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Amazon's Global Rollout of Prime Video a Game-Changer for India?

Streaming service features aggressive pricing and localized content

December 15, 2016 | Video

On Tuesday, Amazon Prime expanded its streaming video service to 200 countries in a move geared towards battling competitor Netflix on a global scale. (Notably absent from Amazon’s rollout was China, where Netflix abandoned its efforts in October, citing high regulatory hurdles.)

The ecommerce firm took pains to highlight its new Amazon Prime Video offerings in India, where CEO Jeff Bezos had earlier pledged investments totaling $3 billion.

In India, access to Amazon’s library of streaming content is being added on top of Amazon’s existing subscription service, which already offers customers expedited shipping for an annual price of INR999 ($15). In doing so, Amazon has undercut Netflix, which offers its basic subscription service for INR500 ($7) per month. That means that Amazon Prime customers can get their packages faster and stream movies on the ecommerce firm’s platform for a whole year for the same amount of money that Netflix charges for two months of service.

eMarketer’s recently released digital video viewing forecast projects that digital video viewership in India is low—only 11.8% of the population will stream or download video content monthly this year. But digital video viewers are expected to grow at a steady clip and increase from 178.1 million this year to 244.1 million in 2020. Amazon’s move is evidence that the market is too big to ignore.

Amazon’s path has been eased by the hands-off approach taken by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, a government regulator that has thus far not made any moves to censor any online content. That has allowed foreign operators like Amazon and Netflix to capitalize on existing content libraries without having to worry about running afoul of rules regarding profanity or sexuality, as they might in China.

In addition to its English-language offerings, Amazon has also taken pains to secure localized content, including several Bollywood titles, along with movies in Tamil, Telegu, Bengali and Marathi. Amazon has also replicated its efforts in the West to become a traditional content studio by partnering with Indian production companies. It promises to launch at least nine original series in various genres specifically for the market. The Times of India, citing industry observers, reported that Amazon had budgeted $300 million dedicated to programming produced specifically for India.

This sort of localization is a necessary step for any video-on-demand (VOD) service that seeks to establish itself in India. Amazon and Netflix are not competing with just one another, but also with existing VOD offerings from telecoms, studios and local television networks like Star, Zee Network and Eros International. Star’s VOD service, HotStar, charges just INR199 ($2) per month, and has a much more expansive library of content in regional languages like Bengali, Tamil and Gujarati to draw on. Some of these services have already seen early signs of success. Eros International’s Eros Now service, for instance, claimed 2 million paid subscribers as of early December.

A large VOD library might have major implications on Amazon’s other consumer business—ecommerce. Local players like Flipkart and Snapdeal now have the additional challenge of combating value-adds like Amazon Prime Video to entice digital buyers who have shown little platform loyalty, instead drawn to the lowest prices. It’s also possible that some of the exclusive streaming rights Amazon brokered for several Bollywood hits might draw in new ecommerce customers. Homegrown platforms have been watching their market share fall under Amazon’s expansion in India, and Amazon Prime Video’s launch is likely to hasten the process.

—Rahul Chadha

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