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Big-budget TV meets Bollywood as Amazon and Netflix battle in India.

Tribune News Service MUMBAI Among the billboards for jewelers, stylish sedans and vacation destinations plastered across this commercial hub, two new American imports now beckon India's aspirational class. Amazon and Netflix are barreling into the entertainment business in the world's second-most populous country, investing millions of dollars to develop Indian series that they hope will make this their next big growth market. Amazon Prime Video, the video-on-demand platform of the Seattle-based online retailer, is producing more than 20 original series in India, which the company says is among the most of any country where it is active. Netflix has announced seven local series, with the first --"Sacred Games," a Hindi- and English-language adaptation of Vikram Chandra's 2006 novel steeped in Mumbai's criminal underworld -- due for worldwide release this year with two well known Indian actors in lead roles. The competition not only reflects how the American studios' global ambitions increasingly center on India, home to half a billion Internet users, which is second only to China. But it also points to changing tastes in entertainment in a country that has long been defined by the extravagant, genre-mashing melodramas of Bollywood cinema. "The Indian audience is maturing," said Vikram Malhotra, chief executive of Abundantia Entertainment, a Mumbai studio that produced"Breathe, an eight-episode crime thriller that Amazon launched in India and 200 other territories in January. "Our audience is used to seeing romance, action, thriller, emotion, suspense, mystery -- and sometimes science fiction thrown in for good measure -- all in the same story," Malhotra said. We wanted 'Breathe' to be an emotional drama at the core ... and to Amazon's credit, they were extremely confident of this approach from the word go." Both companies have big budgets, aggressive marketing and growing libraries of Indian content; Amazon secured the TV rights to Bollywood megastar Salman Khan's movies, while Netflix won global streaming rights for movies produced by another A-lister, Shah Rukh Khan. "Both Netflix and Amazon realize that, independent of their international library, local content is extremely important in India," said Frank D'Souza, a media and entertainment analyst with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Mumbai. "They're pumping in quite a lot of money in creating that local library ... and original programming is going to be important for both of them." But initial subscriber figures are low: Amazon had a little more than 600,000 Prime Video users at the end of 2017 while Netflix had 520,000 subscribers, according to IHS Markit, a market research group. Their paid services are competing against nearly 30 Indian streaming portals, many of which give away popular sports and local-language programming for free. Meanwhile, the country's biggest streaming platform -- Hotstar, part of an Indian media conglomerate owned by 21st Century Fox with tens of millions users -- is minuscule next to the more than 2 billion movie tickets sold in this country every year, or the estimated 152 million who subscribe to pay-TV services. Still, with China all but closed off to U.S. content providers, India remains a prize worth chasing. Its number of internet users has risen fivefold since 2011. Thanks to better mobile connectivity and cheaper data plans, the amount of time that Indians spent on video and entertainment apps rose by 85 percent in 2017 from the year before, according to the market research group App Annie. "Even we couldn't predict the last two years of Indian internet growth," Netflix founder Reed Hastings told an audience in New Delhi in February.

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Publication:Qatar Tribune (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Mar 12, 2018
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