ALTBalaji to take on Netflix: Reliance Jio’s content partner plans new web shows in quest for profit

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Updated: Sep 04, 2019 2:03 PM

While Netflix and other major players cater primarily to urban subscribers with high-cost global productions, ALT Digital’s ALTBalaji service is focused mainly on Hindi-language shows.

Netflix to offer cheaper subscription plan in India for mobile usersA war is brewing amid Netflix vs Desi OTT platforms. Image: Reuters

A small rival of Netflix Inc. in India plans to ramp up production of low-cost web shows in order to turn profitable. ALT Digital Media Entertainment Ltd. aims to produce about 60 new web shows through a joint venture over the next two years, helping it to break even at the net income level. That would add to the 42 shows already owned by the company, which is the online-streaming unit of Balaji Telefilms Ltd. “We are a pure-paying model right now, but once we reach that threshold of around 100 originals, we may think on advertising,” Nachiket Pantvaidya, ALT Digital’s chief executive officer, said in an interview at his office in Mumbai last week.

Digital subscribers in India are expected to increase to about 1.1 billion in 2030 from 528 million in 2018, according to KPMG India Pvt. Streaming sales in Asia’s third-biggest economy are estimated to more than triple to 621 billion rupees ($8.7 billion) in the five years to March 2024, according to a report the accounting firm published last month.

Explosive Growth

While much smaller than Netflix, Balaji is about 25% owned by Reliance Industries Ltd., the giant conglomerate controlled by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani. And India’s lower and middle income digital consumers prefer regional content, according to KPMG, which may favor local providers with that demographic.

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“I think one has to cater to either the classes or the masses; trying to have both the pies will lead to a confused strategy and may not work well,” said Pantvaidya, who serves as chief operating officer at Balaji Telefilms in addition to running ALT Digital.

While Netflix and other major players cater primarily to urban subscribers with high-cost global productions, ALT Digital’s ALTBalaji service is focused mainly on Hindi-language shows, targeting people between 20 and 40 years old who live in India’s 30 largest cities. Netflix has four monthly plans in India ranging from 199 rupees to 799 rupees. ALTBalaji offers a three-month subscription for 100 rupees and a 12-month plan for 300 rupees.

ALTBalaji expects its revenue to nearly double this fiscal year to about 800 million rupees. Profitability should be helped by the fact that Balaji Telefilms will fund most of its planned production expenses. ALTBalaji and its partner Zee5, an online-streaming platform of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd., aim to spend about 2.5 billion rupees over the next two years. “We are committed to providing content for the masses, and only 5% of what we want to produce will be super-premium shows with an expensive star cast,” Pantvaidya said.

Financial Express Online adds: Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd has about 25% ownership in Balaji Telefilms, and RIL’s telecom and media service Reliance Jio sources movies and shows from ALTBalaji.

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