India's Eros to Add Original Series to Streaming Service as Netflix Launch Looms

ErosNow press conference - H 2015
Courtesy of Eros

With Netflix reportedly planning a launch next year, ErosNow will offer first-run movies and original content, including the remake of an as-yet-unnamed U.S. sitcom.

Indian entertainment major Eros International has officially launched a marketing campaign for its digital video service ErosNow, which has over 19 million registered users, and announced plans to add original programming amid the looming launch of Netflix in the country.

Eros plans to spend roughly $10 million on the marketing campaign to convert ErosNow viewership from free to paid. Recent and popular films will start requiring a charge, while some library content will remain free. The launch comes at a time when Netflix is reportedly planning an India launch next year.

The Eros catalog includes more than 3,000 films from Hindi language Bollywood to regional language cinema. ErosNow – which is available via internet-connected devices including laptops, tablets and smartphones – will premiere one of the year’s biggest hits, romantic comedy Tanu Weds Manu Returns, on July 19. Starring Kangana Ranaut, the film will first premiere online before airing on TV. Later in the year, other recent releases from the Eros catalog will also premiere on the service, such as Badlapur, NH10, Shamitabh and Happy Ending.

ErosNow also unveiled its first set of original productions, which include a co-production with Slumdog Millionaire actor Anil Kapoor's banner for the “Indian adaptation of a popular international sitcom,” according to a statement. The actor's Anil Kapoor Film Company earlier produced the first Indian adaptation of Fox's 24, with Kapoor playing the Indian version of Jack Bauer, which aired on Viacom18's Colors channel. Its second season will return later this year. AKFC also recently announced a film co-production pact with Richard Branson's Virgin Produced India.

The ErosNow originals include cricket sports drama Khel and action-thriller The Client, starring Bipasha Basu and directed by Bollywood filmmaker Rohan Sippy. Also included in the lineup is South Indian Tamil-language period drama Ponniyin Selvan.

“Through the Eros Now platform, we can further consolidate our leadership position and reinvent ourselves from a film studio to a more consumer-facing content and digital company in the next phase of our growth,” said Eros International group CEO and managing director Jyoti Deshpande.

ErosNow has already impressed Wall Street observers. Macquarie Securities analyst Tim Nollen, who has an “outperform” rating on the stock, said in a recent report: “ErosNow is the real story here. Registered users have grown from 14 million last quarter to 19 million now, of which over 15 million are in India and 3.5 million around the world.”

Explaining how ErosNow plans to monetize its service, Nollen added: “Initially Eros expects to monetize users through transactional one-off sales a la iTunes, with films costing from 5-20 rupees (7.8 cents-31 cents), and to supplement this with ad revenues. Eventually the goal is to convert transactional users and free viewers into monthly subscribers a la Netflix. Such premium subs will get ad-free content and other benefits like device portability.”

India seems a fertile market for online video given that Internet penetration and mobile connectivity are increasing rapidly, with 4G services also launching soon. According to a recent industry report by consultancy 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.
Additionally, India's total mobile subscriber base is currently at about 970 million, and the 1 billion user mark could be reached by the end of 2015, according to figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. India is the second-largest mobile market in the world after China, which has 1.27 billion users.
Last month, VOD service Hooq launched in India, 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 banners. The service is offered at a monthly price of $3.20 (199 rupees).