Indian talent is crucial for streaming entertainment's future

26 August, 2021

As the market for streaming subscribers starts to saturate in the United States, companies like Netflix, Disney, and Amazon are looking to bigger international regions to continue scaling their platforms. Few countries are as important to that continued, global growth as India. 

There are several factors that make India a crucial growth player for the biggest entertainment and tech conglomerates in the world. The country has more than 1.3 billion people. There are more than 600 million registered internet users, making it the second largest in the world only behind China — a country where many major entertainment companies and tech conglomerates can’t operate streaming services in. By that current standard, India is the biggest potential market for growth and retention. Penetration rates are continuing to grow amongst those without the internet. 

Most importantly, the average daily media consumption for someone in India hit 5.5 hours in 2021, with the majority of that belonging to television, although digital media consumption is quickly growing. Keeping this in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 90 percent of the top 10 most in-demand actors in the world, gauged between January 1st 2021 and August 17th are Indian. 

Parrot_Average Demand Distribution for Global Actors.jpg

The majority of these actors star in Bollywood movies or in-demand Indian sitcoms. Shah Rukh Khan, often referred to as the King of Bollywood and one of the most beloved TV personalities in India, boasts the highest demand for any global actor, coming in at 30x the average demand for other artists globally. Priyanka Chopra, an Indian actor who started in Bollywood then made a name for herself in the US through her work on the ABC drama Quantico, is the third most in-demand actor globally. 

These actors carry strong affinity in India, but they’re also global superstars. Shah Rukh Khan, for example, earned 12.85x more audience demand than the average talent in the United States from July 16th to August 15th. Just half of one percent of all talent in the market reach this level of demand. Khan’s demand in most countries clocks in at good or outstanding, as seen in the chart below, speaking to the actor’s global presence. 

Parrot_Map of Shah Rukh Khan’s Global Demand.jpg

This information tells two distinct stories, both intertwined within the other: Indian talent appeals to viewers in every country, and the demand for stories with Indian actors is undeniable. For a company like Netflix or Amazon, looking to grow subscribers to their services throughout the country and in less mature markets, working on titles that star global talent like Khan, Chopra, or others seen in the chart above brings with it swaths of fans who are already invested in that actor’s work. 

Casting actors who carry global appeal will naturally help with finding a global audience — increasingly the biggest concern for executives at big streaming companies. La Casa de Papal wasn’t just a big deal because it became an immensely in-demand Spanish series, or an in-demand series in Europe, but it was a top demand show globally. 

Questions about talent leads into one conversation that has repeatedly come up over the last few weeks. Is the actor more important than the franchise (IP) or if the franchise is more important than the actor? It’s a chicken and egg situation. Let’s take the Marvel Cinematic Universe as one quick example. Iron Man wouldn’t have succeeded if not for Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Tony Stark back in 2008. There was no intertwined Marvel Cinematic Universe, no multi-platform, $30 billion franchise for fans to just dive into. As Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige said, there would be no MCU without Downey Jr. 

Now, actors joining the MCU benefit from joining a franchise that has such global demand. Their own demand increases. Simu Liu, who stars in the upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, saw his global demand skyrocket. At its peak over the last eight months, Liu saw his demand reach 9x the average demand for talent globally, a position that Parrot Analytics classifies as outstanding. Being part of the MCU, and reaching billions of new fans, propels his demand for future projects. 

Parrot_Demand Distribution for Simu Liu in the United States.jpg

Creating the next MCU, however, may rely entirely on bringing in the perfect cast. Stranger Things may have established Millie Bobby Brown, but Enola Holmes is a possible franchise being built around her demand.

Amazon, Netflix, and Disney — among other competitors in the space — want to create new franchises that appeal to a large, untapped customer base in India and other maturing countries. Building those franchises around some of the most in-demand actors, and knowing where those actors are most likely to draw in viewers. 

Netflix has added between one million and 2.7 million subscribers in the APAC region over the last four quarters (Q2 2020 - Q2 2021). It’s seeing consistent growth, alongside regions in EMEA. Being able to hyper target viewers based on what talent is most in-demand in certain regions, and what talent may help to create a global franchise, is key to those continued expansions. 

Another great example is Disney+ HotStar. The Indian streaming component of Disney’s direct-to-consumer business makes up nearly 40% of Disney+’s entire subscriber base. Carrying Disney originals on top of Bollywood films and, perhaps most importantly - the hugely popular Indian Premier League (cricket matches) - demand for content on Disney+ HotStar has led to nearly 50 million subscribers in India signing up. 

While the usual Disney+ favorites all sit within the top five in-demand series (WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki), a few more original Indian series, including Special OPS and Criminal Justice come in above The Mandalorian and The Bad Batch. While it’s clear the Marvel and Star Wars Disney+ originals travel internationally, there’s more room for Disney to try and work with all-star Indian actors to help grow Disney+ in a number of countries around the world.

Parrot_Demand Distribution for Disney+ HotStar Original Series in India.jpg

Talent is key to building new franchises and hit television series — and those hit TV shows or massive franchises in turn attract new talent. Understanding what talent is needed, and how to best employ those actors in shows that travel around the world is the difference between building a streaming service that continues to grow and entertain hundreds of millions of subscribers around the world and those who can’t keep up with global demand trends.

Executives know it too. As Netflix's Head of Global TV Bela Bajaria pointed out at a conference in April this year, anime viewing has grown 100% globally, while viewing of Korean dramas has tripled, as reported by Variety. In the United States, non-English viewing has also grown by 50%, Variety added. Global content is key to continued growth and reduced churn globally; tapping into some of the biggest movie and TV stars, like the Indian actors mentioned above, is the next step.

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