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Walmart Takes on Amazon With Free Streaming Video in India

Saritha Rai

(Bloomberg) -- Walmart Inc.’s Flipkart plans to start a free Indian video streaming service in coming months, escalating a fight with Amazon.com Inc. by borrowing its arch-foe’s tactics.

India’s biggest online retailer plans to roll out video streaming for members of its Flipkart Plus loyalty program by September ahead of the peak Diwali shopping season, people familiar with its plans said. The service is currently in beta mode, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing internal strategy.

Flipkart Online Services Pvt is getting into a red-hot market but playing catch-up by taking a page from Amazon’s playbook. The U.S. retailer’s Prime Video service had for years proven instrumental in retaining shoppers and attracting new ones. A streaming offering could help level the playing field with Amazon, which for years has devised award-winning shows such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for global audiences.

Flipkart won’t initially produce originals -- a route that’s proven costly for online platforms including Netflix Inc. -- and instead license content from the likes of Walt Disney Co. and local studios such as Balaji Telefilms, the people said. In-house content could come later, they added. The news was reported earlier Monday by Money Control.

In a departure from Amazon Prime, Flipkart Plus video-streaming will come free just like its no-subscription fee loyalty program. Flipkart shoppers can become members by amassing 300 “super coins,” at a rate of 2 for every 100 rupees ($1.40) spent on its platform. Users can exchange those tokens for items from flight tickets and food delivery to car rentals and music streaming subscriptions. And, again unlike its rival, the Indian company doesn’t automatically offer deals on shipping, with free delivery limited to only very few products.

Flipkart Plus launched its rewards program in 2018 when Amazon Prime was already an established presence in India, boasting original shows and a library of Bollywood and regional language films to go along with international fare. The service costs 999 rupees annually or 129 rupees a month.

Walmart paid $16 billion for control of Indian e-commerce pioneer Flipkart in 2018, acquiring pole position in one of the world’s fastest-growing arenas. Unlike giant markets such as China that’re largely closed to foreign operators, India is the frontline of a battle between the world’s largest online retailers.

The country has also become a battleground for global streaming giants from Netflix to Disney-owned Hotstar. They’re drawn by a market that could hit 829 million smartphone users by 2022, compared with about half a billion now, according to Cisco Systems Inc. estimates. The $500 million Indian video-streaming market could grow to 10 times that size by 2023, according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group last year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Saritha Rai in Bangalore at srai33@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Edwin Chan at echan273@bloomberg.net, ;Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net, Colum Murphy

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