Apple TV+ to launch in India: Should OTT players worry?

Apple is set to launch its OTT service in November at a mere Rs 99 a month. We ask experts what it means for the OTT players in India

by Shikha Paliwal
Published - Sep 12, 2019 8:53 AM Updated: Sep 12, 2019 10:43 AM

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The spectacular growth in the OTT sector is not going unnoticed as more and more players jostle to join the bandwagon. The latest to announce its plans is none other than technology giant Apple, which has slated a November launch for it Apple TV+. In India, it will be available for an aggressively priced Rs 99 a month.

The entry of Apple TV+ into the already crowded OTT space in India may not come as very good news for existing international players like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and for that matter, even home-grown platform Hotstar. It is important to note that Disney+ too will be available to viewers through Hotstar around the same time as the Apple TV + launch.

A comparison of the monthly subscription rates reflects how serious Apple is about the India market. Netflix has the highest monthly subscription cost at Rs 499/ for their basic plan, Amazon Prime Video is available at Rs 129 along with a host of other services. In fact, Netflix, in a bid to fatten its subscriber base, recently introduced an exclusive India-only mobile plan at Rs 199. But in a price-sensitive market like India, Apple has strategically announced a subscription rate of only Rs 99 a month, which is a clear advantage in this niche segment. However, any industry expert who is familiar with the OTT landscape in India will tell you that competitive pricing is not the final frontier in this overcrowded sector.

The remarkable success of the Indian OTT players has shown that local content is king for the Indian market. Even Netflix and Amazon, which had the first movers’ advantage, were quick to understand this and have been adding local content on priority since their launch. There is a constant scramble amongst OTT players to acquire Bollywood and regional movie rights post their theatrical release to cater to the Indian movie buff. Tie-ups for exclusive content creation with big production houses is becoming the norm and these platforms are investing heavily in it.

This brings us to the next big question of what content will Apple have in store for the digital subscriber in India? One thing is clear, for now, Apple is only offering English content that would be movies, comedies, dramas, and kid shows. This line-up will also include nine exclusive originals, and Apple intends to add originals every month post the launch.

Speaking at the launch event, Tim Cook, Apple CEO, said, "Our mission for Apple TV+ is to bring you the best original stories from the most creative minds in television and film."

The lack of local content is perhaps the reason why even industry experts believe that the addition of Apple TV + may not have a serious impact on the Indian OTT players, while the international players may feel some heat.

Elaborates Shamsuddin Jasani, Group MD, Isobar South Asia, “Let me just turn back the dial when Apple launched iTunes back in the day. That time it was something unique, but right now, it’s quite late in the game. But I think Rs 99 is a very good price point that they are coming out with. It really depends on the kind of content they would be coming up with. So my only reservation, which will play well on other people’s behalf, is that I don’t think Apple in the beginning will be able to invest too much in local content. I don’t think it will take away too many people from the local OTT players.”

“I think the scale is only going to come through Hindi language or regional languages. So local OTT players need not be scared too much in terms of competition, maybe the Netflix and the Amazon Primes need to,” he adds.

Speaking on the same lines, Girish Menon, KPMG Partner and Head - Media and Entertainment, says the uptake of online video services will depend on the content library they have, and if that is relevant to the Indian audiences.

“With digital video consumption going mass, an increasing amount of stories are focusing on the masses, and in languages that consumers can relate to. Further, post the NTO, the pricing of most OTT platforms has achieved a sort of parity with television. Therefore, with consumers having a plethora of choices as far as online video content is concerned, that too at affordable prices, the decision for subscription will eventually come down to content that they can identify with."

With local flavours missing from its content line up for now, how does then Apple expect to lure the existing subscriptions to its side? Besides its affordable monthly plan, the only other upside for it now is that the subscriptions will be free when you buy an iPhone, Mac, iPad or their Apple TV, but only for a year.

Sabyasachi Mitter, Founder & MD, Fulcro, believes that the highly competitive pricing of Rs 99 per month, as well as the one-year subscription plan with all new Apple device purchases, will make Apple TV+ a significant competition for OTT platforms that are still engaged in a land grab in the Indian market.

However, when it comes to Apple, the next obvious question is that of compatibility and availability. For now, Apple TV+ will be limited to its own products, Amazon Fire TV and some select smart TVs.

Explaining how this could be a potential problem for Apple’s India plans,  Mitter says, “Where existing OTT platforms still have an advantage over Apple TV+ is the fact that they are available on Android, which Apple does not seem to be currently interested in doing. Apple TV+ will be a premium offering available only on Apple devices, with the quality of the programming also tuned towards a more SEC A+ English speaking audience.”

“This lack of Indian language content at launch (and possibly for the foreseeable future) will be the biggest disadvantage for Apple TV which other OTTs can use to their advantage in India to continue to capture the market. The success of shows such as Sacred Games and Mirzapur show that Indians will want content in the language of their preferences along with Game of Thrones,” he opines.

The Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019–2023 report released by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) stated that India’s over the top (OTT) video market is set to grow at 21.82 per cent CAGR and will reach Rs 11,977 crore by 2023. This, coupled with India’s internet consumption, is a dream team for any OTT player. Apple may be a late entrant into this space, but the digital consumer would be eager to see what the tech giant has to offer and whether or not it will be worth the wait. 

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