Amazon Prime to Announce India Launch

AE DIL HAI MUSHKIL Still - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Dharma Productions

Amazon's entry into the India market was expected, following the streaming giant's recent pacts with several Bollywood studios.

Amazon Prime Video is set to make an announcement Wednesday about the launch of its online streaming service in India.

The Mumbai press conference – which will announce the launch date of the service – will feature Amazon senior executives including India country head Amit Agarwal, Amazon Prime Video India director and country head Nitesh Kripalani, Amazon Prime Video international vp Tim Lesley and head of content, Asia Pacific James Farrell. Also expected at the event are Bollywood filmmakers Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti, Sujoy Ghosh and Pradeep Sarkar, along with the founders of well-known comedy collective All India Bakchod, in addition to reps from some film banners, such as Phantom Films and Abundantia.

Amazon's entry into the Indian SVOD market was expected. It follows a slew of local content deals with leading Indian film studios including Dharma Productions, Vishesh Films and T-Series for a mix of new and catalog titles. Amazon has not yet announced any original local content productions, though there have been unconfirmed local rumors that the company is looking to produce Indian content in-house.

Amazon's Prime Video will take on Netflix, which launched in India in January, in a growing VOD market that already has several strong players, including ErosNow, owned by India's Eros International film group; Hotstar, backed by 21st Century Fox's Star India network; Sony Entertainment Television's Sony Liv; and Viacom18 India's Voot.

Competition also comes from Hooq, backed by Warner Bros., Sony Pictures and Singapore telecom giant Singtel. The ad-free service includes Hollywood content from Sony, Warner, Disney, DreamWorks and Miramax, along with Indian content from leading Bollywood banners.

Eros International CFO and president of North America Prem Parameswaran has welcomed the international competition on the VOD market, noting that Western streamers are targeting a different audience than home-grown services.

"To us, Netflix is a friend, not a foe," he told the audience at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York last week. "They are really more focused on Western content, which we respect.” But he also pointed out that the market is driven by local fare, as “Indians really want Bollywood content.”

Netflix's Indian service, which costs around $8 per month, is also much more expensive than the Bollywood-focused Eros Now, whose 1.32 million subscribers pay between 75 cents to $1.50 a month.

Commenting on Amazon, Parameswaran said that while it is “a great company," he acknowledged, “they are also a tough competitor.”

Netflix's India content offerings also include a mix of independent arthouse, some mainstream Bollywood and other regional language films. The company recently announced its first local series, Sacred Games, a co-production with leading filmmaker Anurag Kashyap's Phantom Films.

Amazon's initial local content, based on the licensing pacts it has announced so far, reflect a more mainstream sensibility. Prominent titles include Dharma's recently released Ae Dil Hai Mushkilfeaturing Bollywood stars Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Anushka Sharma and Ranbir Kapoor.

India seems a fertile market for VOD uptake, given that internet penetration and mobile connectivity are increasing rapidly. According to a recent industry report by consultants KPMG India, the country had about 280 million internet users in 2014, with growth largely spurred by the increasing penetration of smartphones (116 million in 2014). The report predicts that India will reach 640 million Internet users by 2019.