As far as middle class India is concerned, one of the worst feelings is when the first free month of a paid service is about to come to an end.
The world's most popular video content streaming platform debuted in India last month, and the time has come when a large batch of free Netflix subscriptions are about to run out. To renew or to not renew, that is the question.
First, let's look at why not renewing is a genuine option, probably even the more popular one. It's simple, really. Life will move on, just as earlier. There's a whole lot of free content available online, and popular Netflix originals like Narcos and Orange is the New Black are freely available through, let's say, 'nefarious' means anyway. (That's another joy so many of us would be unwilling to give up: Living on the edge of the law, like a boss.)
There's also the issue of bandwidth and the cost of streaming. 3G may be affordable for regular use, but for streaming videos, the costs pile up quickly, particularly if a show like Daredevil grabs at your gut, making you want to binge-watch it even if an unlimited wifi connection is unavailable. On regular 3G, just one season of a show will set you back by a few thousands at least.
Also, with most home broadband connections hovering at about 4 mbps, continuous HD streaming is something one shouldn't expect. What you're more likely to get is your video experience switching from HD to SD and back every few minutes, which is noticeable even on a mobile screen. For those who've hooked it up to a TV via Chromecast and suchlike, the experience will be downright jarring. (Then again, the Chromecast crowd will probably have a better internet connection anyway.)
Another serious issue is the number of shows and films available on Netflix India; it is significantly lesser than the whole Netflix catalogue. In fact, even a wildly-loved show like House of Cards is, for some reason, not available in India. It’s baffling, but true. We can expect the catalogue to expand on an ongoing basis soon enough, but clearly, everything may not be available to us as soon as it’s out on Netflix.
Not many would be happy paying for it, only to end up downloading a show which is yet to appear on Netflix India. We’d do it, but we wouldn’t be happy. (‘FOMO’ was probably invented to describe this exact syndrome.)
But, like every issue, there are two sides to this one as well. Paying for Netflix, even if you’re a median content consumer, could potentially be life-changing.
For one, you’ll never fall short of content. Even with its limited catalogue, there’s enough on Netflix India already to last you till retirement. If you’re already retired, then it can keep you company till the grave or pyre (take your pick). Sense 8, Bloodline, Making A Murderer, Master of None, Jessica Jones; there’s something for everyone.
And those just constitute a tiny fraction of the Netflix originals. If you’re feeling a wave of nostalgia and want to revisit episodes of your favourite older shows like Breaking Bad or Dexter, they’re all there as well.
Another win for Netflix India is the homegrown content that they have. Heard a lot about Randeep Hooda’s dashing turn in Main Aur Charles or the cutesy, contemporary depiction of romance in Mani Ratnam’s OK Kanmani, but never got around to watching them on the big screen? Well, Netflix to the rescue. You’ve not spent irrational amounts of money at the multiplex, and you’re still contributing to the profits of content that you truly like or are interested in. We may hate parting with our hard-earned cash, but the only way to rightfully expect good content is if you pay to view it.
Netflix is a terrific way to legally consume quality content on the go, while never having to worry about storage space for all those movies and shows you love, but for some inexplicable reason, are unwilling to delete from your hard drive.
Something like Netflix falls right in the crack between a necessity and a luxury - at Rs 500 a month for the cheapest available subscription pack, you get access to everything on Netflix India in standard definition, at a price that’s less than tickets for two, for one film at your favourite multiplex. At 650 a month, you get HD access, with the ability to use it on two screens simultaneously.
With the current payment model, it’s something that will get cut right out of your credit card without causing too much of a dent. It’s a subtle lifestyle shift that could enrich the way you consume content, because most of the target group for this kind of service does, in fact, have access to value-for-money unlimited broadband.
Make no mistake, on-the-go digital content consumption is the way of the future. The death of traditional movie theatres has already been predicted, and television in India has never moved past the ‘idiot box’ tag. Well known Indian production houses like Balaji and YRF’s Y-Films are already investing in digital content in a big way. Netflix is still the daddy of them all, so expect Indian Netflix originals soon enough. (Imagine, for instance, a Narcos-scaled show based on the life of Dawood Ibrahim. Such a thing might be on its way already, who knows.)
Currently, the web is also the only way for us to have unfettered access to uncensored content. Digital is shining, so now is when we must make hay; perhaps the time has come for us to finally learn how to chill.