly subscription amongst the many internet television networks that have now sprouted, it remains the most popular, thanks to its content.

To understand more about how Netflix has completely changed the manner in which us millennials consume video content, we chatted with Jessica Lee, vice president of communications, Netflix Asia.

Excerpts from the interview:

How has Netflix revolutionised the way we watch video content?
“People around the world love television content, but they don’t love the linear TV experience, where channels present programmes only at particular times, one episode at a time, on non-portable screens, not to mention, the shows not launching in all countries at the same time. What has changed significantly is how quickly content is consumed when you give consumers more control over their experiences.

When Netflix introduced its shows (with all episodes at once), starting with House of Cards, it not only broke the industry mould, but changed the course for how viewers interact with the television. Today, Netflix Original series, films and documentaries premiere on Netflix globally at the same time, whether it’s Narcos, Luke Cage or The Crown. This means that all Netflix members have access to a new title simultaneously.

In the age of the internet, geography increasingly has no boundaries, and with it, there is no more waiting. A consumer used to have to spend months following a TV series to completion, but now, we see Indians finishing a series in just three days (at a faster pace than the rest of the world; the global average is four days). These include Narcos, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Jessica Jones and Bloodline. The most devoured genre in India is sci-fi. From watching exclusively on a television or through a set-top box, consumers today can watch something on practically any internet-connected device they want, whether it’s the TV, iPad, mobile phone or PlayStation. From mass programming, entertainment is moving towards personalised experiences curated for each individual viewer.”

What do you think it is that makes Netflix so popular as an online player?
“We are touching a pool of consumers in India with a great passion for diverse entertainment, and one of our key offerings is having great stories for everyone. We offer global original shows from Stranger Things and The Crown to more mainstream, star-driven Indian films that have wide appeal (for e.g., our Shah Rukh Khan titles or recent acquisitions like Dangal (2016) and Baahubali (2015)) and independent films, where we work directly with film-makers in India to bring their personal vision to the world. Then there is comedy, which is definitely a popular genre in India. Netflix continues to thrive as a hub for top original comedy specials, including recent specials from Russell Peters, Ali Wong, Aziz Ansari, Chris Tucker, Hasan Minhaj and Dave Chappelle.

It turns out that the characteristics of internet experiences – putting the consumer in control, rapid innovation, constant quality improvements and a highly personalised experience – are the same things that consumers want in their entertainment experience. We know more consumers today are increasingly likely to pay for an entertainment-based internet service like Netflix.”

What are the advantages of a media streaming channel like Netflix?
“With Netflix, consumers can enjoy their favourite stories at home and on-the-go, when and how they want, without advertisements, on over 1,500 internet-connected devices, and at an affordable price.

We also want to have the most compelling video experience for our members around the world, which is why we work with creators and the entire value chain to advance the quality of video storytelling as quickly as we can. We have led with 4K and now with HDR, and plan to enhance the process further to provide more immersive stories for our members.

Our smarter personalisation and discovery tools help consumers discover content that they will love, tailored to their unique tastes and preferences. Netflix also invests in technology to deliver buffer-free video seamlessly around the world. We offer downloading, data controls and mobile video encodes, all of which help consumers manage their data and avoid unnecessary expenses.”

Which are some of India’s most-loved Netflix Originals series?
“Some of the most popular Netflix Originals in India are the same shows that Netflix members around the world enjoy, namely Narcos, House of Cards, Daredevil, Luke Cage, The Crown, Stranger Things and Master of None. As a global platform, we see great stories travelling across regions. This spells a huge opportunity for Indian content creators we work with, to bring their stories to the world in a similar way.”

On an average, how many individuals subscribe to Netflix every month globally?
“We closed Q2 2017 with 104 million members globally, with the larger chunk coming from outside America.”

What has Netflix done for its viewer base to enhance the overall experience?
“At our end, we are constantly innovating to enhance our member experience. An outcome of that is how we enabled the offline viewing experience when we offered the download feature last year. Now, users can enjoy their shows on-the-go or when they do not have access or have poor access to the internet. Overall, India is one of our heaviest users of this download feature.

We have also been enhancing viewing quality on mobile phones, particularly in places where connectivity is intermittent. The new mobile encodes which we are rolling out in the coming months enable users to stream good picture quality content even on bandwidths as low as 100 to 200 kbps speed and watch over 25 hours of Netflix on just a 2GB data plan. We also have a mobile data saver feature on the app that lets users control how much data they want to use when streaming on cellular networks.

At an infrastructure level, we are investing aggressively in our own content-delivery network, which lowers costs and boosts efficiency for us and our Internet Service Providers (ISP).”

Does Netflix India currently have a plan in place to expand its local content?
“For 2017, our global content budget is USD 6 billion for both original and licensed content. We will reach over 1,000 hours of original content globally this year, which is about 400 original TV series and films, including those from India.

We want to become a leading producer and distributor of high-quality Indian content. This year, we have been doubling down on Indian investment, looking to curate a compelling content library encompassing original and licensed titles. On the Originals front, we are focused on finding great Indian stories – not just for Indians, but for the world. Sacred Games is our first announced Indian Original series; and partnering with a top studio like Phantom Films speaks about the kind of quality we are looking at. We recently announced two other Indian Originals, Selection Day and Again. Another area is top-quality local stand-up Originals with, for example, Vir Das and Aditi Mittal.

On locally licensed content, we already have partnerships with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment and Viacom. We are also continuously growing our local content offerings. Today, Netflix members can watch local content in several languages on Netflix, including Piku (2015), Dhanak (2016), Placebo (2014) in Hindi; The Good Road (2013) in Gujarati; Sairat (2016) and Court (2014) in Marathi; Anhey Ghorhey Da Daan (2011) in Punjabi; and Kothanodi (2015) in Assamese.

Earlier this year, we announced partnership deals with Airtel, Videocon and Vodafone. These partnerships will help Netflix infiltrate the diverse Indian market better. Together, Airtel Digital TV, Videocon and Vodafone make up millions of users, and teaming up with them will make it much easier for Indian consumers to watch Netflix, whether on a TV or a mobile phone or through a set-top box.”

How are Indian consumers engaging with Netflix?
“Watching together is fast becoming a habit in India, with 79 per cent of surveyed couples saying streaming is a way to spend time together. The ability to stream or download their favourite series and films anywhere, on any device, is also changing how Indians consume entertainment. India is clearly a nation of commute streamers. Indians are 82 per cent more likely to stream at 9 a.m., a behaviour that continues on the ride back home in the evenings too. In fact, peak streaming time in India is 5 p.m.

An interesting trend in India is that while 31 per cent of members sign up on mobile devices, we find that their viewing habits move from mobile to TV six months later. In comparison, while sign-ups on TV are lower, at 12 per cent, within six months that viewing behaviour grows to about 32 per cent. This shows that consumers are taking advantage of the flexibility that Netflix offers, wherein they are allowed to watch on multiple devices, depending on their preference and convenience.”

Where does Netflix see itself going in the next few years and how does it plan to stay relevant?
“We are focused on three things: content, technology and partnerships. Ultimately, our goal is to deliver a service that makes people want to watch Netflix rather than anything else. Delivering that means we have to constantly focus on making it better. For example, better personalisation, a better streaming experience and continuing to add new movies and TV shows people will love.”

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