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Netflix aims ‘to provide Arab talent and filmmakers with a platform to gain fans globally’

DUBAI: Netflix, the global video-streaming giant, says it is investing heavily in content from the Arab region. Recent evidence of this includes the release of Arabic reality show “Dubai Bling” in October, and its first Kuwaiti series, a comedy-drama titled “The Cage,” in September.

Earlier in the year, it released an Arabic remake of the 2016 Italian film “Perfect Strangers,” along with original titles such as 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, director of content acquisitions at Netflix MENA, told Arabian Weekly.

“Stories with universal themes that have broader appeal and can resonate with more of our members around the world always work well.”

Nuha El-Tayeb, director of Content Acquisitions at Netflix MENA. (Supplied)

She said that the company’s content strategy in the region varies from country to country. In Saudi Arabia, for example, which El-Tayeb said has an “up-and-coming entertainment industry,” Netflix is looking for “fresh voices that have unique stories to tell.”

This was reflected in the release of of its “New Saudi Voices” collection in September, which included 11 specially curated short films celebrating the creativity of emerging Saudi filmmakers.

The following month Netflix launched “Below the Line KSA,” in collaboration with Studio Production Training, an initiative that aims to establish and develop an infrastructure of so-called below-the-line talent — behind-the-scenes crew members such as assistant directors, production designers and managers, art directors, prop masters and set builders — by providing 15 young people with vocational and practical training.

“Conversely, in Kuwait and Egypt, where there is a long and established legacy of storytelling, we’re working with some of the most respected talent in the region to bring exceptional stories from the Arab world to our members globally,” 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 scale and influence to provide Arab talent and filmmakers with a platform to gain fans globally,” El-Tayeb said.

The growing investment in the entertainment sectors of regional economies, particularly Saudi Arabia, is helping to expand the pool of talent in the region, 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,” said El-Tayeb.

“Whether it’s through training programs, financial support, industry partnerships, or our contribution at regional film festivals, we are striving to build a solid network of talent for the Arab entertainment industry, and creating new opportunities for Arab writers, filmmakers and below-the-line talent.”

Netflix’s focus in the region is, to a large extent, geared toward the development of female talent through content, workshops and financial support, she added.

“Women’s historic lack of representation behind and in front of the camera means that they have no autonomy over their stories and are therefore boxed into roles that no longer represent their lives,” said El-Tayeb.

This year, Netflix partnered with Sard, a dedicated hub in Egypt for scriptwriters from the Arab world, for “Because She Created,” a program designed to coach women in creative writing and help them to develop their storytelling and creative-expression skills.

In July it launched, also under the title “Because She Created,” a specially curated collection of 21 films by Arab female filmmakers, and partnered with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture to provide a one-time grant of $250,000 for female producers and directors in the Arab world through the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity.

“We want to create a level playing field for women filmmakers in the region and create a space for more equitable storytelling across the board,” El-Tayeb said.

Netflix lost more than 1 million subscribers, globally, in the first half of this year. However, its efforts to recoup this loss seem have paid off as the streaming service reported a gain of 2.4 million subscribers in the third quarter.

In the region, StarzPlay, Netflix and Shahid VIP were the video-streaming market leaders last year, accounting for more than 60 percent of subscribers, according to market research firm Dataxis. Looking ahead, analysts predict Shahid VIP will be the marker leader followed by Netflix, with each service forecast to hold more than 20 percent of market share by 2026.

The entrance to the regional market of other global streaming services, such as Disney+ and Discovery+, as well as OSN’s service in the region have further heightened competition.

“We believe competition is healthy and ultimately drives better content for people,” El-Tayeb said. “We take immense pride in the content we make available and know that people will always find the Netflix experience to be unique.”

As competition heats up, the company aims to offer a “broader spectrum of entertainment choices” to subscribers through its fledgling gaming platform, said El-Tayeb. It expects to have 50 games available by the end of the year, with 55 more in development.

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