Netflix Looks to India in Battle for Subscribers

Disney+ Hotstar is what Netflix strives to be

Key Takeaways

  • Experts say the industry is being reimagined towards new distribution platforms.
  • Disney+ Hotstar remains the dominant streaming service in India.
  • Netflix is a worldwide leader in content delivery.
Netflix logo is displayed during the 'Paris Games Week'
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A recent move by Netflix to add a Hindi user interface reflects the company’s intent to dominate the global market. Netflix is emerging as a catalyst to a revolution that promises to upend the traditional movie industry business model.

The new user interface allows customers to readily access their favorite content in their native language—or at least one of their native languages in a country which boasts 22 of them.

The Movie Industry Reimagined

Tom Nunan, a lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television, says Netflix is well-funded and ambitious; he sees no barriers to its domination of the space for years to come.

Nunan believes the ascent of streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar (India’s most popular service), Amazon Prime Video, and others is changing the industry in dramatic fashion.

“Streaming is by far the most compelling and powerful story in the world of entertainment. The entire industry is being reimagined towards this new distribution platform, and we're seeing giant legacy studios like Warner Bros., Universal, and Disney utterly reimagine their content supply chain to accommodate this new, highly popular and safe-to-use service,” he said. 

Nunan said the strength of streaming is that it allows the audience to consume whatever content they want from the comfort of their own homes.

Netflix Users Have Language Options

Netflix users can switch to the Hindi UI from the language option in the “Manage Profiles” section on their desktop, television, or mobile browser. On Netflix, members can set up as many as five profiles in each account, and each profile can have its own language setting.

Netflix Edit Profile screen with language options

"Delivering a great Netflix experience is as important to us as creating great content. We believe the new user interface will make Netflix even more accessible and better suit members who prefer Hindi," said Monika Shergill, VP-Content, Netflix India in a statement.

“They (Netflix) are presently dubbed and subtitled in over 30 languages around the world, and have suppliers of local content, buying material in native languages, in over 25 discreet territories,” Nunan said. “Expanding to Hindi is therefore a natural growth indicator from a brand that has made globalization its main priority.”

Netflix’s Strategy to Win

Netflix is playing a little catch-up here. Amazon Prime Video added a Hindi UI in 2018, as well as service in five other regional languages (Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Bengali, and Kannada).

Netflix subscribers now number more than 150 million and the service has become so popular that an estimated 37 percent of the world’s Internet users use the content provider.

In India, however, the roles are reversed. Disney+ Hotstar is the on-demand video leader, holding 69.7 percent of market share, with Amazon (5%) and Netflix (1.4%) hardly in play, according to market research firm Jana.

All told, Disney+ Hotstar has nearly eight million subscribers in India and more than 300 million users. The service, and its operator, Star India, was acquired by Disney as part of its $71B acquisition of 21st Century Fox last year.

Netflix Could Become the CNN of Streaming

Nunan predicts Netflix will chip away at Disney+ Hotstar’s position in India in the years to come.

“Few brands have such a clear and focused approach to the markets of the world as Netflix. Disney+ will come on strong in Netflix's wake, but Disney+ has a very specific, though cherished, brand,” said Nunan. “Netflix is uniquely positioned to become the defacto world content leader in entertainment, much in the same way CNN provides a similar global service of news, shaped and fed by specific markets around the world.”

Nunan also sees the movie business continuing to thrive, but with a tilt towards serving streaming outlets first versus the more vulnerable movie chains. He predicts the post-pandemic film industry landscape will see an era of prosperity.

Rear View Of People At Theater
Lingkong C / EyeEm / Getty Images

“The entertainment industry grew exponentially after the Spanish Flu of 1918 and I assume our industry will enjoy a similar growth surge. Studios, networks and streamers will ‘overstock’ their shelves, in fear of future pandemics, leading to a ‘gold rush’ feeling in Hollywood and other entertainment capitals.” 

He continued, saying the movie-going experience may need to be utterly reimagined, with more privatized, safer seating choices, better ventilation and therefore, likely much higher ticket prices. 

“Going to the movies will be like going to the theater on Broadway—an expensive entertainment option for the very few.”

And in India, where per capita income is a fraction of that in the US, watching at home is likely to remain the venue of choice.