Shreyas Kulkarni
Points of View

Netflix plans free weekend access of its content in India

What will it mean for the streaming ecosystem, and how will it impact subscriptions?

Netflix has plans to offer a free weekend-long access of its content in India. The US-based global streaming giant revealed this when it announced its third quarter earnings on October 20, 2020.

“… we think that giving everyone in a country access to Netflix for free for a weekend could be a great way to expose a bunch of new people to the amazing stories that we have, the service, how the service works, really create an event, and hopefully get a bunch of those folks to sign up. So, we're going to try that in India, and we'll see how that goes,” said Gregory K. Peters, Netflix’s COO and chief product officer.

It’s not the first time that Netflix has used India as a laboratory for its new plans and offerings. It tested a mobile-only subscription (Rs 199 per month) first in India, before taking it to other nations.

This free weekend-long access comes at a time when Netflix’s subscription rate has dipped. It missed its subscription forecast of 2.5 million, and gained only 2.2 million new subscribers in Q3. It had added 10.1 million subscribers in Q2 and 15.8 million in Q1.

In India, Netflix faces stiff competition from not only international streaming platforms, like Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar, but also a slew of domestic players such as SonyLIV, Eros Now, ALTBalaji, Voot, ZEE5, MX Player, JioCinema, among others. Adding to this, there’s also a sense of streaming fatigue after all the highs OTT platforms enjoyed during the (COVID) lockdown months.

So, what does this move mean for the ecosystem, and what impact will it have on subscriptions? Positive, or maybe not. Here is what some experts have to say.

Edited excerpts:

Manav Sethi, chief marketing officer, Octro Inc. (former CMO at Eros International PLC and ALTBalaji)

Manav Sethi
Manav Sethi

I think it’s a great strategy for Netflix to allow weekend content for free because people will come on the platform, see 2-3 shows they’d like to watch and then possibly convert. It is like building a top funnel for Netflix for free. Netflix can get away by doing this because it has a huge content library, which is deep and wide.

India is a not homogeneous land of one billion people. It is a 1,000-layered universe of 100 million each and because of that, you need to have TV shows for all types of demographics and psychographics.

There is no risk of premium content being consumed in one weekend. A typical season is about 10 episodes, so you’re talking about 10 hours (considering each episode runs for an hour) for one season of a show. People will come, consume one show and say wow, there are 15 other shows I’d want to watch...

There are certain moves you do to increase the market as a whole. A lot of people migrated to OTT during lockdown because of lack of content on TV, and the guy with the biggest content library wins...

Abhinay Bhasin, vice president (South Asia) - data sciences and head of DMC Insights, dentsu

Abhinay Bhasin
Abhinay Bhasin

Netflix has gained nearly as many users in the first half of this year (2020) than it did in all of last year (2019). According to a report by dentsu Marketing Cloud Insights, it has been the most preferred platform during the lockdown period.

Its dominant position in the OTT space allows it to tinker with various models of promotions and freebies. This will only be beneficial to the overall ecosystem and tip over subscribers, who are 'on the fence' with the lure of free content and access to good shows and movies.

Nikhil Dalal, senior consultant, RedSeer Consulting

Nikhil Dalal
Nikhil Dalal

This move is similar to the one-month free trial without giving too much luxury to the consumer, which Netflix will launch in December. A majority of OTT streaming happens over the weekend. What will happen is that engagement from other streaming platforms will shift to Netflix on that weekend. Say, over a month, other streaming players may potentially lose one-fourth of their engagement.

Consumers in metros, or a handful in Tier-I cities, who really like the content on Netflix, will stick. Users who want to watch ’Sacred Games’ and 2-3 more such shows, but can’t binge-watch them in the 48 hours free trial period, will then choose the cheapest plan available (Rs 199 per month mobile-only) to watch the remaining shows.

There are many users who were one-time paid subscribers of Netflix, or used the free trial month period. Even those who’ve never used the platform, will get influenced with this opportunity to consume content; not just English, but even in vernacular languages, which Netflix has added to its content library.

Today, disposable income has decreased, and Netflix remains an expensive platform. Also, other platforms have comparatively cheaper plans. Considering these factors, I don't see an immediate impact on Netflix subscriptions. But, if it extends the free weekend trial next year on a three or four-day long weekend with a more updated content library, then there will be a significant impact on the subscriber base.

Uday Sodhi, senior partner, Kurate Digital Consulting (former business head, SonyLIV)

Uday Sodhi
Uday Sodhi

For a market of more than 400 million digital video viewers, we probably have close to 25 million paid subscriptions. OTT platforms like Netflix are providing various incentives to users to go for a subscription. Sampling the services free for a month, or a weekend, helps bring in new users and grow the subscriber base.