ROME: “Stranger Things” certainly happened in the US — but future hit Netflix series could well emerge from the Arab world.
The Internet-TV giant, which also made “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black,” says it is looking to boost production in the region following the announcement of its first Arabic “originals” production earlier this year.
The US-based Netflix this month reported better-than-expected growth to 125 million subscribers — but lags regional rivals in the Middle East and North Africa, where its production activity has been extremely limited.
But that will change over the next few years as Netflix looks to “ramp up” regional production of series, a senior executive told Arab News.
Netflix said in February that it is filming “Jinn,” its first original Arabic series, later this year. Todd Yellin, vice president of product at Netflix, said more shows are set to follow.
“It won’t take long — over the next couple of years expect a couple more to come in and it to ramp up,” he said. “We’ll invest and we’ll try some Arabic originals.”
The executive, speaking at a Netflix event in Rome, said that producing more shows in the region could help build cultural bridges between the Arab region and rest of the world.
“I don’t want us to be deprived of any great storytellers and I know there’s going to be some in Arabic countries — we know there are, and we want to access them,” Yellin said.
“It’s healthy psychologically … when people are exposed to people of other nations and what they do, then you gain understanding, and we start eroding away all the ignorance. So that’s the goal.”
The supernatural teenage drama “Jinn” is to film in Jordan, with the six-episode series expected to hit the screens in 2019.
Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO, said Jordan has “very developed infrastructure” for producing series but that there were opportunities elsewhere in the region.
“Producing them in Jordan, or Egypt or Saudi Arabia all are good options … There are great places to produce all over the world; it depends on the story that you are trying to tell,” he said.
Hastings pointed to the popularity of YouTube in the Middle East — with Saudi Arabia having one of the highest per-capita usages of the video platform — as evidence of the opportunity for Internet-TV players.
“YouTube is huge throughout the region, so we definitely see a big opportunity to do great shows. But our current shows are very popular in the Middle East — it’s not Middle East only programming,” Hastings told Arab News.
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- First Dutch original series
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Fifth original series from France tells the story of teenagers bound together by a supernatural force.
- The Wave
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- Luna Nera
An original genre series about women suspected of witchcraft in 17th century Italy.
- The English Game
A six-part drama about the invention of football written by “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes.
- Turn Up Charlie
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Netflix also plans to test dubbing of its shows in Arabic, as currently only a few kids’ shows are available with a voiceover in that language.
“We don’t dub yet into Arabic … We’ll test it. (There are) no immediate plans but I can see us doing that eventually, to test it,” Yellin said.
“Last year we localized into Romanian, into Greek. We’ve been in Arabic (with subtitles) since the beginning of 2016. You’ll see more languages on Netflix by next year and the year after. We want more people to access the service.”
Netflix last week revealed that it had added 7.4 million subscribers in the first quarter of the year, a 50 percent increase on the same quarter last year, outpacing analyst expectations.
Yet the US service lags some regional rivals in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, according to data from IHS Markit.
The Starz Play and Shahid Plus services each have more than a quarter of Internet-TV subscribers in the region, while Netflix’s share is just 16.5 percent.
But Netflix is expected to see a “significant” increase in its MENA market share, according to Constantinos Papavassilopoulos, principal research analyst at IHS Markit.
This increase will be facilitated by partnerships with telcos and pay-TV operators, Papavassilopoulos said, citing a deal with the Dubai-based OSN to make Netflix available on set-top boxes.
“These kinds of partnerships are very important in emerging markets like MENA,” Papavassilopoulos said.
He added that localization — in content, currency support and cooperation with local creators — is also very important for regions like MENA.
“All these are also factors that will facilitate Netflix’s efforts to grow its customer base in the MENA region,” he said.
Netflix last week said it is nearly doubling its film production in Europe, the Middle East and Africa — with over 100 projects originating in the region in 2018.
It unveiled several new European projects including “The English Game” from the UK, a six-part drama about the invention of football written by “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes.
(Additional reporting by Rebecca Spong)