How Netflix India is making itself more desi and accessible

Nandana James | | Updated on: Oct 02, 2020

Indians have been experimenting on the OTT platform amid the lockdown, and dubbed content is a big hit: Monika Shergill, Vice-President, Content, Netflix India

After launching its services in India in 2016, Netflix has been tweaking its content strategy to make it more broadbased. The over-the-top (OTT) streaming player is investing ₹3,000 crore to ramp up original Indian content. It has also launched a mobile-only plan at ₹199 in a bid to make its services more affordable.

Also read: OTT platforms witness uptick in usage, subscriptions during Covid

BusinessLine spoke with Monika Shergill, Vice-President, Content, Netflix India, to understand how the American company is making itself more relevant for its Indian subscribers. Excerpts:

When Netflix started services in 2016 it was seen as a niche platform catering to the English speaking urban elite segment. Over the last four years, have you been able to make it more broadbased with your content strategy?

We entered as a very key premium player in the market but from the time we entered, the strategy has been to become more and more local. And that's what we've been working on year-on-year — to make Netflix more accessible. And accessibility is a function of three things — content which is more local, pricing and user experience.

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In terms of content, we are becoming broader and expanding to different sets of audiences and catering to different kinds of tastes. In terms of pricing, we launched the mobile plan last July. This is an innovation that happened in India, which has now been rolled out to other countries in South-East Asia. From an experience point of view also, we are very certain that we are not about being available only on very high-end devices or smart TVs. Everything that we do at the product end is actually tailored to becoming more accessible. We have just introduced the complete Hindi UI (user interface) on Netflix.

Has there been a change in the content strategy at Netflix ever since the pandemic started, with OTT consumption rising?

There has not been a change of strategy, but there have definitely been learnings. So, one of the biggest learnings for us has been that people, so long as you give them great stories, are willing to watch. They are actually language agnostic — while it is the biggest truth that Indians love watching Indian stories. But, having said that, during this lockdown phase, people have actually experimented so much on Netflix.

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And, the second thing is that people are loving the dubbed content — they love watching the best content and franchises from across the world in the language of their choice. So, we are looking at more and more of our offerings actually being dubbed in Hindi and other local languages like Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. Just as we are investing in regional content — licensed and original regional content — we are also dubbing in these languages more and more.

Many filmmakers are of the opinion that theatrical releases happening on OTT platforms is just a temporary phenomenon and that the larger-than-life experience offered by the cinema cannot be replicated by OTT platforms. What are your thoughts on this?

This is something which has happened in the near term. I think theatres are a very important part of the entertainment experience...I don’t think theatres are going anywhere at all. I'm actually happy that some of us as streaming services could actually be there to help and partner — we are all one creative community. And I think it's important that we were able to actually help in getting some of the movies out because they needed to be out. I think theatres will be up and running like every other business...I really think it's a short-term thing, and it'll be back to where it was.

How capable is Netflix’ recommendation engine in understanding users and making suggestions? Have you started using artificial intelligence (AI) and predictable technology to gauge the kind of stories and content people are actually looking for?

We have one of the finest UIs which learns from the taste, even when you're it will suggest different kinds of content to you. But, where storytelling is concerned, I think that's about creativity. And there is absolutely no machine...which is why we are fanatic fans of stories at Netflix. Every person at Netflix, in whatever function, is a crazy fan of stories...So, I think, thankfully, for as long as I can see, I don't think storytelling is going to be determined by any form of AI. It could be in the medical field and certain different kinds of fields where it has its own advantages, but not in storytelling.

Then how do you judge content to ensure that it becomes the next big series?

It has a lot to do with the understanding, experience and judgment calls that we take together — what kind of stories people like to watch or what are the most unique and most authentic stories to tell, how we can reflect more lives on screen, and not become formulaic. Streaming services allow you to cater to many different kinds of tastes. Innovation is a very, very big thing that we value at Netflix and we value it far above efficiency. And we really believe that if you're innovating fast enough, and smartly enough, and you're taking the risks that you need to — where storytelling is concerned — then you're actually doing the right thing.

Also read: How to access free content on Netflix without an account

Is there any new strategy in terms of introducing new price points or expanding into new regional languages in terms of content, going forward?

In terms of regional languages, we are very excited about expanding our Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam offerings — we are looking at getting a lot of content in those languages. On the pricing plans, we are always testing different things but there's nothing to announce currently.

Published on October 02, 2020
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