Prime Video doing better nowhere than in India, says Jeff Bezos at Bollywood gathering


Jeff Bezos has had a busy couple of days. Starting with the traditional kite flying ritual synonymous with the Makar Sankranti festival, he has visited a small kirana store in Mumbai to see how the brick-and-mortar business works in the country after flying in immediately from the national capital. Dressed in a printed black and white jacket as he addressed the large Bollywood community that is increasingly churning out new stories on his video streaming platform, the Amazon founder and CEO emphasised why it was important to be in the country.

“Nowhere in the world is Prime Video doing better than in India and we are planning to double down our investments here,” Bezos said on Thursday evening while adding that the best content, including that on his platform, is a seamless combination of the best stories that grab eyeballs and do great business.

“We want to be known as the most talent friendly studio in the world because it is talent that makes stories,” Bezos said in conversation with Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan and filmmaker Zoya Akhtar. Incidentally, both Khan and Akhtar have done intensive collaborations with Prime Video’s arch rival Netflix. Khan has a long-term deal for the acquisition rights of his films and has produced shows like Bard of Blood while Akhtar has directed Lust Stories and Ghost Stories.

Amazon that has brought out 15 Indian originals so far, unveiled seven more titles including Dilli, Bandish Bandits, Paatal Lok, Gormint, Mumbai Diaries-26/11, The Last Hour and Sons of Soil- Jaipur Pink Panthers at the event that began two hours late and kept the press waiting outside the venue.

In India, the Amazon strategy is quite clear–it is investing massive amounts of money in building a content-rich library, dominated by big-ticket Bollywood titles, for some of which it is said to have shelled out as much as Rs. 25 crore. High-profile Indian films such as War, Gully Boy, Padmaavat, Bharat and many others reflect the company’s commitment to go big, primarily through long-term deals with industry bigwigs such as Dharma Productions, Yash Raj Films and Salman Khan. The service that is targeting mass, pan-Indian audiences currently offers content in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi and Gujarati and user interface in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.

The massy content contrasts with arch rival Netflix’s niche, experimental moves. It is supplemented by the fact that a subscription to Amazon Prime, which includes a bundle of benefits such as free shipping, access to Amazon’s music streaming library, and a growing collection of original TV shows and movies, has an annual cost of Rs. 999, ensuring that Amazon Video is competitively priced versus other online streaming alternatives (Netflix’s basic plan starts at Rs. 499 a month though it launched a mobile-only option at Rs. 199 a month last year), and the full Amazon Prime service is an even bigger bargain for subscribers.

Bezos reiterated at the event something he has often said- that the company gets to monetize (its subscription video) in an unusual way, Prime members buy more on Amazon than non-Prime members, driven by the idea that once they’ve paid their annual fee, they’re looking to get more value out of the program. Hence, they end up looking across more categories, utilizing more services and their behaviors change in ways that are very attractive to the overall business.

“Because we have this unusual way to monetize the premium content, we can charge less for the premium content than we would otherwise have to charge,” Bezos has been quoted as saying in the past.

According to findings by RedSeer, a Bangalore-based research and consulting firm, Amazon Prime Video commands 13 million monthly active users in contrast to Netflix’s 11 million. The race, however, is led by Star network’s streaming platform Hotstar that boasts of 300 million MAU and is priced at Rs. 299 a month or Rs. 999 a year.

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