New on Netflix: Mobile subscription plans for the Indian viewer

This is a departure from their previous pricing models which were prohibitive for a large chunk of our population

Published - August 02, 2019 04:21 pm IST

Netflix has a position in pop culture that’s arguably unparalleled.

Netflix has a position in pop culture that’s arguably unparalleled.

The much hyped — and much panned — fourth season of cult American sitcom Arrested Development was released in 2013, brought back to life after years in the wilderness thanks to Netflix (and the show’s rabid fans). It was around this time that I first got to know of Netflix’s global impact as a streaming giant. It was still three-or-so years away from launching in India, so I found an ‘extralegal’ way to watch the show. A few months after Arrested Development came Orange Is The New Black ( OITNB ), again developed as a Netflix original, about life inside a women’s prison. The first season was unanimously lauded, and served to put Netflix on the map. Suddenly, ‘bingeing’ on shows became a worldwide concept.

Late last month, poetically at around the same time that OITNB finished its seven-year run, the company announced a new India-only mobile subscription plan, for which users can sign up at ₹199 a month.

In return, users get to ‘Netflix and chill’ on their mobile phones or tablets. It only provides the rather fuzzy 480p streaming — Standard Definition (SD) — but that’s more than enough for a phone screen.

This is a departure from their previous pricing models, which were prohibitive for a large chunk of our population. Netflix’s ultra super-duper 4K HD premium plan is priced at ₹799 a month — close to ₹10,000 annually — which is arguably more than what most people pay for general cable TV access. For scale, an Amazon Prime membership sets you back by approximately ₹1,000 a year, for which you get access to Prime Video, as well as their music library and priority delivery. So, finally some sense.

There’s plenty of business mumbo-jumbo to parse here, about how economical this plan really is for the users (it’s still more than double what they’d pay for Prime Video). Or what Netflix’s cost of acquiring a new customer is and whether a low subscription price offsets that. Or how this move makes sense because they have a higher number of users viewing Netflix on mobile phones in India compared to anywhere else, and how a lot of people here wouldn’t own or be able to afford TVs and laptops. Or how quickly they can convert mobile plan users into basic plan users, into standard users, into, ultimately, premium users.

Always in transit

It’s a sign, perhaps, that Netflix has embraced the peculiarities of Indian audiences. From complaints about explicit content — remember the fuss around Sacred Games — to roping in Bollywood stars to, most recently, accusations of airing ‘Hinduphobic’ material. But what struck me most was how we view content now.

Personally, outside of TikTok or the occasional meme video that pops up on Facebook or Twitter, I don’t watch anything on my phone. I much prefer a laptop screen. But I can understand why it’s such a big thing. As Indians, we’re cursed with being forever in transit. Rushing to get to school or college or work. In a crowded train or Metro. Standing in line at some government office or the other. There’s always something. And watching something is a way out of the limbo.

We’re a nation reared on cinema halls and Bollywood excess. We’ve gone from iconic single-screen halls to multiplexes to huge dome-shaped theatres. We have spent hours in front of TVs.

Those things remain, but there’s a new addition to our viewing habits, first with YouTube and now video streaming platforms (in addition to Prime and Netflix, there’s Hotstar and a bunch of smaller ones), so it’s natural that viewing habits will adapt accordingly. And while it’s easy to bemoan the smaller screens as an inferior experience, these are exciting times.

Netflix has a position in pop culture that’s arguably unparalleled, in part because of its attempts to redefine how TV shows and movies are viewed.

With a new tech challenge ahead, where a significant chunk of people will be viewing content in crowded places on six-inch phone screens and middling earphones, it’ll be interesting to see how they acclimatise and adapt (if at all).

The author and freelance culture writer from New Delhi wishes he’d studied engineering instead.

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