The inevitable finally happened. Yesterday, Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, whose personal stake in the company is now valued at $1.5 billion, announced at the annual CES show in Las Vegas that, as he spoke, Netflix had officially launched in India, as well as Russia, Indonesia and South Korea and some 130 other countries.
What makes India special are three mouth-watering characteristics: It is movie mad, with over a 1,000 movies filmed there every year, not to mention tele-serials that much of the population is addicted to; it was colonized by the English, which means that much of Netflix's existing programming is accessible to the urban, English-speaking middle-class; and it has a population of 1.2 billion people which needs no further extrapolation in terms of where much of the world's opportunity lies. This is especially so for Netflix considering China is off limits, as it is for Google and Facebook, and growth is slowing in the US.
Netflix's rates in India seem pretty much on par with those in the US. 500 rupees (or $7.49) gets you a basic, non-HD single user subscription. The 'Standard' commands a 650 rupees tab ($9.75) and gets you HD content and two screens. 'Premium', at 800 rupees ($11.99) buys you ultra-HD (4K) and four screens.
Of course, all may not be hunky dory for the streaming giant. As discussed in my previous piece it remains to be seen whether the content-devouring Indian populace is willing to pay for content considering they are used to easily torrenting it. Furthermore, if they do decide to fork up some cash, is even the base price of 500 rupees enough of an inducement considering most Indians pay around that much for cable television which offers them all the goodies that they really crave (such as soaps, dance shows, and other variety entertainment like the hugely popular 'Big Boss' helmed by superstar Salman Khan, as well as re-runs of evergreen Bollywood Classics)?
Then there is the spectre of competition vis a vis well entrenched local players with a treasure trove of content such as Eros Now, Star's Hotstar (popular for its cricket coverage), and outsiders such as Spuul. To add to these hurdles is the ever-present but steadily improving bogey of connectivity, which is patchy to say the least.
Still, with a warchest of $5 billion and the ability to produce quality programming seemingly at will, it would be foolish to count Netflix out in India, especially where the dollar goes a long way and talent is (relatively) cheap.