Netflix: Not coming to a screen near you?

Netflix: Not coming to a screen near you?
Western expats in the Middle East – a big potential market – are able to bypass local content restrictions with a VPN, viewing as if they were at home. (Shutterstock)
Updated 23 July 2018

Netflix: Not coming to a screen near you?

Netflix: Not coming to a screen near you?
  • For the second quarter running – Netflix failed to hit its target for new subscribers – resulting in $30 billion being wiped off its stock market value
  • The service is not a dominant force in the Middle East and North Africa – for the very good reason that so little of its content is in Arabic

LONDON: What is going on with Netflix? On one hand, the streaming service is now so popular that Ofcom, the UK’s media regulator, says it poses a real threat to traditional television, and especially to pay-TV channels such as Sky and Virgin.

On the other hand, the numbers tell a different story. For the second quarter running, Netflix failed to hit its target for new subscribers. This resulted in $30 billion being wiped off its stock market value, fueling a debate around one question: Has Netflix hit its peak?

The service has more than 130 million subscribers around the world, but that global reach is not as global as it could be.

The service is not a dominant force in the Middle East and North Africa, for the very good reason that so little of its content is in Arabic.

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.

 

The Netflix strategy has been to attract subscribers through the quality (generally high) of its content. That content doesn’t come cheap but it is supposed to be covered by revenue from a growing number of subscribers.

This year the Netflix budget for content — 700 original TV shows and 80 films — is $8 billion.

Though Arabic films are available on Netflix, since launching in the Middle East at the end of 2016, it has produced only one original program in Arabic, a comedy special with the Lebanese actor and comedian Adel Karam.

In February, Netflix announced its first original series in Arabic, “Djinn.” The six-part young adult fantasy adventure is directed by Lebanese director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, the screenplay is by Oscar-nominated writer Bassel Ghandour and the actors are Middle Eastern.

But as filming was set to start in Jordan “later this year” it has not hit the screens yet.

Little wonder, then, that Netflix is having problems competing with rivals that already offer programming more tailored to locality.

“If Netflix wants to have as much clout in the Middle East as it does in English- and Spanish-speaking countries, it will need to produce much more content than reflects the area’s culture and languages,” said Jon Fingas, associate editor of the technology news website Engadget. Netflix did not immediately provide a comment for this story.

However, Netflix appears to be addressing another reason for its failure to make the desired impact in the Arab world: Accessibility.

In a region where incomes vary greatly, not everyone can afford to upgrade their television set or buy the supplementary device required to receive Netflix.

In February, Netflix signed a deal to make its content available through Dubai-based pay-TV provider OSN. Subscribers will simply pay through their existing OSN bills.

Media analyst Ronan Shields, digital editor of The Drum, said, “Success in markets such as the Middle East and North Africa relies on localization. While this is true of anywhere, the Middle East is undoubtedly a key region where Netflix will have to focus if it is to return to growth rate that will please investors.”

Netflix also announced it intended to appoint an executive charged with sourcing local content in the MENA region. But the search “appears to be ongoing,” said Shields.

The fact that the OSN partnership was not due to kick in until the latter part of the second quarter also means it is still too early to judge if the moves have made a difference to Netflix’s fortunes, he added.

“I would expect Netflix to spend big on publicizing these utilities (and content) in the region in order to boost take-up in the region.”

How people pay for Netflix services could also hamper its penetration in the region. While the use of credit and debit cards is widespread in some parts, other parts remain cash-based.

The ability and possibly the availability of wireless networks to support streaming could be another factor, along with local censorship of content. Western expats living in the Middle East — a potential big market for Netflix — are able to bypass local restrictions on content by using a VPN, enabling them to view programs as if they were in their home country. Analysts wonder if expats would be willing to pay for Netflix content when they have alternatives to hand.

However, Gurpreet Kaur at JPMorgan Chase said there were encouraging signs for the streaming service from India, given the success of the film “Lust Stories” (launched in the last quarter) and the first original series from India, “Sacred Games,” which began on July 6. Another series, “Ghoul,” is due to launch on Aug. 24.

“We believe these pieces of content can help drive word of mouth around Netflix and build the brand in India,” said Kaur.

“Overall, while second-quarter net adds and the third quarter outlook are disappointing, we do not believe they reflect a fundamental change in the Netflix story. We continue to believe Netflix can reach 200 million global subscribers in 2021.”

