Once crippled by poor internet infrastructure and low household income, the world's second-largest internet market has exhibited tremendous potential in the recent years. It's proving, however, to be a tough nut to crack for the American streaming leaders.
Netflix, which aired “Lust Stories,” an anthology of four short films by high-profile Indian directors that breaks the taboo around women’s sexuality, in the country and elsewhere last month, is this week releasing its first original Hindi series for the country. Called “Sacred Games,” it is based on a novel by Indian author Vikram Chandra.
Shortly afterwards, Amazon is scheduled to premiere “Comicstaan,” a series featuring a group of prominent comics from India who are tasked with finding new talent in the country. “Comicstaan” is the fourth original show Amazon has made for India, with seven more already in the works, Vijay Subramaniam, director and head of content at Amazon Prime Video in India, told CNBC in an interview.
Posters of the new shows have started to flood bus stops, shopping malls and metro stations in several cities across the country. That aggressive play from the companies, both of which entered India in 2016, is becoming increasingly necessary: Amazon Prime Video and Netflix have long trailed local services in the nation, and that gap has only widened in recent months.
Leading the pack is Hotstar. Owned by Star India, which is controlled by Twenty-First Century Fox, Hotstar had about 70 percent of the on-demand local streaming services market earlier this year, according to estimates by research firm Jana. The three-and-a-half-year-old service has 150 million monthly active users, CEO Ajit Mohan told CNBC in an interview. Netflix, by contrast, has fewer than one million subscribers in the country, according to industry estimates.
Once considered a luxury, an increasingly growing number of Indians are giving online streaming services a try. Companies have taken notice: More than 35 streaming services have launched or expanded their businesses in India in the last three and a half years, with many more planning to enter Bollywood soon.