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New Delhi: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ Hotstar may be leading on the foreign OTT (over-the-top) platform front in India, but things are all set to get more competitive in the domestic market. 

This September, price plans of HBO Max, the Warner Bros-owned platform, were leaked online. Media experts point to a possible launch early next year, though the company is yet to confirm it, but has dropped a hint with the appointment of a managing director for southeast Asia and India. 

Meanwhile, Lionsgate Play, the video streaming app owned by Hollywood studio Lionsgate, that has just announced its first Indian original could add to the competition with media analysts pointing to the need for local programming from all of these new entrants even as established players try to enhance appeal with multilingual content and marketing campaigns.

“We have witnessed a healthy growth in India and are expanding our presence rapidly. Our aim is to cater to the content needs of the Indian viewers in the age group of 25-45 years with a well-rounded line-up of content that is edgy and gripping," said Amit Dhanuka, executive vice-president, Lionsgate India whose platform will stream its first Indian original, titled Hiccups and Hookups starring Lara Dutta and Prateik Babbar later this month. 

One of the biggest challenges (for OTT services), Dhanuka added, is customer stickiness and retention, while viewers are open to trying out multiple services, keeping them hooked for the whole month is difficult, which is why Lionsgate has taken to premiering a new international movie title every Friday.

A media analyst, however, pointed out that few people in India would sign up for a new service to watch Hollywood films and would definitely ration subscriptions given that an average smartphone can host around three OTT apps. 

“Any new player would need significant investment in local programming but with talent and production costs increasingly escalating, that is a never-ending game," the person said adding that while it may not be long before Warner Bros announces an India launch for HBO Max, they could deliberately choose to remain niche and cater to the upper end of the audience like Lionsgate currently does or Netflix has, over the past few years.

“The platform that can democratise content best will lead the way. Disney+ Hotstar is leading the pack in terms of subscribers only because of the depth and width of content for the Indian audience. Amazon Prime Video and Netflix that are still catching up in India, have depth and width of content for niche segments but not the mass markets," Rahul Vengalil, managing partner at digital agency Isobar India said.

A recent report by Media Partners Asia (MPA), projects the subscriber base of Netflix to touch 5.5 million by the end of 2021. MPA is an independent provider of research, advisory and consulting services in media, telecom, sports and entertainment for Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. Rivals Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar are estimated to touch 21.8 million and 46 million respectively, over the same period. The latter, especially is expected to benefit from its sports catalogue, including the IPL (Indian Premier League).

WarnerMedia that had announced the appointment of Amit Malhotra as managing director for HBO Max in southeast Asia and India this June, did not respond to Mint’s queries. However, Vengalil said all market indications suggest the service will launch in India, which “is perhaps a key market for the overall growth of HBO Max, given that it has a high number of young urban consumers."

Disney+ Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video did not respond to Mint’s queries. A Netflix spokesperson said the company’s strategy in India is backed by deep investments in diverse and entertaining Indian stories, a wonderful team, partnerships with the creative community as well as focus on improving the experience for members. 

“We are also uniquely positioned to bring stories from around the world- and together that’s the value that Netflix brings to its members. We are building a robust slate of differentiated licensed and Netflix stories in multiple Indian languages, including Hindi, Tamil and Telugu," said the person about the service that has also announced its first fully owned, live-action, full-service post-production facility globally, in Mumbai. The company is still early in its journey in India, the person added and in March this year, had announced its biggest slate in the country yet with over 41 films, series, documentaries, unscripted and stand-up.

“The (video streaming) market is still in its nascency relative to the size of ad and subscription spends on TV today. The entry of new foreign players and likely mergers and acquisitions amongst existing players looking to build scale will heat up the streaming wars in India. Online video players intend to seize the opportunity with heavy investment in local content and sports as well as new products. An increase in competitive intensity will drive up content investment through both volumes and inflationary pressures," Mihir Shah, vice-president, MPA said.

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