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Business News/ Industry / Media/  ‘We’re still scratching the surface in India’
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‘We’re still scratching the surface in India’

Over 75% of Prime Video India’s customers watch international shows and movies in English or local languages, says Prime Video Country Director Sushant Sreeram

Sushant Sreeram, Prime Video Country DirectorPremium
Sushant Sreeram, Prime Video Country Director

New Delhi: The success of Amazon Prime Video’s crime thriller Farzi, the most-watched Indian subscription video-on-demand (SVoD ) show, according to media consulting firm Ormax, has drawn much attention to the platform’s India strategy. The service has also had many popular shows such as Panchayat, The Family Man and Mirzapur since its India launch in 2016. In an interview, Sushant Sreeram, recently elevated as country director, Prime Video, India, spoke about the platform’s strategy to balance local offerings with dubbed international tentpole shows, programming for the heterogeneous Indian audience and investing aggressively in a market, where it is still early days for SVoD. Edited excerpts:

Given that Prime Video has been operating in India for over six years, is there a sense of what’s working—in terms of languages or genres? How will that impact your broader content strategy, going forward?

If we were to chart our journey in the six-and-a-half years we’ve been here, you can see the diversity of bets we’ve made. Be it languages, genres or formats, it is too early to start thinking of these as choices. Indian customer, is still, by and large, waking up to the paid SVoD category offering, though past two-and-a-half years have accelerated adoption. But if you think of broad context of entertainment and viewer in India, you realize that it’s still Day One. Our focus is to ensure we continue to move with speed and agility. We will continue to build on our learning and, hopefully, it will reflect in programming.

How do you plan to balance local offerings with the international slate in 2023?

We had about 500 titles that launched on the service last year. This includes our local originals, our global international shows, local licensed movies and much more. When we think about shows, local originals obviously sit within the cultural milieu of the country. At the same time, there is an opportunity to bring global stories and shows, obviously by localizing them using subtitles and dubbing, as we’re doing with Citadel (a spy series starring Priyanka Chopra and Richard Madden created by the Russo brothers premiering on 28 April). We’ve seen this with shows like The Rings of Power, The Tomorrow War and The Peripheral, and some non-English international shows like Maradona: Blessed Dream. With the right story, set-up and localization, even our international shows are finding an audience. Over 75% of Prime Video India’s customers watch international shows and movies in English or local languages. With localization in Indian languages, over 25% of total viewing time of international shows and movies is in Indian languages. Keeping that in mind, we’ll be releasing Citadel not just in English but 40-plus languages globally; for our audiences in India, there’s Hindi, but also Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam. As far as local originals go, we have around 100 projects in various stages of development and production. Jubilee (a period drama will be streamed from 7 April), Dahaad (starring Sonakshi Sinha) is slated for later this year, returning seasons of popular franchises and the Citadel India franchise with Varun Dhawan and Samantha Ruth Prabhu.

How are you looking to strategize investments as several platforms are increasingly reducing India budgets?

We made a statement on investments doubling over next five years last year, and it holds true. At Prime Video, it feels like we’re still scratching the surface. We see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build this category with compelling storytelling so there is no let up in our ambitions. There is no let up in customer’s appetite, too. Be it customers wanting more in their preferred language, genre, or new customers. We don’t fear any ebb and our investments back that up.

Has viewership or subscription stabilized post the acceleration caused by the pandemic?

There was an evolution in the (SVoD) category in terms of customers sampling it, and beginning to see value in it. In that sense, what would have taken about five years before the pandemic, happened in a year and a half. And it has levelled up far higher in terms of propensity of customers to join the service, and number of hours they spend on it. What that tells us is this behaviour is not temporary, it is a customer shift that is here to stay. That gives us confidence to make forward-looking investments as this is behaviour customers will stick with and therefore, our investments over 4-5 years will have right dividends associated with them.

Which languages or categories are working best for you?

That is hard to say as rate of adoption of the category has exploded. It could have been a little narrower to programme in earlier days of the category because early adopters were similar. Next wave of adopters has, however, been very dissimilar. We programme on the service in 10 languages but we look at more of an opportunity as far as subtitles and dubs go or when licensing movie titles across languages. For example, Citadel is being programmed in five Indian languages.

Most of our local originals are finding an appetite worldwide, even outside the diaspora audience. Farzi entered the Top 10 trending list in 10 Prime Video locales worldwide in the first week of its launch, including the US, UK, Canada, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.

Prime Video was the first service to start acquiring films for direct digital release during the pandemic. Where does your movie acquisition strategy now stand as you also attempt theatrical movies? (the firm co-produced Akshay Kumar’s Ram Setu)

The idea is to programme great stories for customers and we work backwards from there to determine the model of engagement. It also depends upon what stage we get involved in a project. Over the last three years, our content approach sits between movies that go to theatres and then come to the service, direct-to-service movies that we brought in during the pandemic and continue to look for opportunities for, and finally co-productions. We released Ram Setu in cinemas last year and have more movies lined up, two with Dharma Productions and one with Abundantia Entertainment. These will all have a theatrical run and then exclusively premiere on Prime Video. There are also our original movies where we collaborate closely with creators. We don’t think of these in isolation but as a whole spectrum, the whole thing fits when you see it together.

What are the challenges for you in the OTT ecosystem now?

Because of the rate of adoption of the category, we continue to see very healthy growth in our business. The profile of our customers is becoming increasingly diverse, so we have to have our ears to the ground and programme for each of those customers. Secondly, as we bring on board new storytellers, we have to make sure that we’re providing them with a global audience. Also, the Indian customer is a very heterogeneous mix, not just in language or genre preferences but also in affordability levels. So, we have to make sure we have the right product and payment experience and access for everybody in the country.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lata Jha
Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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Published: 05 Apr 2023, 12:11 AM IST
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