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Amazon Prime Video launches in India, unveils aggressive local content slate

MUMBAI: E-commerce giant Amazon has launched its video streaming service Amazon Prime Video in India as it looks to fend off competition from rivals like Flipkart and Snapdeal.

The streaming service will be part of Amazon Prime, which was launched in July this year. Priced at Rs 499 a year or Rs 41.58 a month, Amazon Prime offers its member’s unlimited free one-day and two-day delivery to over a hundred cities in India besides early access to ‘Lightning Deals’.

Prime Video in India will stand on three content pillars. They are movies (including English, Hindi and regional), kids content and local and international Amazon originals. Content will be offered in six languages including English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Bengali.

Unlike most over-the-top (OTT) platforms in India, Prime Video has unveiled an aggressive slate of local shows that it plans to roll-out from next year.

L-R-Tim-LeslieAmit-Agarwal-Nitesh-Kripalani-and-James-Farrell

L-R-Tim-LeslieAmit-Agarwal-Nitesh-Kripalani-and-James-Farrell

The e-commerce giant has partnered leading studios and content creators for a host of original web shows. Altogether, the video streaming service has 17 shows at different stages of development. As many as nine shows are under production stage while another eight shows under development stage.

Amazon Prime Video’s local original content plan is on an unprecedented scale going by the Indian standard. Even its global competitor Netflix has been slow on original content. The Indian OTT players have also not been very aggressive on creating original content for web.

Netflix has partnered Phantom Films to create original series based on the ‘Sacred Games’ novel. Star India’s Hotstar is giving a push of original content ‘Tanhaiyan’. Viacom18’s Voot has been committed to original content from its launch. So far it has rolled out seven original shows. Sony Pictures Networks India’s Sony Liv has also done a couple of original web series’. YuppTV, which had recently raised $50 million from Emerald Media, will also get into original content creation to stay ahead of the game.

Coming to Amazon Prime Video’s line-up, the nine shows under production include ‘Bodhidharma: Master of Shaolin’ (Ram Madhvani, Prasoon Joshi and Sunil Doshi), ‘Breathe’ (Abundantia Entertainment), ‘The Ministry’ (AIB and OML), ‘Powerplay’ starring Vivek Oberoi and Richa Chadda (Excel Media & Entertainment), ‘Mirzapur’ (Excel Media & Entertainment), ‘Stardust’ (Phantom Films), ‘The Family Man’ (D2R Films) and ‘Vishpuri’ (Big Synergy).

Amazon also announced collaborations with authors, producers, writers and directors to develop several new series. The list includes Sujoy Ghosh and Hyunwoo Thomas Kim (Kross Pictures India), Ali Abbas Zafar, Himanshu Kishan Mehra, Sanjeev Gupta (Offside Entertainment), Rajat Arora (Funk Ur Blues), Karnesh Sharma and Anushka Sharma (Clean Slate Productions) and Navdeep Singh, Sudip Sharma, Tarun Tejpal, Raj Kumar Gupta (Raapchik Films), Pritish, Rangita and Ishita Nandy (Pritish Nandy Productions), Amit Kumar and Asif Kapadia (Fission Features), Aaradhana Bhola, Vidyuth Bhandary Tony and Diya Singh (Fremantle Media), Amritpal Singh Bindra and Anand Tiwari (Still & Still Moving Pictures).

Amazon Prime Video announces its slate of splendind Amazon Originals

In addition to new Indian original series, Prime members will also have access to the global Amazon Original Series from the US, including the Golden Globe, Emmy and BAFTA-winning dark comedy ‘Transparent’, the multi Golden Globe award-winning series ‘Mozart in the Jungle’ and one of the most-streamed Amazon Original Series ever by Amazon Prime members globally, ‘The Man in the High Castle’.

Kids’ series will also be available including the animated art-adventure ‘Creative Galaxy’, Gortimer Gibbon’s ‘Life on Normal Street’ and the multi-Emmy award-winning animated series, ‘Tumble Leaf’ and more. Additional series like ‘One Mississippi’, Woody Allen’s ‘Crisis in Six Scenes’, David E Kelley’s ‘Goliath’ and Bryan Cranston and Graham Yosts’ executively produced ‘Sneaky Pete’ will be added to the service early next year, along with the forthcoming docuseries ‘American Playboy: the Hugh Hefner Story’.

This line-up would also include the new global adventure show, The Grand Tour, with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Many new Bollywood and regional blockbusters will premiere exclusively on Amazon Prime Video within a few weeks after their theatrical release. The e-commerce player has inked deals with T-Series and Vishesh Films to stream new movie titles ahead of their TV premiere. Likewise, many US TV shows will be available first on Amazon Prime Video day after US broadcast.

