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Amazon India head Nitesh Kripalani’s amazing growth recipe

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MUMBAI: Nitesh Kripalani is pleased as punch. The former Sony Pictures executive and current Amazon Prime director & country head is on the threshold of unleashing the streaming service’s first Indian original with, voila, all of only 10 episodes on 10 July across 200 countries.

Titled Inside Edge, it has been produced by Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani’s Excel Entertainment and the storyline brings together the world of cricket and entertainment. “The scale at which Inside Edge has been produced is something India has not seen before,” says Farhan. Adds Riteshi: “Amazon gave us the opportunity to think freely in making it for a global audience."

The teaser of 'Inside Edge' starring Vivek Oberoi, Richa Chadha, Angad Bedi, Sanjay Suri and Sarah Jane Dias was already trending on Twitter before it was formally launched last Friday. "It is completely organic, already showing positive signs welcoming original work," Kripalani says triumphantly.

And that’s not all. Another 17 originals are in various stages of development at Amazon Prime Video. "Our content plan appears to be running on schedule. We are trying to get three to four originals beyond Inside Edge in a few months (this year) since there are different projects in various stages of development (casting or post-production, etc)," he says.

Among the projects it is working on is director Ram Madhvani’s 'Bodhi Dharma ' -- the genesis of Kung Fu. “Then," points out Kripalani, “we are doing a show called 'The Ministry' with AIB and OML -- it's a political satire," points out Kripalani. "Series such as 'Mirzapur' and 'Made in Heaven' will come up around in August."

It’s not just Indian originals that the streaming site is rolling out. Kripalani expects many more US TV shows to hit Amazon India Prime Video service. "A lot more content is coming up after the May screenings in Los Angeles," he emphasizes.

Amazon Prime had recently added new Bollywood movies such as Noor and Begum Jaan reducing the release window for OTT services. "Badrinath Ki Dulhania is coming up very soon," Kripalani reveals.

The India head did not deny working with the film industry's big brands such as Akshay Kumar and John Abraham, saying: "They are some of the best talent in the country with whom we discuss ideas on a daily basis."

Apart from the main fare of Hindi and US series and films, Amazon Prime has already signed and launched several Telugu movies such as 'Winner' and 'Mister' and is in the process of launching some Bengali movies. "We are going to see how it works with the customers before we scale up. We are discussing some deals with Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Marathi content producers," Kripalani says.

While being chary of revealing any figures, Kripalani says that Amazon Prime is beginning to see a shift in consumption patterns. Hence, the drive to bring in Tamil, Telugu, Bengali shows and films.

"Subscribers have been keenly watching Indian movies -- especially Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, followed by Bengali and Marathi," Kripalani elaborates. He explains that a positive outcome of Amazon Prime Video has been that Indian subscribers, at a small price, are now legitimately consuming US TV shows.

"An unmet demand in India until recently, consumers are binge-watching the initial episodes of some shows, the latest episodes of 'Vampire Diaries' as well as s well as supernaturals and global Amazon originals such as American Playboy and of course kids shows during summer vacation.”

Kripalani reveals that the growth in the number of Prime subscribers has been exponential with more and more getting engaged in terms of hours per customer per month, especially after the April launch of Fire TV stick -- when consumption reportedly grew to 1.75 billion minutes.

He is sparing no effort at making the Amazon Prime Video app available on every viewing option, and ramp up its viewing metrics. "We are available on Samsung, Sony and LG devices. A couple of weeks back, we also launched on their older devices too,” he says. "As data charges in India is a concern, we have implemented a lot of features and are giving away data on Airtel and other partnerships.” The objective is to bring the content in front of customers, wherever they are. "If there were a large MSO with a significant customer base interested in giving the customers a TV experience, we would try (if technically feasible) and integrate the Prime content with them," he highlights.

The service is also being pushed with a multimillion dollar ad and promotion content on TV, print and digital. Full front page ads pushing its ecommerce sales and TV spots have been running during the ICC World Cup telecast on Star Sports, and other top GEC channels.

But, are originals on VoD services viable? "It has worked globally, and it should work in India. If one offers the right content at the right value and on the right device, viewers would certainly consume it," Kripalani says confidently. “Grand Tour was one of the top shows and so was American Gods. Hundreds of thousands of viewers are coming back every week to watch Bahubali animated shows.”

'Inside Edge' is the story of Bollywood and cricket -- two passion that Indians have in their blood. Like consumers have been watching originals from the US and the UK, now they would have something to call their own original creativity and talent. "It would open up a lot of the market,"he says.

However, the focus currently is on building scale and improving product and user experience. The bottom line is not the imperative.

"In the India market, we plan to engage subscribers on a long-term basis. We don't look at breaking even. We would rather evaluate the buzz in the market, the number of subscribers who engaged with this show or how many new subs signed up seeing this shows," he says.

About Prime's strategy, the India head reveals that the team is are razor sharp focused on customers as the goal is to be number one (from being No. 3 behind Hotstar and Voot as per the latest FICCI-KPMG report).

"Reliability of service, the selection (of content) that we offer, convenience of access and the value we provide (will decide our destiny)," he remarks. "We are an SVoD service, and we are building that market segment in India with the right content mix, and especially originals such as 'Inside Edge and others that are expected to be introduced.”

Media observers give Amazon’s India strategy the thumbs up.

“It has got a good gig going in India,” says a media agency head. “Consumers, especially in the metros and in emerging towns of India are using the ecommerce site to buy products, coughing up Rs 499 for the prime experience of quicker delivery. Along with that they are getting access to a palette of good video content. While that is an advantage, it can also a disadvantage. Will the two services cannibalise the time visitors have available to them to engage with both of them are challenges Amazon will have to analyse and deal with over time. Prima facie, Prime Video is surely going to give Hotstar, Voot a run for their money. “

For Kripalani that would be an amazing way for his charge's story to unfold.

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