FASTFACTS

130 million — Netflix’s global subscriber base / $30 billion — Drop in share price after announcing disappointing customer growth / $8 billion — Netflix’s budget for content this year / 700 — Number of original TV shows it plans to make / 80 — Number of films


Facebook’s WhatsApp rolls out option for disappearing photos, videos to take on Snapchat

The feature is called 'View Once' and will be displayed as 'opened' once the media has been viewed by the user. (File/AFP)
The feature is called 'View Once' and will be displayed as 'opened' once the media has been viewed by the user. (File/AFP)
Updated 04 August 2021

Facebook’s WhatsApp rolls out option for disappearing photos, videos to take on Snapchat

The feature is called 'View Once' and will be displayed as 'opened' once the media has been viewed by the user. (File/AFP)
  • WhatsApp rolls out new feature which allows users to send photos and videos which will then disappear from the chat after they have been seen

Aug 3 : Users of Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp can now send disappearing photos and videos on its platform starting this week, as it looks to better compete with Snap Inc’s photo messaging app Snapchat.
The feature, called View Once, will let photos and videos disappear from the chat after they have been seen, Facebook said in a blog post on Tuesday, adding that once the media content has been viewed, the message will be shown as “opened.”
Snapchat, known for its Stories feature that lets users post updates that disappear after 24 hours, has grown in popularity last year as pandemic-induced curbs kept users at home. The company has also been adding new features on its messaging app to attract more users.


Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further

Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further
Updated 04 August 2021

Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further

Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further
  • The law would also criminalize the sale and distribution of virtual private networks and proxies
  • Bill has yet to be approved by Iran’s hard-liner dominated parliament, but it is already stirring anxiety among young Iranians

TEHRAN: For Ali Hedieloo, a 40-year-old making wooden furniture in Iran’s capital, Instagram is more than just a surfeit of glossy images. Like an estimated 1 million other Iranians, it’s how he finds customers, as the app has exploded into a massive e-commerce service in the sanctions-hit country.
But now, the social media platform has come under threat. Iran moved last week toward further government restrictions on Instagram and other apps, as hard-line lawmakers agreed to discuss a bill that many fear will undermine communication, wipe out livelihoods and open the door to the banning of key social media tools.
“I and the people working here are likely to lose our jobs if this bill becomes effective,” said Hedieloo from his dimly lit workshop in the southern suburbs of Tehran, where he sands bleached wood and snaps photos of adorned desks to advertise.
The bill has yet to be approved by Iran’s hard-liner dominated parliament, but it is already stirring anxiety among young Iranians, avid social media users, online business owners and entrepreneurs. Iran is a country with some 94 million Internet devices in use among its over 80 million people. Nearly 70 percent of Iran’s population uses smartphones.
Over 900,000 Iranians have signed a petition opposing the bill. The protest comes at a tense time for Iran, with Ebrahim Raisi, the former judiciary chief and hard-line protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, assuming the country’s highest civilian position this week. Journalists, civil society advocates and government critics have raised the alarm about the possible increase of social repression once he takes office.
The draft legislation, first proposed this spring by conservative lawmakers, requires major foreign tech giants such as Facebook to register with the Iranian government and be subject to its oversight and data ownership rules.
Companies that host unregistered social media apps in Iran would risk penalties, with authorities empowered to slow down access to the companies’ services as a way to force them to comply. Lawmakers have noted that the crippling US sanctions on Iran make the registration of American tech companies in the country impossible, effectively ensuring their ban.
The law would also criminalize the sale and distribution of virtual private networks and proxies — a critical way Iranians access long-blocked social media platforms like Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube. It also would bar government officials from running accounts on banned social media platforms, which they now use to communicate with citizens and the press. Even the office of the supreme leader has a Twitter account with over 890,000 followers.
And finally, the bill takes control of the Internet away from the civilian government and places it under the armed forces.
The bill’s goal, according to its authors, is to “protect users and their rights.” Hard-liners in the government have long viewed social messaging and media services as part of a “soft war” by the West against the Islamic Republic. Over time, Iran has created what some have called the “halal” Internet — the Islamic Republic’s own locally controlled version of the Internet aimed at restricting what the public can see.
Supporters of the bill, such as hard-line lawmaker Ali Yazdikhah, have hailed it as a step toward an independent Iranian Internet, where “people will start to prefer locally developed services” over foreign companies.
“There is no reason to worry, online businesses will stay, and even we promise that they will expand too,” he said.
Internet advocates, however, fear the measures will tip the country toward an even more tightly controlled model like China, whose “Great Firewall” blocks access to thousands of foreign websites and slows others.
Iran’s outgoing Information Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, whom the hard-line judiciary summoned for prosecution earlier this year over his refusal to block Instagram, warned that the bill would curtail access to information and lead to full-blown bans of popular messaging apps. In a letter to Raisi last month, he urged the president-elect to reconsider the bill.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Social media is a highly contested space in Iran, where the government retains tight control over newspapers and remains the only entity allowed to broadcast on television and radio. Over recent years, anti-government protesters have used social media as a communication tool to mobilize and spread their message, prompting authorities to cripple Internet services.
During the turmoil in the fall of 2019, for instance, the government imposed a near-complete Internet blackout. Even scattered demonstrations, such as the recent protests over water shortages in Iran’s southwest, have seen disruptions of mobile Internet service.
But many ordinary Iranians, reeling from harsh American sanctions that have severed access to international banking systems and triggered runaway inflation, remain more preoccupied with the bill’s potential financial fallout.
As the coronavirus ravages Iran, a growing number of people like Hedieloo have turned to Instagram to make a living — tutoring and selling homemade goods and art. Over 190,000 businesses moved online over the past year.
Although much about the bill’s fate remains uncertain, experts say it already has sent a chill through commerce on Instagram, where once-hopeful users now doubt they have a future on the app.
“I and everyone else who is working in cyberspace is worried,” said Milad Nouri, a software developer and technology analyst. “This includes a teenager playing online games, a YouTuber making money from their channel, an influencer, an online shop based on Instagram.”
He added: “Everyone is somehow stressed.”


