With Netflix moving into the Middle East next year, its chief content officer Ted Sarandos said he’s looking for great storytellers from the region, filmmakers and TV creators to tell longform scripted stories about contemporary local life.
“I think what’s missing on the global stage is a really great scripted series about contemporary life in the Middle East,” Sarandos said, during a live conversation via Skype at the Dubai Film Festival.
“Most depictions of life in the Middle East are either historical or almost caricatures of what life for Middle Easterners would be,” he added.
Sarandos confirmed that Netflix will be moving into the MENA region, an area with a population estimated at 370 million and a young, highly wired demographic as part of the company’s previously stated plan to be fully global by the beginning of 2017.
Asked for examples of existing local content he liked, Sarandos cited Jehane Noujaim’s Egyptian revolution documentary “The Square,” which was the first Netflix original documentary and was nominated for an Oscar, and also Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s foreign-Oscar winner “A Separation,” and Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s Oscar-nominated “Omar.”
Currently Netflix can be viewed in some parts of the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates, but only with a Virtual Private Network, or VPN.
In April Starz beat Netflix to the punch launching its Starz Play Arabia OTT subscription service across 17 territories in the Middle East and North Africa, marking the first Starz-branded service outside the U.S.
The presence in parts of the Middle East of other OTTs such as IcFlix, Telly, and OSN Play indicate that the mark is ripe and ready.
The two top subscription services in the MENA region are Starz Play and IcFlix.
Icflix offers Hollywood, Bollywood, and also Arabic content, including original Egyptian productions. Launched in 2013, it reportedly has 250,000 customers across the Middle East and North Africa. Iciflix is available in Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
Netflix, which currently has more than 69 million subscribers in more than 50 countries – 43 million of which in the U.S. – is stepping up global expansion plans, its most recent international launches being Spain and Italy.
They are expected to surpass 100 million subscribers globally in 2018, according to a recent report by IHS Technology.