New Delhi: Netflix has introduced a mobile-only subscription plan in India at ₹199 a month, as the world’s largest video streaming service looks to add users in the country where video content consumption has surged, with data prices plunging to among the lowest in the world.
This is Netflix’s first mobile-specific option anywhere in the world and its fourth India plan in addition to the existing basic ( ₹499), standard ( ₹649) and premium ( ₹799) plans.
With the cheaper subscription plan, Netflix expects to reach new users in India, who typically watch videos on their mobile phones. Still, Netflix will have to grapple with several local and overseas rivals such as Disney-owned streaming service Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video, which are luring users with free or low-priced offerings.
“The pricing move is interesting given that users in India were finding Netflix to be an expensive service. It should help them increase their overall pie of paid subscribers, though rival platforms like Amazon Prime and ZEE5, with more content and even lower prices, will still prove to be a challenge,” said Abneesh Roy, senior vice president (research) at Edelweiss Securities.
Offering content in standard definition quality and downloads for one mobile phone or tablet at a time, the formal announcement of Netflix’s mobile-only plan comes four months after the company started testing a mobile subscription in the country that cost ₹250 a month, the response to which it said was overwhelmingly positive.
“The one motive (behind the mobile subscription) is to broaden access. As we acknowledge the learning that India is so mobile-centric, this felt like a great next step to make Netflix available to more consumers,” said Ajay Arora, director (product innovation) at Netflix.
According to the Ficci-EY media and entertainment industry report for 2019, smartphone penetration in India grew to 36% of total phones in 2018. Indians spend 30% of their time on mobile phones on entertainment, second only to social media. However, in terms of data, they use over 70% on entertainment.
Arora said the idea is not to focus on competition—rivals Amazon Prime Video and Hotstar are priced much lower at₹129 a month and ₹299 a month, respectively—but to constantly dish out good content. While Netflix’s payment methods allow credit and debit cards, besides partnerships with telecommunication and cable firms including Bharti Airtel Ltd, Vodafone Idea Ltd and Hathway Broadband, the plan is to bring more prepaid, low-paying customers into the fold at some point in what he said was an ongoing journey.
Apart from the subscription plan, Netflix is looking to launch other mobile-specific features for India, where more people sign up for the service on mobiles and watch content on the go than anywhere in the world, according to its findings. Recognizing India’s data and bandwidth limitations, Netflix’s content can now be streamed at 250kbps instead of 640-1,000kbps earlier. This means picture quality will adjust itself depending on the user’s mobile network. There are also specific sign-up options designed for mobile customers, along with smaller images and a different user interface meant for entry-level smartphones.
Globally, too, Netflix is coming up with innovations to enhance user experience, said Nigel Baptiste, director (partner engagement). Settings will soon allow users to move to a Netflix-calibrated mode, where video and audio quality will be similar to how the content was shot in the studio. The streaming service is investing in better content recommendations, mobile previews (where trailers play automatically and one tap adds the show or film to the viewer’s watch list) and smart downloads. The firm said Netflix members in India are among the highest downloaders of content globally and almost half its members in the country downloaded at least one film or episode in a series in June.
Netflix believes the combination of right product features, an appropriate price point and nuanced content will help it go beyond India’s metros. Long seen as the most elite streaming service in the country, it has recently announced a slew of narratives set in small towns and content in vernacular languages.