Welcome to Peak TV, India!

Updated: Dec 16, 2016, 15:08 IST | Nikhil Taneja

In 2015, John Landgraf, the CEO of American cable network FX, coined the term 'Peak TV', referring to how we now live in a time of way too much (great) television. On Wednesday, as Amazon India launched its content streaming service Prime Video, it signalled the commencement of a similar peak TV era in India.

A still from Salman Khan-starrer Sultan; (right) Rajinikanth in Kabali. These are among the mainstream movies available on Amazon Prime
A still from Salman Khan-starrer Sultan; (right) Rajinikanth in Kabali. These are among the mainstream movies available on Amazon Prime

In 2015, John Landgraf, the CEO of American cable network FX, coined the term 'Peak TV', referring to how we now live in a time of way too much (great) television. On Wednesday, as Amazon India launched its content streaming service Prime Video, it signalled the commencement of a similar peak TV era in India.

For the desi audience, this era was purported to start when Netflix launched its local services in January this year. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings even announced his plans to make 'the best Bollywood film that's ever been produced'. But, in the months since, Netflix only has a limited local library, and has played a wait-and-watch game to original content. The streaming giant has so far greenlit one original Indian series, Phantom Film's adaptation of Vikram Chandra's best-selling novel, Sacred Games.

Amazon Prime Video, on the other hand, believes in 'show and tell'. In its launch phase, the service boasts an impressive content library in five local languages (Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Bengali ). Various regional players and top Indian studios like Yash Raj Films, Dharma Productions, T-Series and Excel Entertainment have reportedly been paid generous monies for their blockbusters that include 2016 hits Sultan, Kabali, and Kapoor & Sons.

But, the ace up Amazon's sleeve is its aggressive original series slate. Having announced nine shows in production with creative partners like AIB, Excel Entertainment and Phantom Films, it has also revealed upcoming collaborations with such talents as Sujoy Ghosh, Anushka Sharma, Navdeep Singh and Ram Madhvani.

As compared to Netflix, the ad-free, on demand service also is competitively priced at an annual subscription fee of R499 a year, or R41.50 a month. This also includes an Amazon Prime free one and two-day delivery plan for any shopping done on its e-store. Netflix, in contrast, has a basic plan that starts at R500 per month… or 10 times that of Amazon.

But, Netflix spends a whopping $6 billion budget on content every year. With pop culture-defining hits like House of Cards, Narcos and Stranger Things, Netflix prides itself in having the best original global content library in the world. The global OTT service also offers a top assortment of international shows, like Breaking Bad, Sherlock and Fargo.

Amazon Prime Video, too, offers all its acclaimed original series, from Transparent to Mozart in the Jungle (though new seasons are yet to be available), along with other buzzed-about titles like Mr. Robot, The Good Wife and The Night Manager. But, its original content is niche and doesn't match up to the broad appeal of a typical Netflix series. A more severe concern is that its international programming is censored: internet sleuths have pointed out nudity blurs and pixelated gore.

Where Indian audiences are concerned, Prime Video still has an edge over Netflix, for its easy pricing and focus on local content. Amazon is also reported to be bidding for the digital rights of IPL, and should it grab them, it will soon be among the top choices for Indian consumers in the OTT space that's currently dominated by local players.

The market leader among such players like ErosNow and Voot is Hotstar, owned by the Star network, priced at R199 a month. It justifies this cost by offering the entire Star broadcast network library, including regional channels and owning digital rights to some of the biggest global sporting events. With its recent tie-up with HBO, its international TV slate also includes smash hits Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley and the recent Westworld.

The trouble with Peak TV, as Landgraf had explained, is that there is too much choice. So, outside of the pricing, the just-begun content wars will eventually come down to the battle for audience's time. Amazon Prime Video, which seems on-track to create 'must-watch' local content, will face stiff competition for this limited time from home-grown digital players like TVF, Y-Films and Balaji ALT too.

The good news is, no matter who comes out on top, Indian audiences will likely have their Peak TV cake and eat it too. Nikhil Taneja is a writer-producer who heads development at Y-Films. He blogs on www.tanejmainhoon .com, tweets @tanejamainhoon and believes in Aaron Sorkin

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