In the land of Bollywood, Amazon hopes to strike gold with new original series

Akiko Fujita and Rohini Nambiar
Key Points
  • Amazon is set to debut its first original series for India, "Inside Edge," on Monday
  • It's the latest push to capture a market in which the tech giant has committed $5 billion
  • While Netflix targets India's premium market, Amazon is aiming to go mass market
Amazon India's first original series is launching soon

MUMBAI, India — Amazon Prime Video is looking to cash in on India's two biggest loves: Bollywood and cricket.

The streaming service is set to debut its first original series for India, "Inside Edge," on Monday — just six months after Amazon's Prime service launched in the country. It's the latest push to capture a market in which the tech giant has committed $5 billion, and plans to launch at least 17 more original series over the next few years.

"Inside Edge" is a ten part series that follows the "conflicting interests" of a cricket team, as players navigate an entire season in the fictional Powerplay League. Produced by Bollywood star Farhan Akhtar's Excel Entertainment, the show features local actors Vivek Oberoi and Richa Chadha. The series marks Amazon's first step in building out local content here, to compete in an entertainment industry valued at $19.5 billion, according to KPMG.

"TV shows in India have traditionally been long running shows that really don't follow a limited series format," said Nitesh Kripalani, country head and director of Amazon Video India, explaining that an average show consists of more than 100 episodes.

"If you look at what has been successful globally, it has been limited episodes. That's the kind of expertise we want to bring to India," he added.

To do that, Amazon flew in producers and content creators from Hollywood to collaborate with their counterparts in India, Kripalani said. Scriptwriters from Amazon's U.S. shows like "Transparent" and "Man in the High Castle" conducted workshops for Indian screenwriters, offering guidance on storytelling in a limited format, how to develop a longer story arc and tips on how to draw out individual characters.

"We're giving [scriptwriters] that pedestal, that whiteboard and we're collaborating with them. There's a lot of work that we do with our global learnings from the U.S. and the U.K. and the markets that go into writing the right scripts," Kripalani told CNBC.

Source: Amazon Prime Video India

While Amazon does not release specific figures, The Economic Times estimated the tech giant has invested more than $77 million in original content production in India, outspending rival Netflix. But Amazon faces plenty of competition from local players like streaming site Hotstar, which offers most of its content for free.

Unlike Netflix, which targets the premium market with a higher price point — 500 rupees ($7.72) a month — Amazon is aiming to go mass market, with an annual subscription of 499 rupees.

Girish Menon, head of media and entertainment at KPMG in India, said that low price point has been key to the Seattle-based company gaining traction in an increasingly saturated market. Its initial offering price is still lower than cable fees averaging 150 to 250 rupees (roughly $2.30 to $3.80 monthly), though those providers offer more than 500 channels.

Amazon has also localized its product by giving customers an option to choose their streaming quality, mindful of the limited data plans available in the emerging market.

"We of course have a lot of data to look at before we decide the pricing, but we believe entertainment for India is in our blood. It's part of our daily lives, so we're targeting pretty much the entire country who have access to a mobile phone or a connected device and want to watch entertainment," Kripalani told CNBC.

Amazon's foray into the streaming business in India has been amplified through the Indian government's "Digital India" campaign launched in 2015 to expand the country's digital infrastructure capabilities. Menon said the move toward 4G by network operators like Reliance Jio, Vodafone and Idea in the last year, have been critical to boosting subscriber numbers for Amazon.

But with mobile penetration just over 30 percent in India, Menon said the audience for streaming services still remains limited. Building out the broader digital ecosystem will be key for taking Amazon content mainstream, he said.

"So while the original content being created for digital is right now very different from television content, I think over time you will see even digital content being more mass in nature as they look to cater to those audiences," Menon said.