Originals fill a need-gap in the market, says Amazon Prime’s Vijay Subramanium
Vijay Subramanium, director (content) for streaming platform Amazon Prime Video, very often gets to see content that Prime Video subscribers in the country don’t. “I have the benefit of calling this work and I love it, so I get to see a lot of stuff that everyone else doesn’t,” he said, soon after the trailer launch for their second India original series—Breathe—in Mumbai.
Subramanium is currently watching McMafia (a drama centred around a Russian family living in exile in London). He just binge watched The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (an American period comedy-drama television series) again and last Sunday he watched Vidya Balan-starrer Tumhari Sulu on Amazon Prime Video with his family. He goes through the whole gamut of content just as easily as he curates it for his subscribers.
The platform will release 10 India originals this calendar year, with Remix, a musical reality show next on the roster. In a telephonic interview, Subramanium talks about Amazon Prime Video’s one-year journey, subscriber growth and future plans.
What’s the last one year been like?
It’s really early hours of day one for us. We have just completed a year and we are learning from the content that we have put out on the service.
If you look at the spread, we started out with a lot of movies and US TV shows. Gradually we have started increasing the output of regional content. We have increased the number of originals and exclusives. Whether its Inside Edge or Laakhon Mein Ek or Shaitaan Haveli or Pushpavalli and now Breathe. We are really broadening the spectrum of variety. And with each piece of content, there are couple of things that we have to make sure are always there. One is constantly engaging with our customers to see what they think of this content. And how their taste and preferences are evolving and how close we are to reflecting that.
The second is learning from the variety itself. Some of it is very light and breezy and fun, the comedy specials, like Shaitaan Haveli or Pushpavalli. And then there are those that really draw you deep into it and you have a very strong experience, whether it’s Inside Edge or Breathe. We reflect the same in the selection of our movies. We just released Tumhari Sulu on the service last week, we have got Golmaal Again and then down the road we have got Tiger Zinda Hai and Padmaavat.
Tell us about subscriber growth in the last one year.
I can’t disclose any numbers. We are definitely growing. It’s really about what value do customers perceive we are giving them. Today, with the Prime benefits, fast shipping, access to deals and access to content on Prime Video, at the price point, is a pretty attractive proposition. We keep tracking ourselves against customer value.
Are partnerships with telcos the way forward ?
We will always look for ways and means to expand access to Amazon Prime. The way we look at it is how can we provide our customers with easier access to our service. And how can we increase the reach. We are constantly evaluating the best ways to do that.
Can you tell us about overall investment in content this year?
It’s important to understand that it’s only been a year and India is a very important market for us. We stay invested in the long-term vision for India. We’ve got to do whatever is required to build out the best catalogue of content across both licensing and our originals in both 2018 and beyond. We are going to put out 10 shows in 2018 and for 2019 and 2020, we are planning to up that further. That’s the outlook.
Do you believe increased investment in original content is key to driving viewership?
Yes, it’s an important lever. The most important thing is for customers to believe that they are getting high-quality entertainment, very compelling, extremely convenient and at great value. Every time we deliver, we will earn the customers’ trust and we become their preferred choice for digital entertainment.
And the key thing about originals is being able to create content where none exists. It fills a need gap in the market place and our customers have indicated the need for certain kind of stories that don’t exist and being able to provide that allows them to engage with us at a deeper level. And consistently done it builds a lot of differentiation for us. Everything that we evaluate is through the lens of local relevance. All our content choices are reflective of that.
What’s popular on the platform?
It’s hard to draw parallels, no two stories are alike. Inside Edge is definitely one of them. When we launched it, it had the highest rate of completion of all global originals on the service. It went on to become one of the most watched titles. Lipstick Under my Burkha is another very popular title. Standup Specials, every single one of them did exceptionally well.
On the US TV side, Suits did phenomenally well for us. Young Sheldon is a runaway hit. In the regional space, Arjun Reddy has done really well.
How hard is it to compete with TV channels given that everyone is eyeing the same content?
For us, it all starts with our customers and everything flows from there. We work backwards. What are their tastes and preferences that currently exist and what are the opportunities to serve them against that.
That is pretty much how we look at effectively investing behind various pieces of content. In some cases like Salman Khan, we found out that he was the most popular star, had the broadest and most popular appeal so we went ahead and announced a deal with the actor for his next five films. Similarly, if you look at the kind of tie-ups we have done on the Bollywood side, we looked at content partners like Dharma, Yashraj and Excel Entertainment who have a steady slate of films that cater to the sensibilities of Indian tastes. And so we struck deals with them.
How will you define the Indian user of Amazon Prime Video?
Broadly, anyone who has access to the Internet and a mobile phone and has potential for e-commerce would be our customer. All of us love our entertainment and increasingly we are all looking for great variety with convenience and at our own terms.
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