Coming soon on your screen: Six unscripted originals by Netflix India

Days after the launch of season 2 of its crime-thriller series Sacred Games, Netflix will expand its library by releasing at least six unscripted originals for the subcontinent, top officials confirm.

Monika Shergill, who has joined as director of International Originals at Netflix India, will oversee content that comes out of India. “The journey has just begun and there is a steady drumbeat of content that will be launched,” she says. 

So far, the Los Gatos-based multinational company has announced 16 series — seven have been launched and nine are pending release. It also launched 22 original films, of which 13 are due to release and nine have been aired. 

Netflix will also launch a slew of unscripted shows starting year-end, Shergill adds. These reality non-fiction shows will span travel and food shows, and is a first for Netflix. The genre is by and large run out of the US for all other countries. Examples include Wild Wild Country and Queer Eye. 

Others like Viacom 18’s Voot have also seen success with unscripted originals. Voot achieved viewership of 100 billion minutes by creating over 50,000 exclusive clips of behind the scenes for the audiences of Bigg Boss, MTV Roadies, and more, says Akash Banerji, Voot’s head advertising video on demand. “The show Feet Up allowed us to explore a digital-first talk show with Bollywood’s A-list celebrities for the genre of chat shows.” 

Even as most platforms race to build vaults of content, its key to ask if an OTT (over-the-top) player be everything to everyone. Most are entertainment focused, and with a large library comes the need for hits as no platform can excel unless it has the ‘tentpoles’ and hit shows it's known by, says long-time film producer Ronnie Screwvala, the founder of production house RSVP. 

Some platforms look beyond entertainment. Hotstar has the base it does because of cricket and kabaddi and that’s its core and differentiator. “There will be OTT platforms that may only focus on a particular demographic such as 
kids or core youth aged 16-24, but I also see games and interactive platforms gaining strength,” Screwvala says. 

For now, Netflix will be trying to appease all types of audiences. Srishti Behl Arya, Netflix’s director for International Film, says: “We don’t judge subscribers and so also programme in what you may not watch.” Her view is one can’t make the audience the target group. “That’s the beauty of it — there is no one Netflix, there's something for everyone.” 

Still, what works in India? “It’s really big, loud stories,” Shergill says, alluding to series such as Sacred Games, which just launched its second season. If there is an emerging theme at Netflix India, it’s this — two-thirds of its 16 Indian series have a central woman character. 

Netflix India’s Business Development Director Abhishek Nag doesn't disclose how many paying subscribers he has, but market sources indicate the number is around 1 million. If true, it's a fraction of what the company has in the US — around 55 million subscribers. India has 170 million TV households according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

Nag says India has seen Netflix’s fastest investment into content. “We will take each million (subscribers) as it comes and what’s important is the member experience, product partnerships and to create member joy.” 

Netflix is perceived as a more “premium” service than competitors. Its monthly packages are Rs 199, Rs 499, Rs 649, and Rs 799. In comparison, Hotstar’s monthly package is at Rs 299 and Amazon Prime at Rs 129.  

Admittedly or not, the big OTT challenge does involves the business model. “Even as subscription revenues rise as fast as everyone expects, it will not be proportionate to the technology costs of platform as well as the high spend on content, so what’s the standalone model,”  asks Screwvala.

“Telecom players looking at this as an extension of their customer base is one model. Media companies looking at it as a base to convert their TV content to on demand is another.  An Amazon that looks at this as bait for repeat customers in e-commerce is a third, and for each of these, a standalone business model will be needed.” Then, there are the standalone platforms, which will have to be totally based on subscription revenue because advertising will not be a sustainable model, given the high cost of content.

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