APOS 2016: Netflix’s Hastings and Sarandos talk Asia and India

BALI: How many subscribers has Netflix managed to get in India after its launch a 100 days ago? Netflix co-founder and CEO  Reed Hastings and chief content officer Ted Sarandos were unwilling to give out any numbers during the opening session at APOS in Bali yesterday. “It’s too early in the day,” they said. “But we have had a great start. Out of the new 6.7 million (67 lakh) members in the latest quarter, 4.51  million  (45.1 lakh) are from international. We have a long term strategy for the region.” 

Estimates are that more than half a million (5 lakh) of that came from India during the free trial period and of that about 50,000 have gone ahead and subscribed to the service.

Hastings and Sarandos were interviewed by Media Partners Asia executive director Vivek Couto. 

Hastings admitted the streaming service was just about beginning in its Asian and Indian journey. “Netflix has barely been optimized. It’s an ongoing process of delivery to Asia. We are far below the number of languages we need to support. We support 21 languages; YouTube is over 50. We’re building out partnerships, the network infrastructure and in particular the content. We are just continuing to learn as we go along.”

He pointed out to how Netflix worked it out in Brazil. “We didn’t do very well in the beginning there. We spoke with our members, corrected the issues one by one. Now we are doing well in Brazil.”

Sarandos highlighted that Netflix has learned its lessons and “we are doing originals faster in Asia than in earlier markets. We are doing a film in Korea called Okja under director Joon Ho Bong, a film in Cambodia by Angelina Jolie and original TV series in Japan.” The Bong film according to iMDB is slated to be completed by 2017 and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Tilda Swinton and Lilly Collins, apart from a Korean cast.

Sarandos added that Netflix was making content for Asia, which would then travel around the world on its various country services. “Bollywood movies is also what we are looking to do, but they are a couple of years down the line,” said Sarandos. “ We will do movies the world watches. We will work with local producers. Imagine the traction it would get with our 81 million and expanding global members.”

Hastings stressed the way forward for the company was to get global rights to all the originals that Netflix produced and also those it licensed from third party suppliers. “We did that with How to Get away with Murder. And we will do it with what ever we produce from now onwards. I regret not having the global rights to the House of Cards,”

Great content and its easy delivery with a great user experience was what Netflix was consistently focused on,  both Sarandos and Hastings emphasised. Said Hastings: “We have 1,700 engineers who do nothing but ensure Netflix works. Our goal is that it becomes a must-have purchase just like the iPhone is, ” he explained. “Offer a great service at a consistent price.”

Regulating or censoring Netflix content was something that both Sarandos and Hastings were not in favour of. “We offer greater freedom for story tellers,” said Sarandos. “The art is finding that balance with local authorities. For the most part the internet is not as highly regulated as broadcast. There’s no passive viewing on Netflix. Regulators have found that to be a differentiating factor between broadcast and Netflix. There are pins in place to ensure that adults are watching. Children are protected. For the most part, governments are okay otherwise they know that viewers will go for pirated content.”

Hastings pointed that Netflix was going to persist with China where it does not yet have a presence. “Apple took six years to get in there. We are going to continue our attempts and discussions,” he added. “Great rewards can follow great patience.”

He was pretty confident of Netflix’s continuous march forward, despite competition from Amazon and other local players in various countries it has launched. “Our focus is on streaming perfectly without any buffering, not competition,”  he said. “The loss of  pay TV is understated. Pay TV is steady at 100 million (10 crore) . We are in over half US households and growing. HBO  has grown. What is understated is that consumers are willing to pay for content.”

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