'Amazon doubles Prime subscriber base in India after launch of Prime Video'

It has been about six months since Amazon launched its Prime Video service in India. Customer sign-ups for Prime have doubled since then, said Amazon Video India director and country head Nitesh Kripalani.

In an interview with TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin Pinto, Kripalani talks about Amazon Prime Video’s content plans, the ambition to be No. 1 in the OTT space, consumption patterns in India and the urge to work with local talent.


Q. What progress has Amazon Prime Video made since launching six months back?

Amazon Prime Video is a subscription service. We do not have ad revenue. We don’t reveal numbers but, what I can tell you is that it is growing beyond our expectations. Customer sign-ups for Prime have doubled since we launched Prime Video. We continue to see exponential growth month on month.

One of the most rewarding facts is that customers are getting engaged even more. The number of hours that customers spend per month has doubled since launch. It is also very heartening to see that after the launch of Fire TV Stick, they are the most engaged customers. We are very happy with the progress made.

Q. In the months to come how many Indian original series will you have?

There is no one number that I can give you. You launch them when they are ready to be launched. We are trying to get three to four more originals beyond ‘Inside Edge’ this year. Different projects are at different stages. Some are in development, some are in production, some are in casting, while others are in post-production. We aspire to launch new shows after ‘Inside Edge’. The aim is to get the right shows, episodes to the customer

Q. Abroad Amazon is making its first movie with director Doug Liman. Will you also look at making movies here?

Right now, we are making shows. That is step one. Let us see how that goes. We constantly look at movies, documentaries and other genres as well. Today it is about Amazon original shows and we constantly evaluate other things.

Q. According to a FICCI KPMG report, Amazon Prime Video ranks third. How do you strategise to fill the gap?

We are focused on our customers. We want to be No. 1 among our customers. We constantly look at what selection we offer, the reliability of our service, convenience of access and value. We are an SVOD service and we are building the SVOD market segment in India with the right content especially with originals like ‘Inside Edge’.

Q. How successful have you been in redefining primetime?

The good news is that we are seeing a lot of customers engage with the latest content that may or may not be on television. We are starting to see a shift in consumption patterns where customers are enjoying the service on their phones, tablets or on Fire TV Stick.

‘If there is a large MSO or cable operator and the tech integration work is easy, we will launch on their network’

Q. Could you talk about content consumption patterns in terms of what content is resonating?

A. As you know our content is very diverse in multiple languages from movies, TV shows kids and now documentaries, and of course Amazon Originals. What is really working well are Indian movies in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. They are followed by Bengali and Marathi.

Even US TV shows that were earlier being pirated are now being consumed in a legitimate way as they are available at a very small price. They watch the first episode of ‘Seinfeld’. They watch the first season of ‘Two and a Half Men’.

At the same time, they watch the latest episode of ‘Vampire Diaries’ and ‘Supernatural’. It is a very diverse mix. The good news is that they are binge-watching US TV shows, which we believe was an unmet demand. They are also watching our global Amazon Originals like ‘American Playboy’ and ‘American Gods’. Of course, kids’ content is also being consumed due to the summer vacation.

Q. Is there any particular genre that Indian consumers are more inclined towards?

Strangely romantic comedies seem to be working. ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ did extremely well. Even movies like ‘Ghazi Attack’ have done very well. Popular, box-office movies have done very well. Movies with good storylines have also done extremely well. You cannot nail down one genre, but I would say Indian movies, US TV shows, kids and stand-up comedies have done well.

Q. How are you scaling up regional content?

We are in talks with content producers for Tamil, Telugu and Marathi content. We have already launched Telugu movies. We have also launched Bengali movies. We are seeing how this works with customers before we double down. But we have got long-term partnerships in these markets already.

Q. There are reports that you are looking to work with Akshay Kumar and John Abraham. Could you talk about that and the importance of working with top talent?

The promise is to work with best talent in the country. They are some of the top talent that we have in the country along with Riteish, Farhan and Karan. We continue meeting all of them. We work with every talent we can. A good story can come from anywhere.

Q. Do ideas come from you or from the content creator?

It can come from either. We have a three-member originals team. Good ideas come from discussions, collaboration. We have done a good job lining up 18 shows. Shows come from the producers and creators but also from us collaborating with them.

Q. What do you look for before choosing to work with a content creator?

We look for the passion that they have about the subject. We look at the vision that they have for how they want to present content to customers. We look at the actual story that has been written, the story arc, the sketches. It goes through an all-episode reading before we decide if we want to move forward.

Q. So you believe that originals will attract more customers?

We believe that all content will attract subscribers. It depends on their subscriber. But originals are about putting our best foot forward. It is about our brand, our vision. The brand of Amazon comes out with a stamp on it. Originals do drive the service. We believe that it will be the same in India.

Q. Are your Indian original shows rolling out as per schedule?

There is no real schedule. When you are doing shows with so many different makers, it is difficult to kind of school them and say that this is the schedule. It doesn’t work that way. We are happy to launch our first show ‘Inside Edge’ on 10 July. We are really looking forward to announcing more. The objective is to get three to four more shows after ‘Inside Edge’ this year. But making good stuff takes time. We know that.

‘We have announced 18 local shows. There are a few more, but either they are at a negotiating stage or our team is evaluating and developing them’ 

Q. Have you finished announcing all your local shows or are there more?

We have announced 18. There are a few more, but either they are at a negotiating stage or our team is evaluating and developing them.

