Singapore: With less than three years in the market, India has already emerged as the fastest growing investment destination in the world for American streaming service Netflix. With eight full-length feature films and 11 web shows announced for the next one year, the over-the-top (OTT) video platform has stated its intent to focus on original programming.
In an interview, chief content officer Ted Sarandos looks back on the company’s big year in India with its first original Sacred Games and talks about achieving steady, value-led growth. Edited excerpts:
What lessons have you learnt from Sacred Games, creatively and business-wise?
Sacred Games was a great Indian story. It wasn’t something we tried to make for the world, we made it for India and believed if it did well, it would travel. So it was a reinforcement of that belief more than anything else. Secondly, we worked with great creators, who have a great history of, in this case, cinema and tried to bring the big elements of cinema to television, in terms of production values and mainstream actors (like Saif Ali Khan).
Over time, we’re going to be working with a lot of unknown people and breaking new talent as well. But right now, the idea is to bring in a comfort level, where people feel this is somebody I recognize, this is a familiar story and it’s produced at a level we haven’t seen in Indian television.
You’ve said India is one of your fastest growing investment destinations. Could you elaborate?
We’re putting in more money and there are more original projects in motion in India relative to our launch than anywhere else in the world. We don’t give out our investment figures publicly but we’ve announced eight new films and 11 original series and we’re very excited about them. The reason I don’t want to get into numbers is it’s all subject to change. Some things go over-budget.
What are your goals for subscriber or revenue growth over the next year?
We just want steady growth. If we do right for Indian consumers, they find great things to watch on Netflix and they value the service. We just want to keep that growing. We don’t even have goals on the quantity of content. The number of shows is not the goal, it’s the number of subscribers and the time they spend on Netflix.
Is there a focus on dark themes, given the worlds that Sacred Games and Ghoul inhabited?
We try to do something for every taste. There are shows on the OTT platforms that seem edgier, but because they are on demand, people can choose to watch them if they like. And if they don’t, they just don’t push play. Some of those (dark-themed) shows are our most popular ones but also Stranger Things (a science fiction horror series). To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (a romance) were our most watched movies this year and there was no violence in there.
The premise that our most watched shows are all like that is incorrect but that said, we’re new in this market and only two years old in Asia. The early adopters do tend to be younger men and then over time, it becomes more and more mainstream. When I think of India, the one thing that is very popular are the romances, which is something for everyone.
Where is India on the priority list for Netflix?
It’s very high. There are about a hundred projects in Asia and about 40 are rolling in different stages of production in India right now that we are very excited about. I think about 25 should come out in 2019 itself, so one can imagine the level of investment and time. To me, India is the most exciting, vibrant, young, mobile-leaning, entertainment-centric and diverse market which we can tap into and find the best storytellers from and help them find global audiences. All those things work together to entertain a huge population on the Internet, about 240 million people, which is a really huge opportunity.
What have you enjoyed watching most recently on Netflix?
I can’t pick favourites because people get hurt (laughs). It’s like picking your favourite child. I just finished watching Bodyguard, which is a show we co-produced with the BBC. That’s also very popular in India right now. It’s a six-episode series and very addictive. I watch a little bit of almost everything and sometimes if I’m a fan, I just dig in. I’ve seen all of our Indian content and was very engaged with Sacred Games.