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We Are Customer-obsessed: Gaurav Gandhi, Country Head, Amazon Prime Video India

Everything at Amazon is customer backwards and this is true for Prime Video as well. Gaurav Gandhi, Country Head, Amazon Prime Video India points out that the word to note is ‘obsessed’ because every investment the company makes, and every decision it takes, is to super-serve diverse customer segments in India, making world-class entertainment available to all.

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Gaurav, it has been an interesting five years for Amazon Prime Video in India. The pandemic really pushed the sector forward that you benefitted from, but what are some changes that you see from here?
There is no doubt that people are shifting to streaming. In the next five years, there will be as many people streaming video as there would be watching TV. There is enough evidence to show that once people get into streaming, it quickly becomes a habit - driven by enhanced choice and convenience.

Some aspects in this context are especially important to note. Language barriers, for example, are increasingly disappearing in content consumption. We saw great signs of that in the last two years, and this has also led to talent crossing over, which is the case both internationally and domestically. Video-on-demand is becoming a medium of choice for content creators, actors, producers and everyone in the ecosystem. When we started,  we had to pitch the streaming story  – and now they are all putting streaming and on-demand services front and centre in their plans as they look at their next roster of work. 

What also excites me is that Indian content is breaking through internationally. We are seeing 20 per cent of our shows and movies’ consumption coming from outside the country. Our movies are being watched in over 180 countries and territories. In effect, we are not just giving Indian content creators access to a global audience but also enabling wide recognition. I believe we are at the cusp of that big breakthrough moment for Indian content to become mainstream globally. 

There is still a conversation about whether people in India pay for content. We believe the opportunity is very big but we have to show people the value. Once you do that, there is a buy-in, and it is a given that paid streaming is increasingly becoming mainstream in India. 

Finally, we have to remember segmentation is here to stay. It is not fragmentation. On the contrary, it defines how a service wants to super-serve customers. Streaming services will have more segmented offerings as we go forward. Long term view on who are your target customers and what do you want to program to entertain them is very important.

I agree with you that the sector is on a growth trajectory and when it becomes a habit, it will always be an option. However, theatres have opened up, how does it impact some of the moves you were making in the last year, such as the big-ticket movie releases?
Let me quote an example here to explain this. Last year in January, we launched the film ‘Master’ and this January we launched the film ‘Pushpa’. Both these films were in the theatres and then came on Prime Video, and both films ended up being immensely popular on the service (just like they were in the theatres). India is an ‘and’ market and not an ‘or’ market. This is a place where free TV is growing, and pay TV is growing, free VOD (ad-supported) is growing, and SVOD is growing. Similarly, theatres have a role and that will continue and streaming has a big role which will continue to grow.  

We have proven with streaming that we bring tremendous reach to content. For our local language direct-to-service releases  - Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, over 50% of the viewing has come from outside the home states. And then there is an audience internationally as well.  Both will have a role to play as we go forward. Whether it is theatre-first or OTT-first, both models will thrive. We must understand that on streaming platforms, any kind of cinema can come and scale. Customers give it as much love & respect and with a much larger viewership base - which in turn builds more confidence for creators and talent in what streaming services can do for their content.

Streaming is no longer niche -  it goes deep in the country. While each streaming service is playing its role, together we are defining a new chapter in the history of entertainment in India.  We invest in streaming rights of films, and that helps producers create more movies, which is then made available to customers through variety of distribution avenues (including streaming). Streaming is driving the growth of the overall creative economy with significant investments in content.

One can argue though that it is still more about investing than seeing returns. In fact, several services are bleeding given the very nascent subscription revenue model in India, or even what we see as digital advertising revenue…
I should first say that five years is too short a time to gauge something like this. But we have seen in these five years, that the headroom for growth is immense. We invest more into content, and we continue to believe the opportunity in front of us is significant enough to keep going even deeper into each of the areas we are present in, be it movies, shows, our studio deals, or marketplace and so on. It makes good business sense to do this, and that is why we are doing it.

