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Netflix goes to Tollywood, targets Southern Indian languages

People walk past a poster of an Indian movie “Baahubali: The Beginning” outside a movie theatre in New Delhi, India, April 12, 2017. Photo: Reuters

In southern India, devoted fans worship film and TV stars like gods, erecting huge statues of actors which are bathed in milk as part of prayer rituals for a movie’s success.

This is the market Netflix Inc, a streaming laggard in India, is now eager to tap. It has a range of Indian films across various regions to showcase but for TV series – key to keeping viewers loyal to its platform – it only has a few hit shows in Hindi and no TV shows at all in regional languages.

The U.S. company has green-lighted at least 6 TV shows in southern Indian languages this year, aggressively chasing deals in Tollywood as the Telugu film and TV industry is known, as well as in the Tamil film and TV industry, 6 people with knowledge of the company’s plans told Reuters.

As prolific as Hindi-language Bollywood and known for flashy, action-packed content, the South Indian film industry is doing extremely well of late, dominating India’s box office revenue so far this year.

Netflix has “had meetings with pretty much every producer and filmmaker here. You will see the results of those meetings by next year,” one of the people, a Tollywood producer, said. All sources spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing loss of work opportunities.

Netflix has long positioned India, with its population of 1.4 billion, as a key market. In 2018, 2 years after it launched in the country, CEO Reed Hastings predicted its next 100 million subscribers would come from India. But so far it has just 5-6 million, according to analysts’ estimates.

By Hastings’s own admission, Netflix has been frustrated by its lack of success in India relative to its other markets. This new push south also comes at a time when the search for growth has taken on new urgency.

The streaming giant stunned investors last month when it reported a quarterly net loss of subscribers globally for the first time in more than a decade, and predicted deeper losses ahead. Its stock has lost almost half its value since then.

Writing by Muzha Kucha