India, not China, to take center stage in Netflix's expansion plan in Asia

Key Points
  • Netflix has set its sights on India as it ramps up its Asian expansion strategy.
  • The media streaming company aims to add 100 million subscribers in the South Asian country over the coming years.
  • To bulk out its regional audience, Netflix plans to create 100 locally produced projects.
A selection of Netflix original content sits displayed in the Netflix app on an Apple iPad tablet device in this arranged photograph in London.
Jason Alden | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Netflix is on a mission to expand its audience across Asia, and the country set to account for the bulk of that growth is India — not China.

Asia's young and increasingly digital population presents an "incredible opportunity" to ramp up the company's international subscribers, Netflix's chief content officer Ted Sarandos told CNBC on Thursday.

The subscription in Asia has already surpassed the 58 million in the U.S. All in, the company has 137 million subscribers globally.

"We're in our early, early days here in Asia," Sarandos told CNBC's Akiko Fujita. But he said the company has "very specific initiatives" for each of the territories within the region.

Chief among those will be India, Sarandos said. Over the next few years, Netflix hopes to leverage off the country's proven appetite for video streaming and add 100 million subscribers in India alone.

"If you think about the opportunity, there's about 450 million internet users in India and about half of them are watching video on YouTube and services like that, which makes for a very interesting, addressable market," said Sarandos.

Operating in China is 'a little ways off': Netflix exec

In targeting India, Netflix will come up against the likes of Amazon and Hotstar, which have both seen success in the country with their modestly-priced media streaming models.

To manage that, Sarandos said the company is looking at testing a variety of pricing models to position itself against competitors, both in India and elsewhere. But he also said the focus will be on adding more locally produced original content that resonates with audiences both domestically and internationally.

Netflix plans to produce 100 original projects within the region over the coming years.

"The exciting part about that is that we're able to come in and produce locally, using local story-tellers, and tell those stories on a grand scale because we can find a global audience," he said.

Sarandos added that there's "no real target" in terms of the regions those projects will come from. However, he noted that the company does not plan to use such means to enter the China market in the near future.

"In general, I would say Netflix operating in China is a little way off," said Sarandos.

Netflix has had some success in the country via a licensing agreement with iQiyi, a video streaming subsidiary of Chinese internet company Baidu, but the firm has not launched independent operations there.

"China's tough for a Western media company to operate in and we've not been very active in the market at all — with the exception of licensing some of our shows into the market. And that's going to be our strategy for a little while," Sarandos explained.