Netflix signs partnerships with Airtel, Videocon, Vodafone

Netflix has signed distribution partnerships with three of India’s leading telecoms and DTH (direct-to-home) service providers – Airtel Digital TV, Videocon d2h and Vodafone.

The tie-ups are part of an attempt to broaden Netflix’s Indian subscriber base. Both Airtel and Videocon will integrate Netflix into their DTH television services, meaning the service can be consumed without a smart TV or streaming device like Google Chromecast.

Vodafone, which is India’s second largest mobile operator with more than 200 million subscribers, will make Netflix available as both a prepaid and postpaid programme. Customers will then be able to pay for the service via their monthly bills, rather than signing up with a credit card. Despite the Indian government’s recent demonetisation drive, credit card use is still relatively low in India’s cash-driven economy.

The partnerships were announced by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who made his first visit to India over the weekend. “India is one of the most important and vibrant countries in the world and we are delighted to be teaming up with three of its leading companies to make it much easier for consumers to enjoy Netflix,” Hastings said.

Hastings also said the company would be increasing its commitment to locally produced films and series: “In 2017, we’ll be working on making our Indian service better in every dimension. Working with some of India’s top artists, we cannot wait to bring more locally produced series and films to our more than 93 million members households around the world.”

Netflix, which launched in India in January 2016, has a content licensing deal with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment. It has also pacted with Phantom Films for a series adapted from Vikram Chandra’s novel Sacred Games and with Indian comedian Vir Das for a comedy special.

However, Amazon Prime Video made a much noisier entry into the market at the end of last year, announcing a slew of deals with Bollywood production houses including T-Series, Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, Arka MediaWorks and V Creations. Amazon is also spending a reported $75m on working with local production houses on original series.

Amazon Prime Video is also much cheaper than Netflix, available as part of an annual Prime subscription of $7.5 (Rs499), while both US streaming giants face a growing tide of local competitors including Hotstar, Eros Now and the on-demand services of telecoms including Airtel and Reliance Jio.

Hastings also said Netflix had seen “strong growth” in India, but did not share numbers. He also said that viewing of Netflix shows had increased through the recently launched Reliance Jio data service.

Netflix also announced that it is planning to open a Mumbai office, which would join its existing offices outside the US in Amsterdam, London, Tokyo and Singapore.