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Amazon Prime Video India - Stubborn On Vision

If one thought Amazon Prime Video India was just a video streaming service, the company’s recent efforts such as foraying into film production, launching a video streaming marketplace, venturing into live cricket, in addition to creating diverse, widely accessible content that resonates with cultural moments, highlight how the five-year-old service in India is actively shaping the future of media and entertainment in its signature ‘stubbornly flexible’ way.

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“We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.” Jeff Bezos had made this comment, articulating the Amazon spirit. This spirit is also evident in the big tech company’s video streaming service, Amazon Prime Video. At a time, when Netflix co-founder, president and co-CEO Reed Hastings commented that the lack of success in the Indian market is “frustrating”, Amazon Prime Video India’s bullishness on the market vividly stands out. And numbers indicate this optimism is well placed.  

There are over 200 million Prime members worldwide, and India is one of the company’s fastest-growing markets. Specific to Prime Video, a 2021 Media Partners Asia (MPA) report shows that in India, Disney Plus Hotstar has 51 million subscribers, Prime Video, which is a pureplay subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service has 22.3 million subscribers and Netflix that operates in the same space has 6.1 million subscribers. With its different plans and a large member base, Prime Video receives viewership from 99 per cent of the country’s pin codes.  

The India Play 
The MPA report also indicated that video streaming revenue will grow from its current level of $1.9bn in 2021 to around $4.5bn by 2026. While advertising video-on-demand is expected to pull in more revenue than SVOD, the latter will grow from its current $0.8bn in 2021 to $2.1bn in 2026. 

“OTT will continue to grow in India in 2022. I expect subscription revenue to be a key growth driver and reach $1bn within a year or two. The emergence of regional products shows the depth of OTT acceptance,” observes Ashish Pherwani, EY India, Media & Entertainment Leader. 

India currently has around 102 million SVOD subscriptions, 80 million of these coming from the top three, but this number is estimated to grow to 224 million by 2026. The headroom for growth is evident. 

“After five years of significant investment, India continues to be one of Prime Video’s fastest-growing global markets. Our success has been primarily due to a strategic focus on local tastes and culture, providing India with a blockbuster slate of locally produced Original content, popular live sports and a wide array of licensed programming. Our customers’ broad adoption and enthusiastic response have been incredibly gratifying as India scales to become one of the biggest video streaming markets worldwide,” comments Mike Hopkins, Senior Vice President, Prime Video & Amazon Studios. 

Defining the Opportunity 
From a handful to over 40 video streaming players in a matter of a couple of years is not a concern for Gaurav Gandhi, Country Head, Amazon Prime Video India. On the contrary, he views this as proof of the market size. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, where everyone is playing a role in shaping the future of entertainment and content consumption. In five years, there will be as many people streaming video as they are watching TV.” 

Echoing Hopkins’ point, Gandhi cites Prime Video’s multidimensional play that is not restricted by genre, format, language or region and aims to super-serve different customer segments and sub-segments, as an important factor that makes it the “service of choice in the world of unicast”.  

“There is competition, and there is collaboration. This space is more about the latter. When we launched Prime Video Channels, our video entertainment marketplace, some could say that we were essentially partnering with competition. However, we are building a market segment and a category; customers want diverse content, and we are here to provide access to that. This is not a zero-sum game. It’s too early to write report cards, and there is immense headroom for growth. But yes, we have had a good start,” says Gandhi.  

Content, Content, Content 
When ‘Inside Edge’ hoardings marked the first Amazon India Original in 2017, the excitement was palpable. Back then, Prime Video was looking at a non-existent ecosystem. A lot of work had already gone behind the scenes even before its big moves were evident to people. 

“When we entered the market, the first point was to solve multiple consumer needs parallelly. This was important because the opportunity in India was large, diverse and unique; and the market was multicultural, heterogeneous and complex. Unless different aspects were tackled together, we would not be able to effectively cater to consumer needs. From an Amazon viewpoint, everything we do is customer backwards,” explains Gandhi.  

Content, therefore, is primary in Prime Video India’s five-pillar growth strategy. Identifying the white spaces, original content became an area of priority. Gandhi says, “India never really had premium TV content because of the way our pay-TV segment was structured. Prime Video focused on this opportunity right from the start.” Prime Video already has released more than 35 Indian original series and has 70 more in development. 

