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The Screen Test | Apple TV+ pricing is a killer, but it needs to figure out localisation fast

The iPhone maker’s Rs 99 subscription plan for Apple TV+ could be a competition killer only if it can feed Indian consumers with local language content

September 13, 2019 / 05:23 PM IST

It is good to play the pricing game in India, something that Apple already knows. But the cornerstone of content streaming will be localisation which the iPhone-maker will have to figure out.

To start with, its latest service offering – Apple TV+ at Rs 99 a month – will be available in India from November 1.

But Apple is entering a difficult market: The subscription model is at an infant stage, there are 30 odd over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms toiling hard to get a share of the pie and majority of consumers are free loaders.

Pricing experiments aren't new either. Netfilx, which entered India in January 2016, introduced a mobile-only subscription plan in July only for the Indian market for Rs 199 a month – 40 percent cheaper than its earlier starting subscription plans.

Apple's Rs 99 plan for Apple TV+ can be seen as a competition killer. Netflix's cheapest plans comes at Rs 199 (mobile only), Amazon's Prime (bundled with movies, TV shows, music and e-commerce deals) is available at Rs 129 a month and Rs 999 a year. Home-grown Hotstar's premium subscription comes for Rs 299 a month and Rs 999 a year. A trimmed down version – Hotstar VIP, however, comes for Rs 365 a year.


And one Apple TV+ subscription can be accessed by six people while Netflix's top-end plan, that comes for Rs 799 a month, can be viewed on four devices simultaneously. That's another plus.

According to Apple website, Apple TV+ will be available across Apple devices – iPhones, Apple TV, iPads, Mac – streaming devices and streaming sticks, smart TVs and AirPlay. Non-Apple devices include select versions of Samsung smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV, LG, Roku, Sony, Vizio platforms.

One may say that Apple TV+ will have a limited presence. The truth is other OTTs such as Netflix or Amazon’s Prime Video also require streaming devices such as Amazon Fire TV or Google's Chromecast or these can only be accessed if the Apps are pre-installed in the smart TVs. So, Apple TV+ is not the only OTT service that has limitations.

But television isn't as big in India. By the end of this year, the number is projected to cross the 627 million mark. Plus, some 197 million households in India have televisions. For streaming on TV, one needs streaming devices like Amazon's Fire TV stick. And, Amazon has so far managed to sell only around a million devices in India.

According to IHS Markit data, Netflix is likely to treble its Indian user base to 4.1 million by 2019-end. Rival Amazon’s Prime -- a bundle of Prime Video, Prime Music, e-commerce deals and priority delivery – already boasts of 4.4 million subscribers.

If Apple wants to play the game bigger, it may need to look at opening up Apple TV+ for non-Apple devices like Android devices, like it has done with Apple Music.

Netflix is betting on India's mobile users following its own study last year. Most of India'ss 566 million Internet users do so on mobile devices, according to data as of March 2019. Apple has only 1-2 percent share in the mobile market. Additionally, there are more than 340 million smartphone users in India, which is projected to hit 442 million by 2022.

But just allowing access to Android devices and so on would not be enough. Apple will need to invest in developing local language content besides securing rights. Currently, Apple has very limited content for Indian consumers. This is where Apple may lose out to local players like Hotstar, ALTBalaji, Zee5, Hoichoi. It is also true that Netflix and Amazon Prime did not have strong local content offering when they were launched. Netflix and Amazon Prime may be slightly ahead in the game, but it may not be too difficult for Apple to catch up.

However, according to reports, Apple plans to spend $6 billion on Apple TV+ content, less than half of Netflix's planned $15-billion spend and Amazon's $7 billion kitty. These are global numbers. But Apple needs to pull up its socks if it wants to fight against Netflix and Amazon Prime in India. Reports say that Netflix is lining up an estimated Rs 500-600 crore a year in India to develop local language content, movies and shows, while Amazon has lined up Rs 2000 crore for the same.

The potential of India as a market for OTTs is huge - at least analysts believe so. According to a BCG study, OTT video streaming market in India is expected to be $5 billion by 2023, from $500 million last year, with 40-50 million users paying for subscription. If it wants to make Apple TV+ a success in India, more investment is needed.
Sounak Mitra is an Associate Editor, Moneycontrol. He has been writing on corporate issues and policy for more than 15 years, having previously worked with Mint, Business Standard, Mergermarket, The Telegraph and The Times of India.

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