What Being Mobile-Only Means for Netflix and Other Brands in India
If you stay up-to-date with emerging trends in social media and big tech you would’ve heard of Netflix India’s plans to test mobile-only weekly and monthly subscription plans; each plan offers reduced fees designed to woo app-only customers in one of their fastest growing territories. It’s a smart move from the streaming giant who has faced pricing woes across several of their operating regions this year. But if you think Netflix is the first online company of consequence to take the mobile-only road in India you’re mistaken.
In 2015, Flipkart, one of India’s biggest eCommerce stores, astonished all the technophiles from San Francisco to Hyderabad when they announced that they would be wholly ditching their desktop shopping website to concentrate on apps and the mobile experience. The decision came at a time when the conference circuit, Twitter and nearly every other soapbox for digital citizens was abuzz with statements such as “the future is mobile”.
Despite the prophecies, few digital players were truly unlocking the power of smartphones and tablets in the context of online shopping. It’s no wonder the world was caught off-guard when India’s Flipkart made the first real commitment to handheld screens that we’d seen from a big tech outfit.
Flipkart’s dedication to mobile was motivated by more reasons than reducing virtual infrastructure costs and capitalising on India’s deep penetration of mobile users. The online retailer understood that by migrating customers to a native app they’d be able to collect a lot of user data that would put them steps ahead of aggressive competitors such as Amazon.
Looking back, it’s fair to say that Flipkart was ahead of the times in their bold decision to discontinue the website to focus exclusively on mobile. Amazon, their biggest competitor in India, was quick to take advantage of Flipkart’s absence from desktop browsers by positioning their website as the number one ecommerce shop in India. Even though Flipkart’s app strategy was hailed as a game-changer, after a few months they reversed their mobile-only plans by introducing “Flipkart Lite”, a revamped mobile site which the company referred to as a “progressive web app”. Later, the full desktop experience returned to online shoppers’ browsers.
Even if they were too early, Flipkart’s foresight into how data extracted from handsets could help them make sense of consumer behaviour and buying patterns is why it was lauded as revolutionary. As we all know today, data is the foundation of creating targeted and personalised customer experiences. Four years after Flipkart, Netflix’s decision to take a leap of faith with mobile in India draws similarities although the reasons and intentions behind the latter’s move is somewhat different.
As a streaming service, Netflix obviously has a different product. In addition to the reduced subscription fees on mobile, Netflix offers packages that give mobile viewers access over shorter increments of time than the standard monthly subscription. The mobile-only plan is limited to non-HD streaming and a single sign-in so it remains to be seen how this will be received by customers in India where the average household has an average of five family members. In addition to adjusting subscription fees, Netflix will need to commission quality, original and local content as they have done successfully in the West – this will allow them to contend with rivals such as Amazon Prime and Hotstar, both these platforms offer original, local content at cheaper fees.
The competition Netflix faces in one of the world’s fastest-growing Internet markets is not to be underestimated. Hotstar, the ad revenue-supported local streaming service, has been breaking its own records amassing over 300 million monthly active users in its four years of existence. In addition, they have secured broadcast and streaming rights to numerous cricket series; a major lure for customers in India who follow the sport religiously.
While there are similarities in Netflix India’s test in prioritising mobile-only users, in 2019, they also have a much higher base of mobile users than what Flipkart had in 2015; this alone lends the strategy more credibility and the opportunity is highlighted in a recent report by the Boston Consulting Group called, “Entertainment Goes Online: A $5 BILLION OPPORTUNITY”. The report projects India’s connected population to reach 650 million by the end of 2023 with 97% of users linking up on a mobile device. The boom is largely driven by better mobile network infrastructure and a decrease in mobile data tariffs. Unfortunately, this was not the case in 2015 and contributed to Flipkart’s U-turn on being mobile only. Furthermore, only 25% of rural India enjoys internet access but this is expected to grow in double digits over the next few years.
Unlike Flipkart who went all out, Netflix is only testing the feasibility of aligning with mobile users in a more conservative style. Not all subscribers see the new mobile plans and it’s still possible that Netflix won’t make it a permanent feature. One thing is certain, the avalanche of first-generation internet users is going to play a crucial role in determining how digital media is consumed in India. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings gets this stating, “Our next 100 million users are from India.”
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