Algeria shuts down offices of Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath

Al-Arabiya logo. (File/Al-Arabiya)
Al-Arabiya logo. (File/Al-Arabiya)
Updated 03 August 2021

Algeria shuts down offices of Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath

Al-Arabiya logo. (File/Al-Arabiya)
  • Algeria shuts down Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath offices in the country for “practicing media misinformation”

LONDON: The Algerian Ministry of Communication issued a decision on Saturday to withdraw the accreditation of Al-Arabiya’s representative office in Algeria.

The statement by the ministry highlighted that the decision was due to Al-Arabiya’s “failure to respect the rules of professional ethics and its practice of media misinformation and manipulation.”

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on Algerian authorities to reverse the decision and to ensure that the channel operates freely inside the country.


Belarus sends reporter to prison over deleted chat messages

Belarus sends reporter to prison over deleted chat messages
Updated 03 August 2021

Belarus sends reporter to prison over deleted chat messages

Belarus sends reporter to prison over deleted chat messages
  • Belarus sentences journalist to 1.5 years in prison for insulting the Belarusian president in a deleted chat group
  • Belarusian authorities have ramped up the pressure against non-governmental organizations and independent media in recent weeks
KYIV: A court in Belarus convicted a journalist of insulting the president in messages in a deleted chat group and sentenced him to 1 1/2 years in prison, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said Monday.
The verdict in the case against Siarhei Hardziyevich, 50, comes as part of a massive crackdown that Belarusian authorities have unleashed on independent media and human rights activists.
Hardziyevich on Monday was found guilty of insulting the president and slandering police officers, according to the association. The court sentenced him to a prison term and a $1,600 fine.
The charges against the journalist from Drahichyn, a city 300 kilometers (185 miles) southwest of Belarus’ capital of Minsk, were brought over messages in a chat group on the messaging app Viber which was deleted last year.
Hardziyevich, who worked for a popular regional news outlet, The First Region, has maintained his innocence. His defense team demanded the charges be dropped due to a lack of evidence and because the crime was impossible to establish.
“I have nothing to do with these crimes, I don’t consider myself guilty,” Hardziyevich said in his address to the court before the verdict.
The Viasna human rights center declared Hardziyevich a political prisoner.
Belarusian authorities have ramped up the pressure against non-governmental organizations and independent media in recent weeks, conducting more than 200 raids of offices and apartments of activists and journalists in July alone, according to Viasna.
Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has vowed to continue what he called a “mopping-up operation” against civil society activists whom he has denounced as “bandits and foreign agents.”
Lukashenko faced months of protests triggered by his being awarded a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged. He responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
A total of 29 Belarusian journalists remain in custody either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.

Twitter partners with AP, Reuters to battle misinformation on its site

Twitter partners with AP, Reuters to battle misinformation on its site
Updated 03 August 2021

Twitter partners with AP, Reuters to battle misinformation on its site

Twitter partners with AP, Reuters to battle misinformation on its site
  • Twitter will partner with AP and Reuters to provide credible information on the platform and combat the spread of misinformation
  • Twitter said it will collaborate with the newswires during breaking news events to add accurate context
LONDON: Twitter Inc. will partner with the Associated Press and Reuters to more quickly provide credible information on the social networking site as part of an effort to fight the spread of misinformation, it said on Monday.
Like other social media companies, the San Francisco-based firm has been under pressure to remove misleading or false information on its site. Earlier this year Twitter launched a program called Birdwatch, asking its users to help identify and fact-check misleading tweets.
Twitter said it will collaborate with the newswires during breaking news events to add accurate context, which could appear in various places on Twitter, such as a label attached to tweets about the event or as a “Moment,” which curates information about trending topics on Twitter.
The partnerships mark the first time Twitter will formally collaborate with news organizations to elevate accurate information on its site, a Twitter spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added Twitter will work separately with both the AP and Reuters, a division of information services company Thomson Reuters Corp, and the newswires will not interact with each other.
“Trust, accuracy and impartiality are at the heart of what Reuters does every day ... those values also drive our commitment to stopping the spread of misinformation,” Hazel Baker, global head of UGC (user-generated content) newsgathering at Reuters, said in a statement.
Tom Januszewski, vice president of global business development at the AP, said: “We are particularly excited about leveraging AP’s scale and speed to add context to online conversations, which can benefit from easy access to the facts.”