DUBAI: Netflix, the global video streaming giant, says it is investing heavily in content from the Arab region. Recent evidence of this is the release of Arabic reality show Dubai Bling in October and its first Kuwaiti series, a comedy-drama entitled The Cage, in September.
Earlier this year, it released an Arabic remake of the 2016 Italian film Perfect Strangers, along with original titles like the TV shows Al-Rawabi School for Girls and Jinn.
“We look for stories that are authentic, relatable and have the power to travel,” Nuha El-Tayeb, head of content acquisition at Netflix MENA, told Arab News.
“Stories with universal themes that have broader appeal and resonate with more of our members around the world always work well.”
She said that the company’s content strategy varies from country to country in the region. In Saudi Arabia, for example, which El-Tayeb says has an “emerging entertainment industry,” Netflix is looking for “fresh voices with unique stories to tell.”
This was reflected in the September release of his New Saudi Voices collection, which comprised 11 specially curated short films celebrating the creativity of emerging Saudi filmmakers.
The following month, Netflix launched Below the Line KSA in partnership with Studio Production Training, an initiative aimed at building and developing an infrastructure of below-the-line talent – behind-the-scenes crew members such as assistants Directors, set designers and managers, art directors, prop masters and set builders – through the professional and practice-oriented training of 15 young people.
“Conversely, in Kuwait and Egypt, where there is a long and well-established legacy of storytelling, we partner with some of the region’s most respected talent to bring extraordinary stories from the Arab world to our members worldwide,” said El-Tayeb.
In March, for example, Netflix organized a six-week program called TV Writers’ Lab 6×6 in partnership with the National Creative Industries Group in Kuwait.
“Ultimately, we want to use our size and influence to provide a platform for Arab talent and filmmakers to gain fans worldwide,” said El-Tayeb.
The growing investments in the entertainment sectors of regional economies, particularly Saudi Arabia, are helping to expand the region’s talent pool, she added.
“We want to be a meaningful part of the creative communities in the region, and that means developing the talent pipeline and giving new voices a chance to be heard,” El-Tayeb said.
“Whether through training programs, financial support, industry partnerships or our contribution to regional film festivals, we strive to build a solid network of talent for the Arabic entertainment industry and create new opportunities for Arabic writers, filmmakers and other-line talent.”
Netflix’s focus in the region is in large part on developing female talent through content, workshops and financial support, she added.
“The historical lack of representation of women behind and in front of the camera means they have no autonomy over their stories and are therefore pushed into roles that no longer represent their lives,” El-Tayeb said.
This year, Netflix partnered with Sard, a dedicated center in Egypt for screenwriters from the Arab world, for Because She Created, a program designed to coach women in creative writing and help them develop their storytelling and creative skills develop expression.
In July, she launched a specially curated collection of 21 films by Arab women filmmakers, also titled Because She Created, and partnered with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture for a one-time grant of US$250,000 for women producers and producers provide directors in the Arab world through the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity.
“We want to level the playing field for women filmmakers in the region and create a space for fairer storytelling across the board,” El-Tayeb said.
Netflix lost more than 1 million subscribers worldwide in the first half of this year. Efforts to recoup that loss appear to have paid off, however, as the streaming service reported an addition of 2.4 million subscribers in the third quarter.
In the region, according to market research firm Dataxis, StarzPlay, Netflix and Shahid VIP were the leaders in video streaming last year, accounting for more than 60 percent of subscribers. Looking ahead, analysts predict that Shahid VIP will be the market leader, followed by Netflix, with each service having more than 20 percent market share by 2026.
Entry into the regional market of other global streaming services such as Disney+ and Discovery+ as well as OSN’s service in the region have further intensified competition.
“We believe competition is healthy and ultimately leads to better content for people,” El-Tayeb said. “We’re very proud of the content we make available and know that people will always find the Netflix experience to be unique.”
As competition intensifies, the company aims to offer its subscribers a “broader array of entertainment options” through its fledgling gaming platform, El-Tayeb said. It is expected that 50 games will be available by the end of the year, with 55 more in development.