Anirban Roy Choudhury

"An advertising-based VOD market is great for businesses like ours": Nitesh Kripalani, Amazon Video India

On December 2016, American e-commerce giant, Amazon, launched its subscription-driven VOD platform, Prime Video, in India. Amazon hired Nitesh Kripalani, then EVP, new media, business development and digital/syndication, Sony Pictures Networks, to set up the business.

Amazon Prime Video boasts over 9.5 million active subscribers (FICCI-KPMG 2017 Report; as on January 2017) putting it in the third position after Hotstar (63 million) and Voot (13.2 million), respectively. Kripalani spoke to afaqs! about Prime Video's run in India so far.

Of the two big Cs - Cinema and Cricket - Amazon Prime seems to have cracked the former. As for the latter, the BCCI made the platform's interest in acquiring the streaming rights of the IPL public. Kripalani didn't divulge much on this front, though.

Edited Excerpts

Amazon Prime Video is available in over 200 countries. What makes the India market unique?

India is unique... it is not a homogenous market, pay TV penetration is still increasing, people's lives are getting busier, technology is a simplifier, mobile broadband is growing faster than fixed broadband... there are unique data points which show how India is different from the rest of the world.

Also, India is younger and more mobile-focused; each of these data points offers the opportunity of localising. For example, 95 percent of Indian consumers are on prepaid plans. In fact most of us have a fixed cap when it comes to data consumption, be it 4GB or 8GB... at home it could be 50-60 GB a month. So how do you manage your playback and quality? That's another unique challenge.

Right, and in terms of content consumption, what characterises our market?

In any market, local content is always preferred. You always want to see content in your local language, involving your local stars, relevant to your stories... that's the story of each and every market. In India, you have multiple languages, may be 20 official languages, but if you add the dialects it will probably cross 1,000. Offering the customers the best in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Marathi is what we have focused on and that's unique.

Also unique is the number of movies released in India every weekend. It is so high, the customer's attention span changes very soon. So the objective is to bring content to the customers soon after the theatrical release. India is a market where piracy is still very high - it was much higher two years back - so the unique challenge is to tell people, 'Hey, you don't need to pirate content anymore; you are getting it at the same time as the US or within a few hours...' We've seen a decline in digital content piracy since we launched.

Is there a particular genre that you see dominating consumption?

Indian movies are dominating. Each time we release a regional or Hindi or Tamil movie, we see a spike in viewership. It is quite similar when we release an American movie on the platform. We're also seeing an un-met demand for US TV shows. Kid's content is a big focus for us now because it's summer vacation. So broadly, it's movies followed by US TV shows, then kids content...

In terms of language, Indian languages are consumed more...

Which ones stand out?

Hindi, Tamil and Telugu movies are clearly doing a little better.

As far as creation of local content goes, will you look beyond Hindi? Overall, is there enough talent available to create shows locally, without compromising on your global standards?

We are starting with Hindi. Then we will evaluate and see if we need to get into creating original shows in other languages.

See, writing great shows in India has not really happened much, so we are investing in bringing our show-runners and writers from the US to do workshops here... we're in the golden age of TV shows in the US; hopefully we will get there in India too.

Geographically, where is most of the consumption coming from? And how much of it comes from mobile versus static broadband?

I will say it is skewed towards the top 10 cities. India is an 'entertainment country'; a customer based in Bombay or Bhopal is an 'entertainment customer'. We consciously do not target a particular metro. Our content/price point might lean towards a certain segment, but we do not target any specific market. Any consumer may opt for the free trial and we hope that he/she will then convert to a paid subscriber.

Both fixed and mobile broadband customers are watching equal amount of data, which is interesting. Currently, consumption on mobile is more.

In a market dominated by the advertising model where paying for content is still rare and pirated content is easily available, a subscription-driven platform is always swimming against the tide...

We see it more as an opportunity. We are aware of the fact that the SVOD (subscription-based video on demand) consumer base is small in India, there are leakages through content piracy, we understand that there is no one service out there which has a wide selection of content that customers care about... that is what we are trying to build. Yes, it is a long term process. We're very clear in our mind... we have to build the SVOD market in India.

Having an established AVOD (advertising-based video on demand) market is a great thing for businesses like ours...

How so?

See, the customer life cycle is like a funnel. First you need to generate awareness and get them to watch digital video for free on an AVOD platform. Once that has happened, you can move them to a premium SVOD platform where there are no ads, and where the content can be watched on your big screen.

Netflix premiered the movie 'Beasts of No Nation' on its VOD platform in the West. How long before we see Amazon doing the same in India?

The big advantage of having a digital video service on demand is that you can reach out to consumers directly and also offer an alternative distribution platform to content creators. In the US, we would want all the 'Amazon original' movies to have a theatrical release the way they are supposed to and then come to the platform soon after. In India too, we believe a movie should get a theatrical release. We would like films to go to cinema first.

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