But while the pandemic came as a huge boost for its business, the terrain is turning trickier as consumers experience home viewing fatigue and rivals with deep pockets such as Disney, Amazon and HBO train their guns on this huge market. In India too, Netflix faces significant challenges from Amazon Prime and Disney+ Hotstar. Hastings talks to BT’s Global Business Editor Udayan Mukherjee about streaming, competition, movies, and the India journey, among other things. Edited excerpts:
UM: I want to start from the beginning, Reed. Could you tell viewers in India how the idea of Netflix, one so simple yet transformative, was born in your head?
RH: Yes, a long time ago I used to go and rent a VHS cassette. There was this great movie—Apollo 13, and I forgot all about it for a month and totted up this astronomical late fee of $40! And I felt so stupid. A year later, a friend told me about a DVD, this beautiful, sleek little thing. And I thought, oh my gosh, can you mail this thing to people? It turned out we could and, lo and behold, our business of Netflix began in 1999 as a DVD rental service. So that is our lucky late fee story that got us started!
UM: That’s an amazing way to start one of the most defining stories of our times. But the Netflix story got a massive boost from the pandemic as people stayed home and consumed your content. Now, as things normalize, there is an attention recession and viewer fatigue is creeping in. How badly could this slow you down?
RH: You know we just launched worldwide Season 5 of Money Heist, one of our blockbusters, and the viewership and growth has been off the charts. So, people are always starved for great content. Whether it’s great Indian content, Spanish content, or Hollywood, it’s about having something that moves you, feels intense. Yes, you are right, post-pandemic people are choosy. They only want the best but when you have the best content, you can grow a lot.
UM: Once you were the pioneer of the streaming business, but the game is getting crowded and there are players who are willing to spend billions on content. There’s Disney, HBO, Amazon. Can Netflix manage to stay ahead of the pack?
RH: We compete with these amazing companies—Amazon and Apple, Disney and HBO, so it’s definitely a big battle and no one knows how it is going to turn out. What we do know is that if we create amazing films and amazing shows, we will surely have a part of the pie. How big that is, is what we are fighting for. Relative to Disney and HBO, we are more innovative, we think forward, we are scrappy and young. And relative to Amazon and Apple, we are more entertainment-oriented than they are. Their strength is to have a little bit of everything. So, yes, Netflix is not the only one, but we want to be a part of everyone’s entertainment.
UM: Of the names you mentioned, who do you see as your biggest rival? Is it Disney, HBO, Amazon or is it YouTube, whose recent ad revenues are eye-popping?
RH: You know, you could be right. YouTube is probably the biggest in time, in terms of viewership hours. And maybe TikTok to an extent. But instead of focussing on the competition, we are more focussed on what is our next big show, what is the next Delhi Crime story that everyone could be talking about, those are the moments we think about.
UM: So far, you have done remarkable TV shows and movies, but sport is an area Netflix has shied away from. But to grow in the future, particularly in markets like India, would you need to consider sports as an option?
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