It has also acquired a lot content to strengthen its library. It has partnered top Indian and international studios including, Yash Raj Films, Dharma Productions, T-Series, Excel, Warner, Paramount, CBS, Everest, SVF, Green Gold, TV Asahi, Lionsgate, NDTV and CBeebies.

Prime Video will offer 2016’s top Indian and Hollywood blockbusters including ‘Sultan’, ‘Kabali’ and ‘Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice’; top US TV shows like ‘Mr Robot’, ‘The Night Manager’, ‘Lethal Weapon’, among other popular shows like ‘The Good Wife ‘and ‘Two and a Half Men’; top kids shows like ‘Doraemon’, ‘Chhota Bheem’ and ‘Oggy & the Cockroaches’; top Indian shows like ‘Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah’, ‘CID’ and ‘Crime Patrol’; and top stand-up shows from comedians like AIB.

In addition to English and Hindi, Prime Video will also offer regional movies in Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Marathi, including ‘Kaashmora’, ‘Theri’, ‘Killing Veerapan’, ‘1 – Nenokkadine’, ‘Khawto’ and ‘Family Katta’.

Amazon Prime Video content will have subtitles and multi-language audio support, X-Ray to easily learn more about the video users are watching, continuous Play to effortlessly watch TV episodes back-to-back, parental controls to set viewing restrictions, and Amazon’s search and recommendation algorithms that make discovering relevant titles quick and easy.

Amazon also said that its proprietary streaming technology enables watching higher-quality video and enjoy smoother playback on your mobile network while minimising data usage. Amazon also lets users control the maximum bitrate for videos you stream or download by selecting from four quality levels.

Users can access Amazon Prime Video service across mobile, tablet and desktop besides popular internet connected TVs and gaming consoles. The video streaming has also enabled offline watching provision.

Amazon Prime Video head of content Asia Pacific James Ferrell said, “We didn’t want to have content for a single target group. We are targeting all demographics. We want kids to sit down and watch, we want teenagers to watch a lot of US originals, and we are hoping that there is enough for everyone to watch.”

Ferrell noted that Amazon Prime Video’s content hinges on three pillars, original shows, movies and kids content. “We have the latest movies from US/Hindi/regional, the best in kids content, and the best in original content. We think the Indian audience wants these three genres of content,” he stated.

According to Ferrell, the combination of shopping and content has worked well for Amazon. “The shopping and content work very well together. The customers will come not only to shop they are going to love watching video too. Maybe some customers will come to watch video and then the next time they are going to do some shopping.”

He is reasonably confident about the strategy’s success in India just as it helped Amazon in the US, Germany, the UK and Japan.

Amazon Prime Video India head Nitesh Kripalani said that the content has been designed keeping in mind customer needs.

“We have got a partnership with top five Bollywood studios. We have got partnerships with best studios in Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Bengali. From the US, we are working with Warner Bros and Paramount. Content from all these partners will be available in India. It’s based on what customers want. Customers want content in six different languages, early window, and latest and exclusive. That is what we are doing,” he said.

He also said that the first original show will launch in first half of 2017. “We have announced nine shows in production and there are nine in development. Our first show will launch in the first half of next year,” he informed.

He also pointed out that the shows are from diverse genres like psychological thriller, comedy and musical. Most of the original content will be in Hindi.

A significant majority of Amazon Prime Video’s content is Indian. Kripalani also said that Amazon wants to change the way TV shows are made in India.

He also said that the company is giving equal importance to acquired and original shows. “Focus on both original and acquired content. Volume will be more licensed content original will be a great differentiator. Other focus is to take local Indian creators global,” he averred.

Amazon Instant Video international VP Tim Leslie said that the main object of Prime service is to “create a great shopping and watching experience for customers”.

Leslie also observed that the current price tag of Rs 499 a year or Rs 41 a month for Prime is a real value for money deal for customers.

He also stated that Amazon Studios is making three times more content in the second half of the year. “We are going to make even more content next year. We will continue to make more content out of Amazon Studios,” he said.

In India, Amazon Prime Video will look at all types of content including movies, sports, kids and shows.

Talking about Amazon’s plan for Prime Video in India, SPNI executive VP and head of digital business Uday Sodhi said that more players entering and offering attractive content would only grow digital content usage and the OTT ecosystem. “More investments will only help and this is what is being seen in the digital environment.”

He noted that India has hardly scratched the surface when it comes to unlocking the potential of digital content. We are still at the top of the pyramid. The penetration of smartphones and data connectivity are still very low at 10–15%. More players coming in and offering attractive content will grow their penetration, he stated.

In terms of the potential of content costs for local shows going up due to Amazon’s content budget, he noted that there is enough talent in the market. It is not that if an OTT player makes a show at a lower cost, then talent will not work there. He also pointed that Amazon expects a cost benefit to be there.