Could the days of mooching off Netflix accounts come to an end in India? Here’s what experts say

Could the days of mooching off Netflix accounts come to an end in India? Here’s what experts say
Experts say Netflix could face a negative impact on its growth in India if it adds a fee for sharing passwordsCanva
  • The streaming giant Netflix announced last week that it will start charging extra for users outside their households as a way to prevent password sharing.
  • Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had recently said the company was “frustrated” that it couldn’t get subscriber growth momentum going in India.
  • So if Netflix were to crack down on password sharing in a price-sensitive market such as India, it could lose its subscriber base to other platforms, experts say.
In India, your Netflix account isn’t just yours. Well, mostly.

It is a collective account of your friends, their friends and even their ex-partners who are not in touch with them anymore. One person pays for the subscription and three to five other freeloaders mooch off of it; a new-age bond that transcends across religion, age and geography.
Could the days of mooching off Netflix accounts come to an end in India? Here’s what experts say
So, when streaming giant Netflix made an announcement that it wants its users to stop sharing passwords with their friends and family — an update that is currently live across Chile, Costa Rica, and Peru — it riled up many internet users. Shortly after, a meme fest sparked up.

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Should freeloaders be worried in India?

In a blog post that went live on Wednesday, Chengyi Long, director of product innovation said, “They [multiple streams] have also created some confusion about when and how Netflix can be shared. As a result, accounts are being shared between households – impacting our ability to invest in great new TV and films for our members.”

So, Netflix will now start charging extra for users outside their households as a way to prevent password sharing in these markets, to begin with, and later evaluate whether to bring it to other markets. It is adding two features to curb sharing – ‘Add Extra Member’ and ‘Transfer Profile to New Account.’

While Netflix hasn’t given any indication as to whether it plans to expand this new feature beyond initial test markets, if it does, it could have a negative impact on its rather slow growth trajectory in India.

As per data and analytics platform App Annie, Netflix currently has the largest global footprint among video streaming services and is set to surpass 1 million downloads in over 60 countries in 2022.

However, the story is different in India.

The California-based global streaming platform Netflix is losing its users to homegrown platforms. As per App Annie’s State of Mobile 2022 report -- sorted by total downloads as of 2021, Disney+Hotstar is the most downloaded app, followed by MX Player and ZEE5. Netflix India didn’t make it to its top 10 list.

While Netflix doesn’t reveal its user base for the Indian market, media reports indicate that it is between 4.3 million-4.5 million, which is a small fraction of its competitor Disney+Hotstar (close to 36 million) and Amazon Prime Video (over 17 million).

Even Netflix’s co-chief executive (CEO) and cofounder Reed Hastings admitted that the team has been stumped by the lack of success in India. In the company’s post-results webcast for the October-December quarter of 2021, Hastings said, “The thing that frustrates us is why haven’t we been as successful in India. But we are definitely leaning in there.”

Business Insider India has reached out to Netflix India for comments on the story, but the company has not responded till the time of filing this report.

Before Hastings voiced his frustration publicly, Netflix India had slashed its pricing for the mobile-only plan from ₹199/month to ₹149/month in December 2021 to expand its user base and cut through intense rivalry from Disney+Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video and other 60 over-the-top (OTT) platforms.

With its choppy growth numbers and slow subscription rate, if Netflix were to restrict password sharing in a price-sensitive market like India, it could slide even further downhill.

The streaming platform was launched in India in January 2016 and it is in the initial days of the launch, brand guru and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., Harish Bijoor, says that a brand or business must set the right practice, and changing it all of a sudden has aspects of ‘negative-peril biting into it.’

“Netflix is watched in India by more people who pay for it. And that is a reality that has its positives and negatives. Password-sharing is today the norm and accepted practice. Something Netflix did not curtail as a practice in its early days. India is a jugaad market. Password-sharing is today a practice that upset the apple cart of many a viewer and many a subscriber. It is going to have quite the effect that a Whatsapp could experience if it became a fee-paid service. Netflix's frustration is really of its own making,” explains Bijoor.

As per consulting firm Ormax Media’s OTT sizing report 2021, India had a total of 353.2 million OTT users, out of which only 40.7 million i.e., 11.5 % were subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) users and a huge chunk of this market relies on password sharing.

