Netflix, the world's dominant streaming service, is on a mission to expand its audience across the Middle East, Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings told Khaleej Times at the company's offices in Los Angeles on Monday.
One of the most powerful players in entertainment in the world today, Netflix began streaming its first Emirati TV series 'Justice' earlier this year. When asked if the company was planning to acquire more shows and create original content in the UAE, the CEO said, "Absolutely, we are planning big investments in the Middle East, whether that's UAE, Egypt or Jordan. We want to produce great content which we can share around the world."
Without mentioning specifics, Hastings said, "There are lots of buyers working on it. This is a chance to share content and stories around the world that really creates connections. And if any of you have seen Justice, you know, it's a really neat story of a lawyer who's kind of non-traditional and has great success. So you know it's not a classic terrorism kind of story. We are trying to tell a different side and that's what we do around the world."
Netflix was launched in the UAE in 2016 and since then it has witnessed a healthy growth in subscribers. The streaming giant will continue to tighten its grip and make more shows available in the region while respecting the government regulations, Hastings told Khaleej Times.
"Our North Star is artistic freedom and pleasing our members. So it's very rare for us to take anything down. There's been a few cases though such as Hasan Minhaj's episode of 'Patriot Act' which was removed in Saudi Arabia after a valid legal request, but we are talking about a handful of cases. Mostly we are able to share all our content broadly around the world, which is great for us and our members," he added.
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Since it's launch as a streaming service in 2007, the company has amassed more than 140 million members across the world. "We are so fortunate that all of our members pay about $10 a month to us to develop content for them. So we take in all that money, $1.4 billion per month, try to figure out what's the best entertainment we can do for our members, and we take a lot of bets," Hastings added. In the UAE, the streaming giant charges $8.99 for a basic service, $12.99 for standard and $15.99 for premium service.
Hastings also said Netflix will not make its TV shows and movies available through Apple Inc's upcoming video offering which is expected to be unveiled at an event on March 25. "We prefer to let our customers watch our content on our service. We have chosen not to integrate with their service."
Netflix began shooting 'Jinn', its first Arabic language Original Series from the Middle East, in Jordan last year. Todd Yellin, Vice-President of Products, said to Khaleej Times, "We are excited to see more and more Netflix viewers in the UAE, and as we get a critical mass of viewers, we are starting to think of doing originals in Arabic. We plan on continuing to take pitches on Arabic content and we are excited to produce more."
Kathy Rokni, Director of Globalization at Netflix added, "I come from Iran and I see great stories coming from the Middle East. There are stories that resonate with everyone around the world - love stories, winning, making things happen for the rest of the world - I think these are stories that are loved everywhere. We have a language manager for Arabic in-house. She researches all the content and cultural nuances and makes sure the story is told authentically to the global audience."
By Nilanjana Gupta
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