Streaming services in the Middle East are competing for Arab audiences with Netflix set to release its first Arabic production in June, chasing a slice of a potentially lucrative market a report by AFP stated.
Streaming platforms Starz Play and Wavo have emerged in recent years as local competitors to Netflix, while giant Saudi-owned TV powerhouse MBC Group has announced plans for original productions as well as the acquisition of international content to boost its streaming services Shahid and Shahid Plus.
An estimated 85% to 90% of people across the Middle East watch television, while between 25% and 30% watch streaming video online with hundreds of thousands of subscribers, according to Mukul Krishna, head of digital media at US-based research firm Frost & Sullivan as quoted in the AFP report.
Netflix is set to debut on June 13 Jinn its first production in Arabic. Filmed in Jordan, the show is a supernatural drama that follows a group of teenagers who encounter two jinns — or supernatural figures — during a field trip to the historic city of Petra. It will be full of intrigue and adventure, the company promises.
Remarking on the new show, Savas as quoted in the report said: “Jinn is Netflix’s first Middle Eastern original series which will bring Middle Eastern folklore to the modern world. We are very excited to see it come to life.”
Netflix has announced plans for a second Middle Eastern original series, Al Rawabi School for Girls but it remains unclear when the show will be released. “Written and directed by Jordanian screenwriter and director Tima Shomali, the show tells the story of a bullied high school girl,” Savas told AFP.
The company also announced in May a third Arabic original production called Paranormal based on novels bearing the same title by Egyptian writer Ahmad Khaled Tawfiq.
Several streaming platforms offer production in Arabic like OSN Play of the OSN television network and Wavo which is backed by OSN. However, the report stated that Starz Play remains the main competitor for Netflix in this region with its one million subscribers.
Starz Play is trying to make streaming more relevant and convenient to viewers, said Shaikh from his Dubai office.
“We specialise in Hollywood content, but over time we have added Arabic content and Bollywood content to our service,” he said.
Starz Play is showing a number of popular series currently unavailable on Netflix in the Gulf region including The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy and the Marvel superheroes shows, attracting large audiences.
Producing original Arabic content is the “next step,” said Shaikh, adding the “UAE and Saudi Arabia are our two biggest markets, followed by Morocco.”