Streaming giants produce bold TV programs, but there is a chance of censorship.
The Emmy Awards this year, one of the biggest nights on global television, have been particularly historic for India.
It was the second year in a row that numerous Indian TV shows were nominated, and an Indian series won for the first time.
The award for Best Foreign Series was brought home by Delhi Crime, an eight-part Netflix drama investigating a violent rape case in 2012.
In reality, all the Indian nominations were for Netflix or Amazon Prime-produced shows. Streaming has dramatically changed the Indian artistic landscape over the last two years – and has generated a new global audience for Indian series and films.
20 per cent of viewers of its original Indian content now come from outside India, according to Amazon Prime.
“India is a land of storytellers, but because of the formulaic nature of cinema and television, for a long time there was no representation of all kinds of stories,” said Aparna Purohit, Head of Original Content at Amazon Prime India. “That was democratized by streaming.
Stories that have not been picked up before, subjects that have been overlooked or avoided, there is space for them now.’
Four years ago, the two largest streaming services, Netflix and Amazon Prime, arrived in India, but the momentum has only been building in the last two years.
But as the platforms started to flourish, they faced an increasing backlash from hardline right-wing groups in India, who accused Netflix and Amazon of producing content that “violates the fabric of Indian society.” While the platforms were previously free of the censorship that controls all films and television in India, allowing new, bolder programming, the government announced in November that a censorship that controls all films and television in India.
Amazon and Netflix have made significant investments to capitalize on their profitable ability in a world with more than 1.3 billion people, half of whom are under the age of 25.
India is currently witnessing the fastest growth of any global streaming industry, according to senior executives.
Netflix invested $400 million (£293 million) in the production of original programming in 2019-20 and launched more than 30 original titles of content for India.
In more than 4,300 cities across India, Amazon Prime now has clients and has around 50 shows in different stages of growth.
Both platforms also produce original content in regional languages such as Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam, in addition to shows in Hindi and English.
“This year has been an incredible year for us in India because we are one of the fastest growing markets in the entire Netflix world,” said Monika Shergill, Netflix India’s vice president of content. “We have a huge new member base in India that we’ve found is hungry for different stories and formats.”
Several shows produced in India have made it into the Netflix Top 10 in countries around the globe, with Bollywood Wives’ Fabulous Lives reality show and Mighty Little Bheem children’s animation cited as recent global successes, Shergill said.
While India has a flourishing Bollywood film industry and a long-running TV series community, there is no tradition in the industry of immersive long-form storytelling for which streaming services are renowned.
Most of the early investment by Netflix and Amazon went into creating a new talent pool.
“We had to build it, brick by brick,” Amazon Prime’s Purohit said. “We invested very heavily in development and took a long time to greenlight projects. We started organizing writers’ workshops where we brought together new writers and experienced showrunners and creators. We just tried, worked and learned along the way.” Initially, the big names of Bollywood were unwilling to collaborate, but now they are knocking on the door of Amazon Prime.
Logistical problems have also been identified: 96% of Indian households have a single TV, and it is rarely a smart TV with Internet access.
But with the world’s second-highest ownership of cell phones and widespread access to cheap mobile data, most Indians are now watching videos on their phones. In India, Netflix claims its subscribers watch more than anywhere else in the world on mobile.
Cheap subscriptions starting at 129 rupees (£1.30) a month for Amazon Prime and 199 rupees a month for Netflix have helped the rise, but with an average monthly household income of 32,800 rupees this