Mumbai: Mubi Streaming Service Eyes India Expansion, Local Content Acquisitions

Mubi CEO Efe Cakarel with Mumbai Festival Team - H 2018
Khamkha Photo Artist

The prestige film streamer will enter a competitive marketplace as Netflix, Amazon and Fox's Hotstar all continue to up their investments in the world's second most populous nation.

India's growing streaming market will soon see a new player in specialist film service Mubi, which plans to launch in the country next year.

London-based Mubi bills itself as a “hand-curated” cinema service, offering a select 30 titles per month covering world cinema, arthouse, film classics and other prestige genres. Each day a new film is added to the 30, while the oldest one is removed.

Addressing a session at the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival, Mubi CEO Efe Cakarel said that 2019 is "when the company will begin its foray into South East Asia, starting with Malaysia, followed by India."

Mubi already has an Indian partner in Times Bridge, the investment arm of one of India's leading media companies, the Times Group. In January, Times Bridge took an unspecified ownership stake in Mubi.

Mubi also announced that Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (DriveThe Neon Demon), who had produced a new brand identity for the service last year, was also a strategic investor. Since 2016, Hong Kong-listed entertainment banner Huanxi Media Group, headed by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon co-producer Dong Ping, has also been an investor in the company.

As part of the company's global reach, Mubi's international service has been available to subscribers in India for $6.99 per month. But Cakarel explained that, in addition to world cinema, the Malaysia and India launch will also offer localized channels, "something we have never done before," he said.

"So there will be a Mubi Hindi channel and perhaps even in regional languages [such as South Indian language Tamil]," Cakarel explained. "And the concept would be the same, in that every day [for example], there will be a new Tamil film curated by local experts who know more about the industry here — at the heart of it, [our business model] is about content curation." The company is expected to begin acquiring digital rights to local Indian content in the lead-up to this localization push. 

Mubi will be entering a fiercely competitive landscape in India, as the dominant global and local streamers continue to vie for market share in the world's second most populous country. India's streaming market is dominated by Star India's Hotstar (a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox), with the three-year-old service boasting 150 million monthly active users, according to a recent report. Amazon has also aggressively entered the market, offering Indian customers attractive subscription rates and bundled packages for Prime users. Netflix is believed to occupy a third-place position, with its service viewed as quite expensive for many mainstream local consumers. 

Netflix's chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, was also in Mumbai for the film festival this week, touting bold expansion plans

Back when the Times Bridge investment was announced, Cakarel said, "In India, Mubi will seek out relationships with film festivals, local producers and emerging talent who are eager to tell new stories to a global audience."

On Sunday in Mumbai, he added: "We are ready for India, for which we have an amazing partner in Times Bridge, who have the local know-how." Cakarel did not divulge subscription prices or other details, which are expected to be revealed at launch.

As much as Mubi is a streaming service, the company is also very active in theatrical distribution, acquiring U.K. rights from Amazon Studios for Gus Van Sant's Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot and Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria.

Cakarel said, "At some point, we will also get into theatrical distribution in India as well." Meanwhile, to enhance its theatrical business, Mubi is also planning to open its own cinema in London. "Starting with London, Mubi plans to have a cinema of its own in every major city over the next two decades," said Cakarel.

The Mumbai Film Festival runs Oct. 25-Nov. 1.