Can Anyone Beat Netflix? One Bollywood Studio is Going to Try

One of Bollywood’s biggest studios is betting it can win the online streaming race.

Movie-crazy Indians see Bollywood hits any way they can: crowding around family TVs, piling into dusty village cinemas and swank New Delhi multiplexes, borrowing bootlegged versions friends stash in mobile-phone memory cards. They’re just not in the habit of paying to watch online.

Kishore Lulla plans to change that before Netflix does.

Encouraged by an activist investor, the executive chairman of Eros International Plc is making its Eros Now streaming service a priority — shelving a plan to create an old-fashioned television network to focus on video-on-demand optimized for mobile devices and priced for widespread adoption. The idea is to use the Mumbai studio’s bulging catalog of more than 2,000 films and new, exclusive series to build a critical mass of devoted users before Netflix Inc. and Inc. plant their flags in the world’s second-most populous country.

“We thought, ‘We have the market share, we have the movies,”’ Lulla, 53, said in his London office on the city’s Georgian-era Manchester Square, looking every bit the mogul in a crisp, open-necked white shirt and slip-on shoes. “Why don’t we create our own platform?”

Thanks to a production machine built by his father Arjan, who founded Eros in 1977, it releases upwards of 70 movies a year — more than any U.S. rival. Eros is “exactly where Netflix wants to be in the next three to five years,” Lulla said. “I’m already there.”

Since a largely marketing-free soft launch about a year ago, Eros Now has attracted more than 26 million users. The official hard-sell unveiling was in July, with promises that movies will be available to stream immediately after they hit theaters. Promotions tease new digital series including “Khel,” a drama about “the twisted characters that populate the world of cricket,” and “Ponniyin Selvan,” based on a 2,000-plus-page novel about an ancient Tamil kingdom.

A basic, ad-supported tier is free, while premium services cost from 50 rupees (about 80 U.S. cents) to 100 rupees monthly. Prices are higher outside India, where there’s opportunity in diaspora communities. In the U.S. it’s $7.99 — which happens to be Netflix’s base cost.

But Eros Now can’t be a straight-up Netflix clone. For one thing, there’s the music. Songs from Bollywood films, set to elaborate dance routines, usually dominate the top of the Indian charts, so the app has sections for listening to tracks and watching music videos.

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Originally posted by and at BloombergBusiness on 8th September 2015