January 9, 2016 12:48:33 am
The English-speaking world’s favourite streaming cinema channel has finally come to India, part of a global push into 130 markets that has pointedly excluded China. Cinema lovers with broadband connections are salivating over the spectrum of offerings Netflix is known for, from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to Inglourious Basterds, all uncensored. But will it remain so?
The service is open to following Indian censorship laws, but should it have to, since it connects with individual subscribers rather than mass audiences? Should a government elected by universal adult franchise worry its head about what an adult individual chooses to watch?
The arrival of Netflix signals its belief that a critical mass of Indian viewers will soon have broadband. But initially, its business is likely to be restricted to metropolitan homes. Speeds elsewhere are usually too slow for the service, though ironically, the rewarding markets lie in second- and third-tier towns, and even semi-rural areas starved of media.
Besides, while mobile internet is expected to connect these markets long before fibre reaches them, and will trigger exponential growth, Netflix does not deliver a credible experience below 4G speeds. However, as infrastructure develops, streaming services will be welcomed by “cord-cutters” — consumers eager to disconnect from traditional media.
Such services can broaden the supply of cultural products. India has developed an energetic independent cinema and documentary sector, but it’s restricted to festivals, institutions and YouTube. Services like Netflix can become the commercial distribution mechanism the sector currently lacks, reaching out to widely dispersed audiences beyond the urban film buff. Streaming services may find material hard to access more rewarding than mainstream titles available from the friendly neighbourhood pirate. Provided, of course, they can convince the censors that individually subscribed cinema does not deserve their attention.
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