How Netflix Plans to Grow in India by Becoming More Local

The streaming platform Netflix entered the Indian market in 2016 with high ambitions. Their aim is to have 100 million subscribers in the country. This case study dives into the strategy of localisation they adopted to achieve their goal, from the content they produce to the way they market it to the local population.

Investing in (differentiated) local content

Netflix has invested ₹3,000 crore (~ $400 million) to develop original content and license other content for the Indian market between 2019 and 2020.

Some of the ‘hits’ among their original content include Sacred Games, Delhi Crime, Love Per Square Foot and Dhamaka.

It’s unlikely that these stories would have been told without Netflix. Traditional production houses in Bollywood tend to stick to tried-and-tested plots to maximise their chances of succeeding at the box-office.

With its business model however, Netflix does not have this constraint and is able to make bets on more diverse stories. Also, Netflix is not subject to some of the stringent censorship in India. The country has strict regulations on film and TV, but not on streaming yet.

“With streaming services like Netflix, a lot of stories are being explored and told,”

Shefali Shah, the lead actor of Delhi Crime

Localising their product for the Indian market

To succeed in India, new entrants have to localise their offering beyond basic translation. It requires a deep understanding of the Indian consumers.

A major difference in Netflix’s offering for the Indian market is their pricing. Here’s how the pricing in India (left) compares to the pricing in the US (right):

In India, Netflix has a mobile plan because that’s how an important portion of the population consumes video content.

Other than the addition of the mobile plan, prices overall are much cheaper in India than in other major countries. India remains a price-sensitive market. Many of Netflix’s competitors rely on advertising to subsidise their lower pricing.

Netflix also localises its product by adding subtitles. While they’ve invested a significant amount in developing and licensing local content, dubbing foreign content to make them accessible has also been key.

Subtitles available in India for the TV show Money Heist

People are loving the dubbed content — they love watching the best content and franchises from across the world in the language of their choice. So, we are looking at more and more of our offerings actually being dubbed in Hindi and other local languages like Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. Just as we are investing in regional content — licensed and original regional content — we are also dubbing in these languages more and more.

Monika Shergill, Vice-President, Content, Netflix India

Adapting their marketing for the local context

Netflix India knows how to connect with their audience through marketing. Their following across social channels (at the time of writing) speaks for itself:

  • Facebook: 78M
  • Twitter: 1.4M
  • Youtube: 15.3M
  • Instagram: 5.5M

They released a whole series on YouTube called Aryan and Meera. It’s freely accessible on their channel but is not accessible on Netflix. Why would they do that? They get a portion of the 225 million YouTube users in India to experience Netflix content for free.

Netflix India’s most viewed video on Youtube is the music video Bachke Rehna featuring a unique collaboration of artists. It was created for the movie ‘Red Notice’ with Hollywood superstars Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds, though the song is not actually part of the movie. It was released purely for promotional purposes to generate hype.

Netflix also nails it when it comes to other forms of marketing such as TV advertising, influencer marketing & YouTube advertising. They demonstrated their savviness when promoting their series ‘Kota Factory’ depicting the life of IIT aspirants.

Hiring the best talents

Netflix is known for their culture and their capacity to hire the best talents. It has been written about in books such as No Rules Rule and Powerful.

It’s not different with their team in India. Also, it does not apply to just tech talent, but also their team of seasoned executives. They come with years of experience in the TV industry and extensive networks. They worked at companies such as Zee, Disney, Balajis Entertainment, Star and Sony.

A ‘fortunate’ timing

While Netflix has been very deliberate in their growth, timing also played a big factor. They entered the market in 2016 which is the year India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani introduced cheap data plans across the country with Jio.

In a country where data used to be very expensive, hundreds of millions were now connected to the internet for the first time. It represented a massive opportunity for internet companies such as Netflix in the country.

“The transformation of the Indian Internet is phenomenal. In hindsight, our business probably could not have worked five years ago,” said CEO Reed Hastings who qualified the timing as ‘fortunate’.

Opportunities and challenges in India

In 2019, out of a population of 1.3 billion, India had over 600 million Internet subscribers. That number is expected to grow to 900 million by 2025. The country is set to become the fastest-growing OTT market and the sixth-largest market by 2024.

However, Netflix is not the only streaming platform to see the opportunity in India. Other competitors have their eyes on what is soon to become a $5 billion video-on-demand market.

Netflix’s competitors include the likes of Disney+, Hotstar, Apple TV+, and local players like MX Player, ZEE5 and ALTBalaji. Many of these competitors offer streaming at a much cheaper price point than Netflix which is considered a more premium offering in the market. And unlike Netflix, some of them have other attractive offerings such as live sports programming and news.

Beyond the fierce competition, India is a notoriously difficult market to succeed in.

India, we are still figuring things out. And so that investment takes some guts and belief forward-looking.

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix

Despite these challenges, will Netflix reach their objective of having 100 million subscribers in India? With a clear focus on localisation, a history of execution excellence, and a market that is growing fast, there are many reasons to think so.

Sources: MIT Sloan, The Hindu, Business Insider, Fortune, The Motley Fool, The Wall Street Journal