Netflix to Invest $400M in Indian Content Over Two Years, CEO Reed Hastings Says

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

While not sharing the streaming giant's subscriber numbers in India, he said it was still "early days" for Netflix in the country.

Netflix has big plans for India, with CEO Reed Hastings saying Friday that the streaming video giant will spend $400 million on Indian content for 2019 and 2020. This will cover both originals and licensed content.

Hastings did not provide details on any new shows in the pipeline even though the streamer has previously unveiled multiple projects, both series and films, which are at various stages of development.

Speaking at the HT Leadership Summit in capital New Delhi, organized by the Hindustan Times newspaper, Hastings also did not reveal the number of Netflix's Indian subscribers, only admitting that "these are early days." During an earlier visit to India last year, Hastings had said that Netflix's next 100 million subscribers will be "coming from India" given the fast growth of internet connectivity and usage in the country. Industry analysts at Media Partners Asia estimate that Netflix will close 2019 with about 2 million subscribers in India.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Hastings on Friday also revealed that some of the Indian content on the platform is finding wider acceptance beyond India, among its global audience of nearly 160 million subscribers as of the end of September.

He cited, for example, Indian animated children's show Mighty Little Bheem, which he said has been viewed by 27 million households outside of India.

"The next 5-10 years will be the golden age of television," Hastings said. He added: "You are seeing unbelievable and unrivaled levels of investment. Partially from the global companies like Apple, Amazon, Disney and Viacom. There are all investing here in India as well as in the U.K. and the U.S. We are seeing more content made than ever before. It's a great export."

Since its launch in India in 2016 as part of its global rollout in 190 countries, Netflix has been building up its local slate, starting with its first Indian original Sacred Games, which was recently nominated in the International Emmy Awards. "Sacred Games traveled all over the world," Hastings said about the underworld drama, which is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Vikram Chandra.

Similarly, he pointed at Delhi Crime, directed by Richie Mehta, which was based on the police investigations behind the real-life brutal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in 2012. "Some people said we shouldn’t tell that story, but we’re really committed to artistic freedom," he said.

In a bid to take on competitors Amazon Prime and Disney's Hotstar, in July, Netflix launched a mobile-only plan for India priced at $2.80 (199 rupees) per month, the first time the streamer has launched such a low-price scheme anywhere in the world. The plan was a cheaper option to Netflix's existing subscription prices, which start at $7 (500 rupees) per month for its basic service. By contrast, Amazon and Hotstar offer an annual premium service for $14 (999 rupees).

"If we have amazing content from around the world, people are willing to pay for that," Hastings said Friday, referring to the company's mobile-only plan for India. "In the U.S., cable television costs about $75. Here [in India] it’s about $3-$5," he said. "In the U.S., people pay $50 for mobile phone access. Pricing is very low here, and the market is very large. That’s why our 199 rupees a month pricing is very competitive."

Hastings also touched on the issue of self-regulation of content on streaming platforms in India, which has been the topic of ongoing discussions with the government, though a final policy is yet to be formalized.

"I think every country is wrestling with some aspects of the internet," Hastings said. "Some people think that the broadcast standards should be applied to YouTube or Netflix or Amazon, but it doesn’t really make sense." He explained that unlike TV, online streaming content isn’t "pushed into everybody’s home" and argued out that the "most pragmatic approach" would be to self-regulate content.

Netflix has ruffled some feathers in India with its envelope-pushing content, especially Sacred Games, which is still battling a legal case over allegedly "harming the reputation" of late Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

"With entertainment, there’s always going to be some controversy," Hastings said, but emphasized that Netflix’s agenda is "to try to be better than anyone else to please you. It’s our job to earn your viewing."