March 5, 2018
Netflix trying to woo Arabic viewers
Even as Netflix tries to expand its original programming, anticipating moves by Disney in the coming months, the leader in streaming media is trying to make inroads across the globe.
Expansion into new territory is a big part of Netflix’s plans in the last two years of this decade, and the company has its sights on the Middle East. Netflix just announced plans to launch its first original series in Arabic next year. The show, called “Jinn,” is a six-episode supernatural thriller that tells the story of a group of teens who discover a genie in the ancient city of Petra, in modern-day Jordan.
The series’ screenwriter, Bassel Ghandour, sat down with CNN recently to talk about the program and what he sees as a smart move by Netflix.
“I love that Netflix is investing a lot in the region, it’s a real turning point… We have such a rich storytelling culture, and we’ll finally be able to enjoy Arabic content with Netflix quality…”
And, while that will be the first Arabic series on Netflix, the network already featured a special by Lebanese comedian Adel Karam. Fans will recognize Karam from “The Insult,” which was recently nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film.
So, Netflix has a toehold on the region, but the network still has a very long way to go to get more traction. Many believe focusing on stories and traditions familiar in the region and hiring actors from that region are the right way to start.
But, even if Netflix works to win over more fans – they only have 1.3 million subscribers in the region – the brand still faces stiff competition, mainly from Malaysian streaming service, Iflix. That streaming service hit the ground running across the Middle East and North Africa last year, launching in eight countries and kicking off with an Arabic comedy series, Tough Luck.
Starz Play is yet another competitor with a strong beachhead in the region, boasting about 700,000 subscribers across 19 countries since launching two years ago. This service doesn’t offer original content, at least not yet. Instead, it reruns local media, or content produced in other countries and run with Arabic subtitles. The company said they want to run original content, but are not ready to do so quite yet.
Meanwhile, Netflix, if it can get a hit with Jinn, could position its brand as the clear front-runner in the region. Whether Jinn is a hit or a miss, what they do next is almost as important. Even if they win the top spot, they will need something more to hold it.