Gautam Jain, partner, Ormax Media says, “A large set of OTT users are SVOD Non-paying -- around 19.8 % (69.8 million), i.e., those who watch SVOD content but through password sharing or downloads. While the SVOD subscribers would have shown growth, this non-paying segment would have also grown given the price sensitivity amongst Indian audiences.”

In Chile, Peru and Costa Rica, Netflix is charging an extra fee to users who share their accounts outside their household. Subscribers will be charged about $2.98 a month in Chile, $2.99 in Costa Rica and about $2.12 in Peru.

As per research firm Trust Research Advisory’s (TRA) CEO, N Chandramouli, the Indian market is so price sensitive that fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) giants are scared to make even a 2 rupee change in their packets of biscuits, shampoo or noodles. Similarly, he says that Netflix’s price-slashing strategy from ₹199 to ₹149 has not attracted new customers. It has allowed its current subscribers to move to an even cheaper plan.

And in India, Chandramouli says, pirates are always a step ahead than creators. So, if Netflix were to revise its pricing strategy for the third time in India, it could confuse users, leading to a rise in pirated content.

To buy pirated content in Mumbai without having to download an app, all you have to do is walk down the Fort area and you would find 4-5 vendors chasing you — offering the latest releases on a CD or a pen drive, he adds.

“There is a huge amount of piracy, which has now climbed onto the OTT bandwagon. Whether it is Telegram or Chinese torrent apps, pirated OTT content is shared there indiscriminately. From the very beginning, from softwares to movies, Indians don't find too much of [sic] qualms about piracy. On top of that, there are about 40 OTT platforms in India. So, the options in entertainment is proliferated [sic] and in this market, a slight price increase could have an impact. Netflix is attempting different strategies in order to attract new subscribers, but nothing has happened. People have downgraded their plans. So, Netflix will suffer a big backlash from existing users if at all it was to renew prices and stop password sharing,” he says.

According to a report by Digital TV Research, the loss of revenue for OTT players on account of piracy in India is expected to hit $3.08 billion by 2022.

OTT players are trying to woo consumers with exclusive Bollywood movies and regional content. Chandramouli pointed out that Netflix or Amazon Prime haven’t been able to get their acquisition strategy right in India yet. Citing a recent example, he said that both these streaming services rushed to get Amitabh Bachchan’s movie Sooryavanshi onto their platform for ₹100 crore, which is at least shown once a week on Set Max and other television channels.

On television, a viewer can get a minimum of 900 channels in ₹300-350 per month bouquet. It is the only entertainment medium that drives close to 60% of its revenue from a subscription-based model as compared to other forms of traditional media that are heavily dependent on advertisements.

So, if Netflix charges a 10-15% extra for sharing passwords within an Indian household, which is ₹25 to 30, research firm Elara Capital’s senior vice president Karan Taurani also believes that it could have a negative impact.

“Indian consumers are very value-centric and they don’t pay for one platform but a bundle of platforms. Netflix has done well in India after reducing its prices and offering a quantity of content. This two-fold strategy has led to the scaling of their subscriber base. If they ask for substituent fee from separate family members, it could work in a negative way because we haven’t been used to it. We pay for one TV set-up box and there are three-four watchers in every household,” says Taurani.

When Netflix came to India, it priced its maiden premium plan at ₹500, which Tarurani says was 7X-8X higher than TV bundle plans and other OTT platforms. It was competing with OTT platforms and a huge TV-watching audience in India back then. This challenge led to Netflix’s slow growth and the streaming company has changed pricing as well as introduced a mobile-only plan in the country since then, slashing its price by 60%.

“Netflix India revenue has grown 65% YoY in FY21 and it has a market share of almost 35% in India’s SVOD market; we believe Netflix has the first-mover advantage in India, as it was one of the first pay based OTT offerings in the country; it has been able to create a strong brand recall within Indian audience for premium content offerings behind a paywall and this will help it gain more market share as it penetrates deeper in India,” says Taurani.

After the October-December quarterly results, Taurani says that Netflix is headed in the right direction. If Netflix now revises its password-sharing policy and price point, it could send the company back to square one.