The Streaming Wars will be won in places like India and good localization will be the MOAB!
No, I don’t mean the national park in Utah! I’ve never been, but I hear it’s nice….maybe someday I’ll see for myself. I mean the battle-ending Massive Ordnance Air-blast Bomb. The 11-tons of TNT that enemies hope they never see first-hand, because if they do…well it’s too late. There is no doubt India is an exciting market for all the streamers. With 1.3 billion content loving citizens it offers an incredible prize in terms of paid subscribers. The Motley Fool has Disney+ edging out Netflix in 2026 for total global subscribers (Disney+ 294 to Netflix’s 286) fueled by a whopping 98 million subscribers in India alone. That’s nearly 30% of all subs for Disney coming from India. This is driven very much by a few key factors, first and foremost it has a healthy tailwind from acquiring Hotstar as part of the Fox/Disney merger. Second is cost, which is a mere $20/year, which is much more geared toward the average consumer in India as opposed to the rather “bougie” Netflix pricing of ~$108/year. And then there’s cricket, you mustn’t forget the cricket. It’s hugely popular and it’s on Disney+. These are all legitimate factors that have led to strong indicators in favor of Disney killing it in India, but there’s some alternative futures to consider and I wouldn’t be breaking the cricket bat just yet patting myself on the back. In fact, I’d be a little nervous if I was Disney…because I can’t afford to lose more than 4 percentage points of that 30% and still win globally!
One of the most obvious questions is getting into a streaming price war in a country that’s extremely price sensitive, the best strategy in the long term? Consumer behaviors in markets like that will lead you right to the rock bottom, the land of sustained unprofitability. You can’t make a long term business out of selling $100 bills for $20…just ask Movie Pass. Equally you can’t only chase the premium market where $10/month subs live. There’s a spot in the middle of the bell curve, a spot that gets streaming services to a sustainable business and hits the biggest addressable market. But to do it, streamers will need to make some strategy changes and localization will be integral to the shift.
First, all streamers need to understand that localization is part of your brand, your user experience. If done badly, no customer will blame the vendor…they will blame you. In a world where customers can vote on a monthly basis with their rupees, your localization will impact your success. Extending that logic out to a fiercely competitive landscape where it will be a knife fight to keep voluntary churn in check, you need to appreciate that doubling down on localization quality is no different than making sure your apps work well on android and set-top devices. It’s all an investment in customer experience.
Secondly, streamer’s local original content (which everyone is committed to making) must travel to have it make maximum financial sense. In fact, that is by definition a competitive advantage for big global streamers who can spread the cost of a title like White Tiger across its membership base. This film was reported to be on Netflix’s top ten list across 64 countries. While White Tiger had both English and Hindi elements, it was localized in about 27 languages by some pretty great EGA companies (AC Create, Deluxe, Sound & Vision India, Saran Digital Studios, VSI, Iyuno Media Group, Prime Focus Technologies, and Dubbing Bros.) I don’t know the specific numbers on this title, but I feel like Netflix is likely pleased as punch about having this film from India, filmed in India and distributed globally, land so well in 64 countries. And they should be, low estimates have nearly 24 million consumers or 12% of all Netflix subscribers watching it. Of course there were lots of great elements that made this movie a smash, a well known director, star talent, and it was based on the celebrated 2008 novel of the same name. Even with all these things going for it, without great localization the film wouldn’t have even been popular among the Tamil or Telugu audiences in India and you can absolutely forget the Germans, Italians or Turks that enjoyed it. Needless to say, this movie travelled well because the localization companies involved were incredible guides of this wonderful film. Netflix knows the value of great localization and the tailwind it gives great stories when they sweep into different territories. It’s their brand and in any language the enjoyment of that content is their responsibility. This might be Netflix’s secret power when it comes to India, their ability to export great Indian stories….time will tell.
But let’s get back to the MOAB, the battle killing death blow which will decide which streamer gets the tiger’s share of India’s huge streaming customer base. All the streamers will have the potential to bring great stories from around the world to the devices of content loving Indian audiences. But in a country with 447 languages across 1.3b people, my money for the most effective, daisy cutting bomb is on localization. Whichever streaming service decides to speak to its members in their native tongues, touching their hearts with well crafted language will win their loyalty. I believe whichever company gets really good at bringing stories to India and localizing them into the key languages of India; Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Urdu, Kannada will have dropped the MOAB on their competitors and win the battle for Indian viewers.
So, if a streaming executive reading this wants to know how they can ensure they are getting the best possible localization services for their content and win the streaming war…it’s easy just hire one of the EGA companies! That’s true by the way, but I’m sure there are other good companies too. Even if you don’t hire EGA companies, you should at the very least hire companies like them. All EGA members in India have gone through content security protocols, use purpose built studio facilities, have deeply tested language resources, pay actors above average to ensure livable wages, carry the correct licensing and have E&O insurances at the client level. These companies choose to participate in groups like EGA, SMPTE and others to ensure they are not only connected tightly with the entertainment communities in India, but also here in LA. Using EGA companies means your content will be safely kept ahead of release, the linguistic and technical quality will be exceptional and you won’t have any future brand tarnish with unlicensed vendor scandals or government entanglements. With nearly 100 dubbing companies in India, it’s safe to say they don’t all operate with the same service-level, so if you decide to go out of well vetted vendor pools like the EGA, ask lots of questions, be weary of bargains and handle it with extreme caution….after all we’re dealing with a bomb here!