Netflix’s Indian rival widens global reach as virus spurs demand


India’s largest home-grown streaming service is benefiting from a surge in online viewing globally just after it introduced its platform abroad in markets including Canada.

Viewership for Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd.’s Zee5 TV and movie service was up about 18% globally in March from the previous month, led by a spike of as much as 25% in Canada and in Middle Eastern and North African countries, said Archana Anand, chief business officer, Zee5 Global.

“With most countries being under lockdown, viewers across markets are turning to OTT platforms like ours to stay entertained,” Anand said in an emailed response to questions. New subscriptions to the Zee5 service jumped 60% in March from February, fueled in part by a “very strong and positive uptake in Canada,” she said. The company doesn’t disclose its subscriber total.

Zee5, the platform set up by India’s biggest television broadcaster, has been betting on local content to compete with big-spending rivals and is now looking for subscribers among South Asians living outside the country. Global giants including Netflix Inc. and Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+ are also getting more viewers as people stay home to avoid infection by the coronavirus.

At the same time, pandemic lockdowns and restrictions are thwarting streaming services’ production of their own content. Zee5 has had to reschedule what it calls “ground events,” like its “Talent Hunt” in Bangladesh, Anand said.