“We believe stories ignite passion and help create a sense of community. There is no rule-book to creating or commissioning great content; good stories can come from anywhere. We call ourselves story-chasers, always open to listening to new ideas. There are however some key tenets that guide our decision-making,” says Aparna Purohit, Head – India Originals, Amazon Prime Video India. 

Purohit counts authenticity at the top of her list. She elaborates, “Customers are evolving and know their preferences. The only way to cut across the noise is to tell authentic stories. Second, we want to enable and back creators on their dream projects. We ensure that our characters are well-etched out and every character has their story arcs. Finally, we believe in casting for the characters. This has helped us develop new talent. Over 50 per cent of our released slate has fresh talent. This investment in the creative economy helps the entire ecosystem.” 

License, Create, Collaborate 
Within content, the second whitespace was on the film's side. Gandhi points out that even though India loves cinema, there are only around 9000 screens serving a billion-plus people. He says, “India is heterogeneous with multiple language segments to cater to. Therefore, we have focussed on programming our service in 10 languages. One of the opportunities was to make Prime Video the  ‘Theatre at home’, and with that expanding storytellers’ reach significantly and bringing content to people’s screen of choice.”  

“It’s no surprise that films are a hook that draws in subscribers and keeps us true to our position as India’s most loved entertainment destination,” adds Manish Menghani, Head - Content Licensing, Amazon Prime Video India. 

The pandemic served as a growth trigger in this context. “Building on our promise to our customers, we pivoted quickly to premiere films directly on our service as the theatres were shut during the pandemic. These premieres gave huge reach to great content not just in India, but around the world ” 

In the past two years, Prime Video has premiered over 50 movies across six Indian languages. Narappa (Telugu), Sarpatta Parambarai (Tamil) and Malik (Malayalam) were watched in over 3200 cities in India, and over 150 countries within weeks of release. ‘Jai Bhim’ was watched in more than 4100 Indian cities and 210 countries. ‘Shershaah’ too saw viewership in 4100 Indian cities, as well as, in more than 210 countries. “The audience’s acceptance and love for these films was an eye-opener on how ready Indian audiences are to experience content across languages and how well Indian content can travel outside the country,” Meghani remarks. 

Prime Video also ventured into film production last year. Gandhi says, “India is an ‘and’ market, and not an ‘or’ market. While film production was a natural extension in our journey of backing great stories, we will continue to work deeply with partners on licencing films.” 

Reaching & Resonating 
If ‘content’ was numero uno on Prime Video’s agenda, ensuring it reaches audiences follows closely behind. “Ease of access is critical to our strategy,” reflects Gandhi, adding, “This needed us to provide not only ubiquitous coverage across every home and personal screen, but also subscriber-friendly Prime plans that people could buy from Amazon or our partners. And ease of access is also about localisation in its truest sense.” 

EY India’s Pherwani also points out that innovative bundling with both telco and non-telco products as well as pricing and packaging innovations will be key as platforms aim to grow the OTT subscriber base.  

“Our definition for access is also about control on data-usage when viewing on-the-go, smarter curated content recommendations that make it easy to discover exactly what viewers want to watch. We deliver access through device coverage, including smart TVs, mobile devices, Fire TV, Fire TV stick, Fire tablets, Apple TV, set-top boxes and multiple gaming devices. We also work closely with partners to further improve access to Prime Video,” explains Sushant Sreeram, Head - SVOD Business, Amazon Prime Video India. 

In its bid to be available to all, Prime Video also pioneered a global first mobile-only plan, Prime Video Mobile Edition, which it launched with Airtel as its first partner. Prime Video Mobile Edition is now launched in other countries as well. For Airtel, this partnership was in line with its vision of democratising digital entertainment. “The exclusive launch of Prime Video Mobile Edition was focused on providing affordable and convenient access to high-quality content to Indian consumers. This partnership has been a win-win for both partners, offering a differentiated proposition for Airtel customers and a big distribution fillip for Prime Video into smartphone youth across the pop-strata of the country,” says Shashwat Sharma, Chief Marketing Officer, Bharti Airtel. 