Q. Amazon Prime Video’s pricing is really low. Has it worked well for you?

We believe that it is the right value for customers because you have to think about not only the pricing but also the data charges. This is a concern. Customers have told us this. That is why we have implemented a lot of features like low data usage. On Fire TV Stick, we give away data with Airtel and You Broadband as partners.

But it is not just about price. What drives the service is the content. If you give customers what they want in a way that is quick, simple and easy, they will stay with you.

Q. Could you talk about the progress that Fire TV Stick has made in boosting Amazon Prime video?

We have really done well on the Fire TV Stick. This too has gone beyond our expectations. The whole bundle of the Stick plus the data that we offer and one year of Prime is resonating with customers. Consumption of Amazon Prime Video on the Fire TV stick is the highest on the hours per customer per month across all our devices. Customers do want to watch our content on the big screen and they are getting that with the Fire TV Stick.

Q. You are putting in a lot of investments into original series. ‘Inside Edge’ looks like an expensive series. When do you think you can breakeven?

Any business that we have we think long term. We don’t think of it on a series breakeven level. We look at the number of subscribers engaging with the show, the word of mouth and buzz about the show.

‘Inside Edge’ as you can see is Bollywood and cricket. It is the two passions that we Indians have in our blood. It opens up a lot of markets. Customers that already consume our content like shows from the US and the UK can now actually be passionate about something that we have made with Indian talent.

Q. What is the scene in terms of adding content?

We constantly evaluate content. We recently announced a deal with Warner Bros. There a few more deals in the pipeline. The US season starts in August/September and ends in March/April. You will see a lot more content coming up. You will see a lot more movies. We just put up ‘Noor’ and ‘Begum Jaan’. The most exciting thing is that we have been talking about our Indian originals and here it is.

Q. Do you think that making original content is a viable revenue stream?

If it has worked globally, then it will work here. Indian customers are not different. If you give the right content on the right device and right value, then people will consume it. We have already seen this happen. ‘The Grand Tour’ was one of the most-streamed shows. ‘American Gods’ as we speak is doing well.

Even ‘Baahubali’ an animation show is being seen by 100,000 customers each week. The trailer of ‘Inside Edge’ is already trending on Twitter. It is not sponsored. It is completely organic. This tells you that the customer is looking for this. There are positive signs of local content working.

Q. What formula do you follow in choosing a subject?

There is no formula for choosing a subject. You look at what the story really is and if it will resonate. We are doing a show with Ram Madhvani called ‘Bodhidharma’, which is about the genesis of kung-fu. We are doing a political satire called ‘The Ministry’ with AIB. There is no one formula. You have to look at what the story is and whether it will resonate with customers.

We are in talks with content producers for Tamil, Telugu and Marathi content. We have already launched Telugu movies. We have also launched Bengali movies. We are seeing how this works with customers before we double down. But we have got long-term partnerships in these markets already’

Q. Would you look at TV integration by working with an MSO?

Amazon Prime Video is on Samsung, LG and Sony devices as you know. We have also launched on older devices of those companies in the last couple of weeks. The objective is to be in front of customers wherever they are.

If there is a large multi-system operator (MSO) or cable operator and the tech integration work is easy, we will do it tomorrow. If the customer base is huge, we will do it.

Q. Do you do a lot of research in deciding what shows to make and what will be appreciated?

We always take all our shows to customers for research. It gives us feedback on what to improve on. That is the standard procedure anywhere in the world. We take a pilot to customers and see what resonates. Research and data are in Amazon’s DNA. We focus on customers and less on what the competition does.

Q. What are some of the distribution tie-ups that you have done with telcos?

We recently announced a partnership with Vodafone. There are other partnerships that we are working quite closely on.

Q. How do you see the OTT environment faring going forward? Will there be consolidation?

India is a very large market and is growing very fast. It is not a homogeneous market. I think that there will be room for multiple players across India. It is going to ultimately be about who has got the best content that customers care about.

I am not sure about consolidation. What I can tell you is that we are solely focusing on customers. The initial numbers from the first six months have been very heartening. It looks like customers like the content selection that we have got.

Q. Is OTT complementing or competing with TV?

It is difficult to say if you are competing or complementing. It depends on the customer. If you want to watch content on demand, you come to Amazon Prime Video. Today time is very limited. We lead busy lives. So, by the time somebody gets back home from work, drinks a glass of water, sits down for dinner and is ready to watch content at 10 pm, the chances are that you have missed your programme on TV at 9 pm.

Therefore, on-demand access is growing exponentially. That is where the future is. We are building the category of SVOD which is on demand.

Q. How is Prime Video boosting e-commerce and giving you a leg up over competition like Flipkart?

Prime is arguably the No. 1 multi-benefit subscription service in the world. In India, it is no different. You are giving customers multiple benefits for one single subscription value. They like the benefit that they are seeing so far. We know that Prime customers buy more purchases because they find it convenient to get products on the same day, one day or two days, and at the same time the content selection that we have got really satisfies a lot of customers irrespective of the market or the language.

Q. What are you going to be doing on the marketing front to push ‘Inside Edge’?

We have an exhaustive campaign. We will be having not only TV and print TV ads but also different innovations that the team has put together. The objective is to launch it like a movie. It is a movie-quality show.