Are the rumours true this time then? Is Netflix finally coming to India. Well, only time will tell us that, but what exactly does Netflix bring? As many of you may know, it was actually possible to use Netflix in India for a while, until very recently actually. As this article explains, a combination of proxy servers and international credit card could get you in the door. If you didn’t have a card from overseas, the service would still allow you the free trial through the proxy servers, but then stop (as it did for me), when it came time to pay up for Netflix’s services. Nevertheless, the month-long free trial period gave me a good taste of what the service has to offer, and before you say it, yes, it didn’t have any Indian content. It would, however, be immature to imagine that Netflix won’t work that obvious chink out when entering India. Perhaps a partnership is in order.
Using Netflix in India
Using Netflix in India however, was an eye opener for a while. The smart algorithms, that change the streaming quality based on your Internet speed is what made the biggest difference for me. I’ve been a beta tester for Hooq and I had used Hotstar when it first started. I gravitated towards Netflix because I primarily watch American television series and just didn’t have the time to download the second season of Blacklist. The smart algorithms made it worth my while, simply because Netflix would somehow anticipate when my connection speed dropped and allow the episode to keep running for as long as possible. On a 13 inch laptop screen, the low quality didn’t matter to me, as long as things were reasonably discernible.
There came an obvious problem though when I tried streaming on a 50-inch television. The drop in quality came so often, that we stopped watching Netflix here at the office in a matter of days. Afterall, who wants to see nearly blurry Samuel L. Jackson dare Brett to “say what again”. It was just so, the smart streaming is good, especially for India, but it’s also an issue when you’re watching on big screens. Thankfully, few in India would be doing that at the moment. I, myself, wouldn’t have been doing that often, had it not been for the perks of my job.
From a collection point of view, what I was thrilled about was Netflix’s collection of Anime content. The collection is admirable, but missed some great and more rare series, like Baki The Grappler. The same goes with movies and TV shows. What I’m trying to say is that while Netflix’s collection is great, if you’re planning to get a subscription, you may still be disappointed. Of course, the host of Netflix only TV shows coming in nowadays is going to change that soon enough, but be prepared to wait.
Then there’s the matter of the price and competition..
Traditionally, Indian users have been driven by two things -- things that are available for free and things that bring everything they want at a reasonable cost. The definition of the word ‘reasonable’ is quite different in the Indian context, compared to many other countries, especially the US. I was fine with paying nearly $10 a month (approx. Rs. 600, which I eventually didn’t have to) for getting the content I watch. Most streaming services in the country though allow free streaming and keep their upper limits to Rs. 300 or less. While none of the services are really established, Netflix will still have tough competition.
The popular (it amassed 10 million downloads in 40 days) and most advertised, Hotstar app, has a healthy collection of Indian content, both popular and in vogue. In addition, Hotstar is completely free, but ad supported. It has important tie-ups for sports events and most importantly, Hotstar uses similar smart algorithms as Netflix, while doing an equally good job of it. In a lot of ways, Hotstar is a replica of Netflix, with more Indian flavour to it. The app doesn’t allow you to choose video quality, it looks tremendous on your phone, PC or tablet, but it has a huge edge in the live shows that it hosts, the most recent being On Air with AIB.
Hotstar isn’t the only competitor either. There’s Airtel’s Wynk Movies, which, if you’re interested in streaming, you have to know about. The app has a healthy collection, thanks to its collaboration with Eros Now, Hooq and Sony LIV. It also allows you to watch some content for free and has special offers for Airtel customers. Add the veteran Spuul to the party. While the app has only Indian content, its collection is pretty great for Indian users. Spuul replaces the smart algorithms with a choice of resolutions to stream in, which many may like as well. It’s quite expensive, at Rs. 300 per month though.
One of the biggest content providers in India, Eros Now, also offers a streaming service, with its upper limit at Rs. 99. Netflix would ideally have to price its service somewhere between this and what Spuul charges. In fact, a free ad-supported streaming plan may not be a bad idea either. For those of us who primarily watch TV Shows and movies from overseas, it may still be a good option.
Is India ready for streaming though?
Well, ideally, no we are not. Internet connection aren’t strong enough, but But then again, India is no doubt a mobile-first country and a lot of us spend hours watching videos, movies etc. on YouTube. With over 340 million Internet users, we are the market to watch for, so, it’s just a matter of time that Netflix and others figure out a way to make the most of this market. In fact, the real question isn't whether India is ready for Netflix, but whether Netflix is ready for India.