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Planet Money: Netflix And Amazon Stream In India


Listen carefully, and you can almost hear Americans all over the country binge-watching the latest releases from Amazon and Netflix. These two tech giants are now turning their attention to India. The country's market for online video there is expected to reach over $2 billion in the next five years. But so far, neither company has had a whole lot of luck. So Cardiff Garcia and Sally Herships from our Planet Money team identify some possible steps to success.

SALLY HERSHIPS, BYLINE: So I was watching this movie recently on Amazon. It's a comedy. Guy gets engaged. His best friend doesn't like the girl, tries to break up the wedding. There is this whole complicated plot. But that is all besides the point. What was really surprising was all the twerking, which I told Ashanti Omkar about. She's a journalist for the BBC.

I don't know if you have twerking in the U.K. or call it the same thing.

ASHANTI OMKAR: Oh, we certainly do.

CARDIFF GARCIA, BYLINE: Ashanti covers Indian film and culture. That's what you were watching - an Indian film. And there are all these stereotypes about these films, like that they're really conservative. So I get it, Sally, you fell prey to a stereotype.

HERSHIPS: It's true - shameful, but true. And when I told Ashanti I was surprised by all the drinking and talking about sex in the movie, she totally schooled me.

OMKAR: Indian cinema has not been the way you've just described it in many, many, many years.

GARCIA: Well, don't feel bad. Amazon and Netflix also need to get up to speed on Indian film because they're up against a serious competitor. India already has a major online content provider called Hotstar.

HERSHIPS: And Hotstar says it has about 150 million monthly users. According to counterpoint research, Amazon has 11. Netflix - a paltry five.

GARCIA: Which brings us to our strategies for streaming success in India.

HERSHIPS: No. 1 - understand the market. Because if you think India is all Bollywood, think again.

OMKAR: India is not just Bollywood.

GARCIA: Bollywood movies are mostly in Hindi. But according to India's last census, 121 languages are spoken in the country. So plenty of Indian films are made in other languages.

OMKAR: You know what? When you go to India, you can go to a village cinema. I remember in 2005, I was in a village. And I went past the cinema that was showing "Harry Potter," but it was showing it with - Tamil dubbed. So Harry Potter was speaking in Tamil.

GARCIA: Step two - programming for culture. Most of the content Amazon and Netflix produced in the U.S. plays well all over the country. You can show "Portlandia" in New York and "Seinfeld" in Portland.

HERSHIPS: But India is packed with different cultures, and viewers want content relevant to them.

GARCIA: Which is why Amazon and Netflix are using strategy three - focusing on a niche. In this case, India's wealthy high earners, people who can afford, in other words, an Amazon Prime subscription, which is almost the same price as Hotstar - just over one U.S. dollar a month, or Netflix, around $7 a month.

HERSHIPS: And both Amazon and Netflix say they're having some luck. Both are offering content in multiple languages. And Netflix has a hit - "Sacred Games," a cop thriller. But if either wants to crack the Indian market, there is one more thing they'll likely need. Hotstar has this thing. Amazon and Netflix do not.

OMKAR: The advantage that Hotstar has is cricket because Indians love their cricket.

GARCIA: Hotstar has the license to show the IPL. That's the Indian Premier League - like the NFL of cricket.

HERSHIPS: And one last challenge Ashanti mentioned - Indians love sharing their logins, but we don't have that problem here.


HERSHIPS: Sally Herships.

GARCIA: Cardiff Garcia, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cardiff Garcia is a co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money podcast, along with Stacey Vanek Smith. He joined NPR in November 2017.
Sally Herships