OTT platforms like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video etc. have opened the burgeoning film and television industries in some of the most vibrant emerging markets to new possibilities. The streaming giants have changed the economic calculation for producing films and redefining what can be a hit.
Hamisha Daryani Ahuja, a third-generation Nigerian with Indian roots, creator, director, producer and actor of Namaste Wahala, a movie that Netflix released on Valentine’s Day, said the beautiful thing is that we are sitting on the same platform. Ahuja’s romantic comedy broke into Netflix’s top 10 list in the United States for a short period, generating buzz for the streaming company’s recent expansion into the African continent. “That’s what’s exciting, being a Nollywood movie where it’s going, what we are sitting next to in terms of Hollywood production and it being received in that way.”
According to the International Monetary Fund report, the growth of streaming services has only enhanced the entertainment industry as a driver of economic activity in large emerging markets like India, where by some estimates the sector accounts for 1% of GDP; Nigeria where more than a million people work directly or indirectly for Nollywood – the second highest employer after agriculture; and China, which overtook the US in box office sales in 2020.
Stefan Hall, project lead for media, entertainment, and culture at the World Economic Forum, says that even though the COVID-19 pandemic has had an unavoidable impact, people’s desire to be entertained remains a constant, and the digitalization of content is changing the rules of the game. “I think right now we are at the beginning of a huge wave of international content and more investment in international content than we have ever seen.”
There has been a noted growth in streaming services in Southeast Asia, as per Media Partners Asia, an independent research and consulting firm. Subscriptions to video streaming services in India grew from 4.5 million in 2017 to 59.6 million in 2020. Indonesia recorded a growth increase from 200,000 subscribers in 2017 to 8 million in 2020. Thailand and Philippines saw growth in the same period of 130% and 71%, respectively.
Vivek Couto, the Singapore-based executive director of Media Partners Asia, said that in the last three to four years, there has been a mobile revolution in those markets, particularly in India, where there has been a massive data spike. He highlighted that the landscape from an infrastructure perspective has multiplied. “In India, rapid expansion in internet excess has fueled fierce competition between the country’s largest telecommunications providers, which has driven down data prices to some of the lowest in the world. Most people access streaming video services on their smartphones, and India has some of the highest data usage per smartphone in the world.”
The IMF report states that Netflix, in 2019, launched a mobile-only plan in India that would allow users to stream content to their smartphones or tablets for less than $3 a month. And Disney+ acquired Hotstar, India’s leading streaming service in 2019. It comprises 30% of the streaming service’s subscriber base. Netflix is steadily ramping up investment in the creation of local content in new parts of the world, including a new push into Africa in 2020 with more original content.