How Britain’s ‘Netflix for Muslims’ now plans to woo Asia

Alchemiya, frequently dubbed as ‘Netflix for Muslims’, currently features a small but high-brow menu of Muslim-related lifestyle content. (Screenshot)
Updated 05 February 2018
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How Britain’s ‘Netflix for Muslims’ now plans to woo Asia

LONDON: “There’s a desperate need for positive media content aimed at Muslims about Muslims,” said Abdalhamid Evans, the new chief operationg officer of startup video channel Alchemiya.
In a time of rising hate crime and anti-Muslim sentiment that appears to be endorsed increasingly at a government level, Evans told Arab News that Alchemiya provides a ‘voice for Muslim culture.’
“No preaching, no teachings and no politics,” he said. “Just artisans at work: writers, poets, musicians and more.”
Alchemiya, frequently dubbed as ‘Netflix for Muslims’, currently features a small but high-brow menu of Muslim-related lifestyle content, from travel and history to cooking and the arts, as well as films and documentaries. The channel says it has 5,000 registered users in 40 countries.
British-Muslim convert Evans said there is currently no ‘middle ground’ Islamic media narrative between the constant stream of terrorism-related news and sectarian religious theology.
However, when BBC production veteran Navid Akhtar first launched Alchemiya in 2014, the global media landscape was largely browser-based and the company’s trajectory looked very different, says Evans. Today the firm has gained a new lease of life as it evolves into a fully-fledged video-on-demand offering in 2018, he said.
“Navid first approached me to join him in 2014, but I decided to join this year as I feel there is a convergence of global trends that will make Alchemiya a success,” Evans said.
Evans explained: “We are targeting global, urban, educated Muslims — a demographic that is growing in number. There simply isn’t any content on offer that provides an inspirational and contemporary perspective on the peaceful, productive and creative aspect of Islam.”
In many ways the figures say it all. According to The Global State of the Economy Report 2017/18 from Thomson Reuters, Muslim spend on media and entertainment was $198 billion in 2016, and it is forecast to reach $281 billion by 2022.
Evans said he sees a ‘convergence’ of trends between the misrepresentation of Islam in the media, rising social mobility and income among Muslims, the changing nature of television distribution as it goes online and the rise of video services on mobiles.
“We are targeting Muslims who are educated and cultured, but if they want to ‘dumb down’ there’s plenty of other stuff out there,” he said.
As Evans talks it becomes more and more clear that Alchemiya — as a vision and a company — is at a critical juncture.
The media channel, which has 50 videos in its library at present, is about to launch its VoD service to 90 million mobile phone subscribers in Southeast Asia in mid-2018. Axiata, one of the region’s largest mobile operators, has signed a formal letter of intent to carry Alchemiya’s Muslim lifestyle content on its mobile phone platforms in Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
This deal becomes even more pivotal when viewed in the context of South Asia’s prolific VoD takeup. According to Ericsson ConsumerLab TV and Media Report 2017, half of all video viewing will be done on mobile devices and the Asia Pacific region will lead the market.
Evans said Alchemiya plans to scale up its video library to around 500 films within the next year. To help fund this rapid expansion, it will open a new round of funding with crowd investment platform CrowdCube in the coming weeks. This is the firm’s third investment round, following two earlier rounds that clinched over £200,000 ($282,400) of public investment.
Alchemiya also recently listed its video library on Amazon Prime as an add-on bundle and signed a revenue sharing contract with Pakistan’s biggest broadband supplier Pakistan Telecommunication.
Evans said that while Alchemiya is, of course, a moneymaking venture, it’s also a vision that ‘comes from the heart’. “We want to promote peace. As a society, we have nothing without peace,” he said.
“We want to provide a space where talented Muslim filmmakers can place their content. These days you can make excellently produced movies even on an iPhone. And it eases the pressure on young Muslims — perhaps if there is more creative outlets there will be less room for radicalization.”
To this end, Evans said that Alchemiya will siphon off 5 percent of its revenue into a foundation to help jumpstart Muslim filmmaker careers.
“In a way, our business also ties in with the rise of social enterprises and conscious capitalism… there is a lot of negativity against Islam and we want to present Muslims in a positive light,” he said.
“We think we can make a good return for the company if we can make this jump… it’s a mission of doing what we love and appealing to people who feel the same.”


Facebook to invest $300 mln in local news initiatives

Updated 15 January 2019
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Facebook to invest $300 mln in local news initiatives

  • Facebook was partly blamed for the decline of advertising dollars that newspapers are receiving
  • Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships, says the company wants to help local publishers succeed

NEW YORK: Facebook says it is investing $300 million over the next three years in local news programs, partnerships and other initiatives.
The money will go toward reporting grants for local newsrooms, expanding Facebook’s program to help local newsrooms with subscription business models and investing in nonprofits aimed at supporting local news.
The move comes at a difficult time for the news industry, which is facing falling profits and print readership. Facebook, like Google, has also been partly blamed for the ongoing decline in newspapers’ share of advertising dollars as people and advertisers have moved online.
Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships, acknowledges the company “can’t uninvent the Internet,” but says it wants to work with publishers to help them succeed on and off the social network.
“The industry is going through a massive transition that has been underway for a long time,” she said. “None of us have quite figured out ultimately what the future of journalism is going to look like but we want to be part of helping find a solution.”
Facebook has increased its focus on local news in the past year after starting off 2018 with the announcement that it was generally de-emphasizing news stories and videos in people’s feeds on the social network in favor of posts from their friends.
At the same time, though, the company has been cautiously testing out ways to boost local news stories users are interested in and initiatives to support the broader industry. It launched a feature called “Today In” that shows people local news and information, including missing-person alerts, road closures, crime reports and school announcements, expanding it to hundreds of cities around the US and a few in Australia.
The push to support local news comes as Facebook, which is based in Menlo Park, California, tries to shake off its reputation as a hotbed for misinformation and elections-meddling. The company says users have been asking to see more local content that is relevant to them, including news stories as well as community information such as road closings during a snowstorm.
The $300 million investment includes a $5 million grant to the nonprofit Pulitzer Center to launch “Bringing Stories Home,” a fund that will provide local US newsrooms with reporting grants to support coverage of local issues. There’s also a $2 million investment in Report for America as part of a partnership aiming to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms across the country over the next five years.
The idea behind the investments, Brown said, is to look “holistically at how a given publisher can define a business model. Facebook can’t be the only answer, the only solution — we don’t want the publisher to be dependent on Facebook.”
Fran Wills, CEO of the Local Media Consortium, which is receiving $1 million together with the Local Media Association to help their member newsrooms develop new revenue streams, said she is optimistic the investment will help.
“I think they are recognizing that trusted, credible content is of benefit not only to local publishers but to them,” she said.