Amazon Prime Video could once again disrupt the Indian video streaming market
In July, Amazon Prime was launched in India. The loyalty program gives you access to offers before general users and free expedited shipping on items. It’s a pretty good package, but a Prime subscription in the US comes with various other perks, including access to the Prime Video streaming catalog, something that’s still “coming” to India.
We first heard that the service was supposed to launch around Diwali, with November 9 being the supposed last date, just 10 days after the festival. Either way, the launch is just around the corner and we think Amazon Prime Video could be a bigger disruptor in the Indian VoD market than even Netflix.
In January 2016, Netflix was launched in India and changed the market. What was once a dormant niche occupied by a handful of companies that didn’t really reach users has suddenly become a “hot” sector. TV channels have improved their offerings – one of which, Hotstar, is now one of our favorite services in the category – and the competition has started to heat up.
The market today
Studios such as Balaji Telefilms were wanted, announcing Alt Digital; Hooq, launched last year, is a joint venture between Sony Pictures, Warner Bros and Singtel.
Phone companies are also getting in on the act – Chinese phone maker LeEco has announced its “super entertainment” service, while Reliance’s video-on-demand service Jio, which launched as JioOnDemand and is now known as JioCinema, has a pretty good library.
Most of these apps have different limitations. Hotstar, for example, has a pretty good library of English content thanks to its parent company Star TV and a partnership with HBO. However, its interface is still full of bugs and there are some weird issues that crop up when you use the service. Most other channel-specific apps are limited by their catalogs, while others, such as Jio’s and LeEco’s offerings, are part of a larger package, and not something all users can subscribe to. subscribe – and their user interface is in desperate need of an overhaul.
Netflix, on the other hand, easily got the best user interface in the business, and thanks to its strong “Originals” lineup, a catalog that – for some viewers at least – is unbeatable. On the other hand, Netflix’s catalog is also its biggest limitation. It’s not a mainstream product – something that’s also reflected in its price. With a minimum of Rs. 500 per month (and Rs. 650 for HD streams), Netflix is two to three times more expensive than the competition. Shortly after launch, the Netflix team sat down with Gadgets 360 and said, “[Right now] users speak English, use an iPhone and hold a credit card. We are not a mass service.”
The landscape changes
The problem everyone in the business is facing right now is that the subscriber base is really small. It’s not something that’s officially talked about – the companies don’t really talk about their user base, or how many users actually choose to pay after their free trials end. It’s a pretty clear indicator that we’re looking at a small market, and conversations with the executives of many of these companies have reaffirmed the idea. The numbers are low and it is mostly the tech-savvy urban audience who sign up for these services.
In India at least, it is still very difficult to compete with the kind of prices offered by TV, especially when you take into account the cost of data, which most Indians cannot take for granted.
But data costs are falling. Call it the Jio effect, but today you can get 10GB of data from Airtel for Rs. 259. BSNL has promised to match Jio’s plans, while Vodafone is offering 10GB for the price of 1GB for new phones.
It is a process that will only continue; we will soon see the deployment of MVNOs, and although there is little clarity at the moment on how this will affect the telecommunications landscape for urban users, more operators means more competition and this generally means lower rates.
All of this means that Amazon is coming to market at a good time. Data is getting cheaper and phones are getting better. Our list of the best phones under Rs. 10,000 shows that you no longer need to break the bank to get a device that delivers a good experience.
The other problem is content. With the exception of Netflix and Hostar, none of the companies in this space have outstanding programming that you need the service for. One platform has The Flash as an exclusive and another has Arrow. Unless you’re a fan of a particular show, it can be hard to tell one from the other. Hotstar has a good range of HBO content, with shows such as Silicon Valley, Westworld and of course Game of Thrones easily justifying the Rs. 199 per month subscription.
Netflix, on the other hand, has its award-winning originals, ranging from dramas such as House of Cards to a growing collection of superhero shows made with Marvel. But Amazon also has its own original programming, like Man in the High Castle and Transparent, which has also won accolades. We have spoken to many companies in this space in India and they have told us that the problem with original programming is that it is very expensive.
If anyone can match Netflix on this front, it’s Amazon. In fact, while Netflix announced its first Indian Original series, based on Sacred Games, Amazon has already said it will premiere an anime series based on the hit movie Baahubali. And in addition to original programming from India, Amazon is also partnering with fast-paced Indian filmmakers. Amazon has partnered with Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, which will not only give him the rights to the existing catalog of films, but also early access to new films, which will be available to stream just one week after theatrical release. He also announced a partnership with Mahesh’s Vishesh Films and Arka Mediaworks’ Mukeh Bhatt and SS Rajmouli. Big names in the Indian film industry partner with Amazon almost every week. Amazon, along with Facebook and Twitter, is now also in the running for IPL broadcast rights.
Thus, access to data becomes less problematic and Amazon has enough content to stand out from the myriad of services. After seeing Amazon Prime Video in other markets, we can say that it doesn’t have the same UI/UX issues that many others suffer from as well. But it also has another advantage, which could go a long way, and that is the price.
In the rest of the world, Amazon includes Prime Video in your Prime subscription. You can get Prime Video separately in the US, but if you pay for Prime, you get Prime Video. For now, there is no reason to assume that this will not be the case in India as well. It’s not certain yet, but if that’s really the case, then even at the full price of Rs. 999 per year, you’re getting a Prime video for less than Rs. 100 per month. The current promotional rate of Rs. 499 is equivalent to less than Rs. 50 per month. And of course you get other benefits we mentioned earlier and expedited delivery and early/exclusive access to certain offers on Amazon India.
With this kind of pricing, you can see why Amazon focuses on Bollywood and cricket. Amazon is looking to create a truly consumer product, arriving at a time when mobile data rates are dropping, allowing it to reach far beyond the urban circles in which most VoD content is currently locked. For Amazon, it would also be a way to lock users into its e-commerce platform – as long as the price isn’t much different, wouldn’t you prefer the service which also gives you free next day delivery on your online purchases? line ?
For Amazon, Prime Video might just be part of its campaign against Flipkart, but for the rest of India’s VoD market, it’s going to be a game-changer.
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