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New Delhi: American streaming service Netflix that has completed five years of launch in India, on Wednesday said there is no reason to brand it a niche service in the country. With more than 40 originals scheduled for 2021, the Reed Hastings-owned platform is looking at expanding its slate by nearly three times as compared to 2020 across languages and genres.

The fresh slate of original films, series, comedy specials and documentaries includes titles like Taapsee Pannu’s Haseen Dilruba, four Karan Johar features—an anthology drama Ajeeb Daastaans, a romantic drama Meenakshi Sundareshwar, a mystery thriller Finding Anamika featuring Madhuri Dixit and a docu-series on Ma Anand Sheela.

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The long list doesn’t end there. Reliance Entertainment’s Sonakshi Sinha-starrer Bulbul Tarang, Ronnie Screwvala’s Dhamaka featuring Kartik Aaryan, an Ekta Kapoor production called Pagglait, and a political drama called Mai produced by Anushka Sharma is among the numerous new shows.

“When you look at the slate this year, I can’t think of an audience that we are not programming for. We made a lot of effort to really lean into audience tastes and moods, whether it’s titles for family or individual-viewing," said Monika Shergill, vice-president, content, Netflix India, adding that Indian titles like Ludo, AK vs AK and Jamtara-Sabka Number Ayega were high on the binge list last year, not just in India but across multiple countries.

Meanwhile, Srishti Behl Arya, director, international original film, Netflix India said anybody who is on Netflix is a great fan of content which means they’re willing to experiment. So even international programming has great appeal.

So while Netflix relies heavily on international content which is rich, breaking out and being dubbed into Hindi and other local languages, it is local Indian content that is the go-to choice for most viewers in the country.

That explains the service’s measures to penetrate deeper with its mobile-only plan starting at 199 introduced in July. Shergill said its success encouraged them to look at the more recent Jio postpaid plus plans that offer free Netflix subscriptions starting at Rs. 399.

The service, Shergill said, understands India is a mobile-first country and a lot of members prefer watching content on mobile. Yet there are others who prefer the big-screen experience, she added.

“That is something we understand and appreciate. We want to tell more local stories, which is why 2021 is different, bigger and richer than 2020 in terms of ambition, it’s a step change," Shergill added. While declining to share investment figures for India, she said it would be higher than the Rs. 3,000 crore figure quoted by founder Hastings for 2019 and 2020 on his visit to the country more than a year ago.

Yet media analysts disagree with Netflix’s claims on seeking deeper penetration. “Pricing and distribution levers have played out well for Netflix to attain 4.3 million paying subscribers in 2020, more than doubling from last year. However, this has not tied well with its execution to roll out a steady pipeline of local content," said Mihir Shah, vice-president at research firm Media Partners Asia, adding that shows which have gained in popularity have hurt political and religious sentiment and the situation has worsened in recent months with multiple senior level exits across key functions.

Aashish Singh, director of original film, Swati Mohan, director of marketing and Divya Pathak, director of publicity, have all moved on in the past few months as competitors Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar have bet big on tentpole Bollywood titles and managed a more robust churn of originals.

Another entertainment industry expert who did not wish to be named, however, said Netflix has no intention of turning as massy as Hotstar that is eyeing over 25 million users in India and is unlikely to rework strategy unless subscriptions go down radically in its other markets.

To be sure, Netflix believes the covid-19 pandemic has proven stories are a part of essential services as a window to the world. The hallmark of Netflix is to offer great quality stories and ample choice, Shergill added.

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