Monika Shergill, VP, content, and Srishti Behl Arya, director, international original film, Netflix India, are buzzing. On Wednesday they launched the streaming platform’s largest Indian slate yet, some 40 titles across formats and genres.
Also buzzing is the Indian streaming industry, with the news that arch rival Amazon Prime Video has apologized over religious offence caused by original series “Tandav.” Netflix, Amazon, and all streamers operating in India, including Disney Plus Hotstar, are subject to strict new guidelines that the Indian government published last week to govern them, covering many topics including religion.
The guidelines, titled the ‘Digital Media Ethics Code’ could directly affect program content. Both Shergill and Arya are diplomatic when asked about the guidelines, before the Amazon apology, saying that they haven’t had the opportunity to go through them in depth yet. “The goal eventually of the government and the industry is to do the best by the consumers, and the creators,” Shergill tells Variety. Arya says, “We do know that we have a responsibility to our viewers and society.”
Under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India, 17 streamers operating in India, including Netflix, Amazon and Disney signed a self-regulation code last year and produced a stringent tool kit to implement it last month, before the government sprang the new guidelines on the industry. “We’ll all as industry partners know, and figure out, how to work in the best possible manner,” says Shergill.
Both commissioners bring different, complementary, skill sets to the table. Shergill began as a journalist and documentary filmmaker before moving on to programming stints at Sony Entertainment Television and Star India and then a senior commissioner’s role at Viacom18. Arya is from a well-known Bollywood film producing family.
Arya says her background is helpful because it helps sensitize her towards the “pain the creator goes through and the vulnerability they feel when they share their stories.”
Arya says that Netflix is accessible and her email and phone number are “legacy available anyway” and that the streamer acknowledges email pitches, “sometimes a little late,” and definitely responds on the way forward with a yes or no.
Shergill says that Netflix looks for passion and clarity of vision from the creator. “The minute we see that vision, the way the creator wants to tell the story and who it will resonate with, and how, that is when you support and back the vision of the creator,” says Shergill. For series, Netflix looks for projects that can play over multiple seasons and for characters who are powerful enough to stay alive in the mind’s eye between seasons.
While Netflix will continue licensing entertaining product, “the core of our strategy is to really build out a stellar original slate,” says Shergill.
“The one thing I look for the most is authenticity, the reason, the motivation, why you want to tell the story, because you don’t have to paint by numbers on streaming,” says Arya. “You have to love it and want to tell it in its best form.”
After commissioning mostly in the Hindi language, Netflix has now expanded with the Tamil-language originals “Navarasa” and “Paava Kadhaigal,” and the Telugu-language “Pitta Kathalu.” Programming is now available on the service in 11 languages.
India is a vast, but price sensitive market. And, along with language expansion, cost is a key factor. Both Shergill and Arya say that the INR199 ($2.72) mobile-only monthly plan has been a tremendous success. A recent deal with Reliance Jio, India’s largest mobile provider with more than 400 million subscribers, where Netflix is bundled in with some plans, has further increased access.
“Just as we are ramping up the slate, we are also making sure that we are broadening the access every time,” says Shergill.