Exclusive: Netflix has 2-3 lakh paying subscribers in India, an investigation of the company’s India tax records by MediaNama has revealed (see methodology below). Of the company’s 93.8 million subscribers, between 211,500-337,300 are from India. This is a small share of Netflix’s international market, but it’s significant, considering India’s nascent broadband infrastructure; the video-on-demand market has also been mushrooming only in the last couple years. The company gained over 14 million new subscribers from outside the US since last year, when it expanded to all countries except China. India, which is the most populous Netflix market, has contributed to around 2% of that growth.
Netflix does not reveal per-country subscription counts outside the US. MediaNama used Netflix’s January service tax data for this story. The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment. We will update this piece if they do.
Low Internet penetration and cheap TV
India’s limited broadband penetration and inexpensive cable and satellite television plans are likely why Netflix has gained such a relatively low foothold in India. In an interview with Outlook Business, CEO Reed Hastings had called India’s Internet infrastructure ‘frustrating‘. Indeed, even as the company collaborates with Internet Providers all over Asia including Pakistan, it is yet to announce a single collaboration or interconnection deal in India. Only around 7% of Indians have access to broadband; most use the Internet using mobile data connections. Netflix tried to bridge this gap by introducing the option to download titles offline in December last year.
Additionally, the high cost of cable TV packages in the US is in stark contrast to the inexpensive cable and satellite TV tariffs in India. While Netflix in the US costs a fraction of a cable package subscription, it exceeds the average monthly cost of television subscriptions in India. The cheapest plan costs ₹500, and the most expensive one is priced at ₹800. This makes it less attractive to Indian consumers.
Slowly warming up to India
Netflix has been slow in stepping up their India efforts. They have only announced one original show being co-produced with Phantom, and a single stand-up comedy special by Vir Das. They have also been licensing some critically acclaimed independent films from India, in addition to an exclusive deal with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime Video has announced 17 original Indian series and 14 stand-up specials. The video streaming company has been decidedly cautious in the Indian market, and is only targeting elites in the country for now. Their content selection and growth strategy for India reflects that approach.
MediaNama filed an RTI application to the Large Taxpayer Unit (LTU) in Bangalore, where Netflix has been filing taxes since December from the Netherlands. Netflix was one of the first international companies to silently comply with the 15% digital service tax, as we exclusively reported in December.
The LTU responded that Netflix paid ₹2.20 crore in taxes for January 2017. We divided this number from the service tax rate that Netflix charges for their most expensive plan, and the rate they charge on their least expensive plan. With this, we arrived at a range of subscribers, between 211,500 and 337,300. Since there are three separate plans, it is unlikely that either extreme in the range is close to the number of subscribers that Netflix has in India, so we are assuming that the number is somewhere between 2 and 3 lakh.
Interestingly, although Netflix started charging this tax in December, the LTU in Bangalore said in their RTI response that Netflix didn’t file any taxes for that month. The company didn’t respond to a question on why that’s the case.
Note: This estimate does not include users who are on the 30 day trial period.
You can read the LTU’s response to MediaNama’s RTI application here: