Since its launch in India in December 2016, Amazon Prime Video has worked hard to win over the crowded streaming market. The Amazon division jumped into original programming soon after its launch, starting with the cricket drama Inside Edge, which was released in July 2017. This was followed in 2018 by the psychological thriller Breathe, the comedy reality series Comicstaan, the Telugu mafia drama GangStars and the musical reality shows Harmony with AR Rahman and The Remix.
The streaming service’s latest offering is the gangster saga Mirzapur, starring Pankaj Tripathi, Ali Fazal, Divyenndu Sharma, Vikrant Massey and Rasika Dugal, which was released on November 16.
The focus on original content combined with relatively low subscription rates have helped Amazon surge ahead of rival Netflix in India, with more than a reported 610,000 subscribers by 2017-end. Their formula is authentic, local programming with a global appeal, the streaming service’s director of content, Vijay Subramaniam, told Scroll.in. “It all starts with a story and one thing we learnt with our originals is that authenticity counts,” Subramaniam said. “The more authentic you are to your stories and the setting, the more likely it is going to be of interest to people who are way outside your radar. Prime Video enables customers to sample content that is of interest to them and give them a customer experience to make it easy to follow content.”
Mirzapur ticks all these boxes, Subramaniam said. “It has the right amount of dark humour and the right amount of the Machiavellian theme to support the plot,” he explained. “It is a very authentic look at everything that we know happens around us. The story is gritty, dramatic and has compelling characters. It has a very powerful ensemble.”
The local appeal was also a strong factor in Inside Edge, starring Vivek Oberoi, Richa Chadha and Sanjay Suri and Breathe, with R Madhavan and Amit Sadh, he said. Inside Edge was nominated in the Best Drama Series category of the 2018 International Emmy Awards.
“Inside Edge, at the guts of it, is the drama of politics,” he said. “The veneer was cricket. Breathe is about the extraordinary lengths to which ordinary people are willing to go. These are things that are relatable. We are not creating this to get somebody in London. We are creating this to make sure that every customer in India loves it. And in that authenticity comes the global appeal.”
Prime Video’s other focus has been on comedy. The streaming service has produced 25 stand-up specials of popular Indian comics including Kanan Gill, Kenny Sebastian, Naveen Richard, Rahul Subramanian, Sumukhi Suresh and Karthik Kumar. In July, it ventured into the comedy reality competition space with its flagship show Comicstaan, which was one of its most-viewed Indian offerings and has been renewed for a second season.
Prime Video also tied with Only Much Louder to exclusively distribute some of the fictional content created by popular stand-up comics, including Suresh’s Pushpavalli, Biswa Kalyan Rath’s Laakhon Mein Ek and Zakir Khan’s Chacha Vidhayak Hain Humare.
“When we were setting up our service, we were looking at special interest areas especially for young people,” Subramaniam said. “And comedy was clearly a direction that could provide a voice for young comics in India. The early response was so encouraging that we doubled and put another 24 this year. We are also evaluating other formats to support the comedy genre.”
It was a strategic decision to focus on popular genres rather than niche subjects. “While we recognise special interest, we also want to make sure that it is broad and popular,” Subramaniam said. “We have not gone too niche. At the moment we haven’t done shows around travel, lifestyle and fashion. Because we know that while they are interesting segments, they tend to be very narrow.”
On the feature film front, Prime Video has been expanding its library by acquiring productions in Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada and Hindi. The service also competes for the streaming rights to several latest releases.
“Adding regional languages to our library is a part of our localisation plan,” Subramaniam said. “In the next six months, you can expect more regional languages. Apart from this, we have started work on originals from Telugu and Tamil. It is always a challenge when you are a fan of a particular regional content and are living in another region. Sometimes the films just does not travel. An important part of our quest is to bring the popular, latest films to the customers as quickly as we can.”
Though he did not reveal subscription figures, Subramaniam said that the service was soaring. “Unfortunately I cannot share any data, but I can tell you that it is dynamic in that lots of people are signing up,” he said. “They happen to come across segments and socio-economic groups. It [the subscription] is Rs 999 a year and it comes with shipping, shopping, music, video and reading. It is great value.”
How does the streaming service set itself apart from its rivals, such as Netflix and Hotstar? “We are customer obsessed,” Subramaniam said. “That is our primary and only focus. We want to deliver great content, great customer experience at great value.”