Plus, you need to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. The streaming business and its impact on entertainment are undervalued and underestimated. The streaming industry itself is growing very rapidly but importantly, the impact it has on other industries is also very significant. 

This sector benefits the film industry, telecom business (via data consumption), and it allows creators to go beyond their language and location. Similarly if you look at broadcast networks, they have another avenue to take their ‘made for broadcast’ content to a wider customerbase via streaming. Sports is a good example here as well, as we see how the genre’s reach and viewership has increased through streaming services. 

The streaming sector, via the investments in content, is creating tens of thousands of jobs. The streaming-fueled creative economy is undervalued. It is substantial, and many stakeholders, including us, are playing a role in this growth. The investments have to be seen in context of the opportunity and its cumulative impact.  

Your focus on the long term is evident. Can you further elaborate on this culture or this perspective specifically for Amazon Prime Video?
Customer obsession is one of our most important leadership principles. And it’s important to note that the word is ‘obsession’, and not ‘focus’. All our goals, actions, projects, everything we do is customer backwards. It’s a very integral part of how the Amazon culture works. We, at Amazon, have our 16 leadership principles and the Day-one culture. These are all widely spoken/written about and these are all very inspiring indeed. This is one place where everyone truly imbibes the leadership principles in everything we do.

For Prime Video, we are the home for talent, and we pride ourselves on being that whether it is talent within the company or the talent we work with externally. 

We do think of everything from a long-term perspective. Our founder Jeff Bezos says, “We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.” We ask ourselves what customer problem are we solving for and how can we make things better for our customers and  work towards that. All of us are very excited by the opportunity in front of us to shape the future of entertainment in the country. That passion, customer focus and our belief in the vision keeps us going. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s also great fun building this business.

Gaurav, you are a media sector veteran who made an early shift from broadcast to OTT when it was still niche. What has the experience been like?
I've been very fortunate to have had extensive experience in Television – working through businesses and functions, and then getting the opportunity in the early years  of the streaming segment - first building an AVOD service, and then coming here at Amazon in 2018. If I were to look at my learnings from the last 7 years in the streaming industry (of which close to 4 years have been at Amazon), I can think of 3 key ones that I would want to highlight. Firstly, in this business you learn quickly that you don’t push your ideas to customers, you solve for what customers want. And we all aim for Customer love. Secondly, in this industry particularly, innovation and creative disruption are constants. Creative disruption defines this sector. You will see something new coming in all the time.

The third, and the one closest to my heart, is that irrespective of where you work, as a leader, your best asset is your team and that is the asset that gives you the best return. So, it’s all about ‘Customer Focus’, ‘Constant Creativity’ and  ‘Your Team’. 

This makes the perfect segue for my last question –– what is the Gaurav Gandhi’s style of leadership?
The first thing is to have trust and belief in your team and the team to have it in you. We can talk about a unified vision, culture, the road forward but ultimately if you don't bring the trust within the team, and between the team and yourself, it will not work. You have to earn that trust. Your style has to be unique to you. I think mine revolves around how many new leaders I can create. This is how I judge my success as a leader. This entails many things – from knowing when to step in to help and knowing when to step back; to always being there when needed and enabling them to excel. 

The last two years have been unique and some things have stood out. In this time, it was evident more so that a leader has to communicate honestly, maybe even over-communicate, and with a lot of empathy. We had to learn through our own experiences. This period also highlighted how important it is to address ambiguity and move quickly. During the pandemic, the production stopped, movies were not being released, but customers were at home, wanting to be entertained. This was not a scenario anyone was used to but if you have good leaders, you don't have to wait to refer to a playbook; you can adapt quickly and build a new one.

Adapting to ambiguity, pivoting very quickly to newer ideas, and empathy - not just within the team, but also towards our partners and everyone else you work with - was all very important. I believe this was a test for us all, not just as leaders, but as humans. It has changed people and hopefully changed me for the better.