The third pillar of the strategy is around the art of presenting content, thereby capturing the cultural zeitgeist. “Our marketing strategy mirrors the ongoing journey of our service offerings, evolving with our widening and deepening content slate across the spectrum. Our approach has evolved over the years and we now focus on building fandom and establishing a deeper and a more emotional connect with our audience,” adds Sreeram. 

Stronger, Together 
Prime Video’s partnerships and collaborations with the industry are seen in different ways. Incidentally, this fourth pillar is about enabling the creative economy. While backing content creators was one way, the other way was Prime Video Channels, the video streaming marketplace. 

“From a customer’s viewpoint, as part of Prime, we will programme content across different genres and languages, but we cannot programme for everything. Our Channels proposition super-serves customers, while giving our partners access to our large customer base. Prime Video’s vision is to be the world’s favourite entertainment brand, and the first-choice entertainment hub globally,”  says Gandhi. 

“Our aim with Prime Video Channels is to collaborate with like-minded partners to grow the subscription video streaming ecosystem while solving key consumer pain points. Prime Video Channels acts as an intermediary, providing access to content from different streaming services, addressing customers’ need for a hassle-free entertainment experience, and friction-free add-on subscriptions. We partner with like-minded services that share our zeal to create outstanding content and ambition to flag off the new content revolution,” adds Chaitanya Divan, Head - Prime Video Channels, Amazon Prime Video India. 

The Category Builder 
“Prime Video’s evolution in India has been one of the pivotal factors in driving the growth of the online SVOD ecosystem in India as well as being a catalyst for the growth of differentiated premium regional or vernacular programming online. Its success has also enabled creators and producers to access potentially large audiences in international markets. Emphasis on local regional originals, foray into sports and deeper platform partnerships will further enable Prime Video to spread its wings in India,” says Vivek Couto, Executive Director, Media Partners Asia. 

Prime Video, like its peers, had dealt with a myriad of challenges in its journey so far. Even as there was immense creativity, the Indian content creators hadn’t made limited series with episodic storytelling of cinematic value. “We had to build a new market segment, working with writers, creators, talent and convince them why this was a road worth travelling,” recalls Gandhi.  

Perhaps the biggest challenge was transitioning from an ad-supported market and getting people to pay for content on a continued basis. To that, Gandhi avers, “People say India is price-conscious, but really, India is value-conscious. Indian viewers have always paid for their content. The challenge was to create differentiation, appeal, and a convincing sense of value. And have a sustained cadence of exclusive content, so people see long-term value. Besides catering to the language diversity, we had to also factor in tastes and preferences within the ‘family’. It’s about creating and curating a network of diverse programming and super-serving customer segments with content that they love.  Making every decision beginning with the customer defines our present, and our future.” 

Amazon Prime Video India’s approach so far has indeed paid off. Whether it is in its overarching strategy or the detailing of the specifics, Prime Video did not impose its global playbook but adapted to Indian viewers’ demand gaps.  

While the result can be seen in its content, in its growing subscriber base and their engagement with the service, in Prime Video’s partnerships and collaborations, and also in the areas that it counts as critical in its growth plan, there are some areas that it would need to focus on to realise its ambition in the Indian market. 

Some would say, the service’s current plan to remain subscription-only leaves out a big opportunity on the table – especially given the large and growing ad-supported market in India. 

Even as Prime Video has already dabbled in extremely competitive and expensive sports content such as cricket, its bets are still on the safer side, unlike the aggression seen by its competition like Disney + Hotstar in this category. Its continuous move to augment its content library will need Amazon Prime Video to constantly keep its eyes on the ball, more than some of its peers such as Zee5 or even Sony Liv that are affiliated with more established broadcast and content businesses in India. Arguably, this sector has already extracted the low-hanging fruits. The road from here only promises to be more arduous.  

This being said, backed by the surge in the OTT space itself, and the role this space is playing in growing the Indian media and entertainment industry, while contributing to other sectors, thereby creating larger jobs and other opportunities, the time is right for a streaming service like Amazon Prime Video to grow alongside the Indian creative economy, creating a true win-win outcome for all stakeholders. And as Amazon would say, it is Day-1 for the creative revolution in a digital-first India.