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Netflix is Testing Free Content in India in Hopes of Driving New Subscribers, Could the US Be Next?

Luke Stangel

Netflix is testing a fresh strategy to land new subscribers in India—allowing anyone to stream the first episode of their new spy thriller series, “Bard of Blood” for free.

The seven-episode miniseries launched in late September and follows three Indian spies who are ordered on a dangerous, covert rescue mission into Balochistan. It’s produced by Red Chillies Entertainment, the film and TV studio run by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan.

“At Netflix, we try different ways to bring people closer to great stories,” the company said in a statement. “We believe many people will find the thrilling story of spy Kabir Anand very appealing and are excited to make the first episode of the series available to everyone for a limited time. In the future, we will consider if we will do this for other films and series.”

Netflix hopes giving away the first episode of the show will get subscribers to sign up for the service, which now starts at around $3 per month.

India remains a major growth market for Netflix, which launched there in January 2016 with a roughly $7.50-per-month plan aimed at affluent Indians. Even with its lower-cost, mobile-only plan, Netflix is still more expensive than its larger competitors in India: Disney-owned Hotstar costs roughly $1.20 per month, while Amazon Prime Video costs around $2 per month. Apple TV+ announced earlier this month that it will be just $1.38 in India.

“…We’ve been seeing steady—nice steady increases in engagement with our Indian viewers that we think we can keep building on,” Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said on the company’s most recent earnings call. “Growth in that country is a marathon. So we’re in it for the long haul and we’re seeing nice steady progress.”

But, the most interesting part of the strategy is whether this could come to the U.S. with growing competition from services like Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, HBO, and Apple TV+. While Netflix offers a 30-Day Free Trial for new subscribers, by offering free episodes of original shows could draw existing customers back in who churned.

This isn’t the first time that Netflix has tried this new marketing tactic. Earlier this month, the company offered the first episode of its Spanish-language drama “Elite” for free in Mexico. In the U.S., this is a common tactic by premium TV channels like HBO and Showtime — who generally offer the premiere episodes of shows for free. Apple has been offering free episodes through their Apple TV Channels service to drive subscriptions for third-party services, so they will likely adopt a similar approach for Apple TV+.

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