Study: Indians Prefer Free Digital Content Over Paid Services Like Netflix, Amazon (Exclusive)

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A study by free internet provider Jana indicates that nearly 30 percent of Indian consumers in a sample survey plan to cancel paid video subscriptions over free content, with YouTube being the dominant platform of choice.

Since entering the Indian market, streaming giants Netflix and Amazon have made aggressive moves to capture subscribers in the world's second most populous country. A new study, however, reveals that Indians prefer to stream free content offered by the likes of YouTube over paid services.

The findings come from Boston-based Jana, which claims to be the largest provider of free internet in emerging markets through its mCent browser, in a study titled "Video Streaming Services Report."

For its report, Jana surveyed nearly 2,000 mCent users in India to determine consumer sentiment and trends across the streaming video landscape. The study found that 63.7 percent of surveyed users said they only stream free content from platforms like YouTube, MXPlayer and Fox's Star India network-backed digital platform Hotstar, which also offers a free ad-sponsored service in addition to a paid service which costs $13.87 per year.

Only 7.5 percent of users said they streamed more paid content than free content, while 9 percent said they streamed paid and free content about the same and 19.8 percent said they streamed more free content than paid content.

With 6 in 10 users preferring to only stream free content, Jana said its data showed that "the net impact of free content is poised to have a massive impact on paid subscription services with 29.1 percent of respondents saying they plan to cancel all premium services altogether."

YouTube leads the pack for free content in India for 78.1 percent of users, followed by MX Player garnering 57.5 percent. Hotstar's free ad-supported service came in third at 38.7 percent.

“Our study shows that along with increasingly affordable data rates in India, consumer consumption of video content is also on the rise," said Jana co-founder and CEO Nathan Eagle. He explained that with free content from YouTube, JioTV and MXPlayer, "we expect this will have a dramatic impact on premium subscriptions in both the long and short term, as millions are planning to ditch paid services altogether."

As for content preferences, movies and television shows dominated for 77.4 percent of users, with sports at 54.9 percent and kids and family content at 32.1 percent.

Sports has been a prime driver of traffic for Hotstar, thanks to the rights acquired by parent Star India for an array of events including cricket fixtures such as the World Cup and the lucrative Indian Premier League.

When users were asked which paid services they would subscribe to, Jana said Hotstar's premium service (which costs the same as Amazon Prime Video's annual subscription of $13.87) came out on top with 33.5 percent of the surveyed users, followed by JioTV (backed by Indian telecom giant Reliance Jio, which is yet to announce its premium subscription service) at 30.1 percent. Similarly, while YouTube Premium is still to launch in India, the service came in third as a preference at 26.3 percent.

Netflix, which offers monthly subscriptions starting at about $7 or roughly $83 per year, landed at the fourth spot with 24.5 percent of users, followed by Amazon at 20 percent.

Meanwhile, following its third-quarter earnings released Wednesday, in an earnings call with UBS analyst Eric Sheridan, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said that the company had seen "incredible success" in India following the launch of its first Indian originals Sacred Games and Ghoul and its first Bollywood movie acquisition, Love Per Square Foot.

During a visit to India in February, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings declared that the company's next 100 million subscribers would "come from India." When asked by Sheridan to elaborate on that point, Hastings said, "We’ll go from expanding beyond English into Hindi and then into many more languages, more pricing options, more bundling, all of those things are possible. There's over 300 million mobile phone subscriptions or households — that’s almost twice that in mobile phone subscription. So there's a huge market and people in India, like around the world, love watching television. Now, we’ll take one million [at a time] and figure out how to expand the market as we grow."

However, Netflix CFO David Wells cautioned that India is "going to be somewhat of a tough market. ... It's not going to be overnight where we're going to get to those higher numbers."

Looking ahead, according to a recent report by consultants KPMG India, India is expected to become the second-largest video-viewing audience globally and reach 500 million by 2020 from 250 million in 2017. The growth will be driven by rapidly increasing mobile penetration, increasing internet speeds, the advent of 4G and falling data charges.