Netflix & The Future of Arab Cinema

by Mustafa Alguneed
arabic titles on netflix
An expanding Arabic library on Netflix has increased Middle Eastern subscriptions
With no geographical restrictions, a fairly attainable bandwidth requirement of 2mbs and Arabic subtitles available on most titles, Netflix has become a household commodity in the Arab Gulf and is predicted to overtake OSN (Orbit Showtime Network) as the most watched medium in Egypt.

Add to this the inclusion of several Arab movies and TV shows on Netflix and you can understand why Arabs are reluctant to part with their cash for exorbitant cinema prices when for a small flat monthly fee of a few riyals they can enjoy over a thousand titles with Arabic subtitles.

Netflix’s first foray into Arab TV was The Secret of the Nile, an Egyptian TV series, which quickly became one of the most watched TV shows during Ramadan. This was followed by Al-Hayba, a Lebanese TV show, and for 2019 Hidden Worlds has been announced.

Given how rapid Arab household have subscribed to the service, we could be in for a decade of Arab films and TV shows being streamed that could easily bring the demise of Arab cinema

Analysts go further, predicting that local TV stations could become obsolete. Kasem Rashad, professor of Media Studies at Cairo University, argues that this has already begun:

It’s not a question of if but when. The plethora of Gulf serials with predictable plots, cheap Egyptian knock-offs of Western blockbusters and lack of investment offers an inferior experience to that which is easily accessible via high speed Internet and streaming services

If Steven Spielberg is feeling the pressure and has to air his grievances against Netflix for encroaching oscar territory then Arab cinema is in deeper waters.

In order to stay a competitive medium that can still attract viewers, Arab cinema needs a major overhaul. The biggest change needs to to begin with technology. It’s unacceptable for cinemas to still be showing movies in standard definition in 2019.

The prices also need to reflect the realities of the time. Arab consumers generally pay twice the price for movies which can be found on services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix, yet cinemas continue to show these movies well past beyond their release date on DVD/Blu-Ray.

Considerable investment needs to be made finding new talent, from actors, script-writers and directors. The golden age of Arab cinema in which the same actors occupied the protagonist for decades is over.

Perhaps, the greastest sin perpetrated by Arab cinema was complacency. For decades, they relied on a staple of actors who didn't buck the trend and were willing to be typecast as comedy or drama actors and the market became saturated with cookie-cutter movies that neither inspired or challenged audiences.

With Fibre Internet now available and streaming services breaking down geographical barriers, Arab cinema needs to adapt and start to produce media that is unique to their region.

Mustafa Alguneed writes for "Cinema Masr" and has penned two successful screenplays for Jordanian TV as well as a masrahia in Oman.

TL;DR - Main Points

  • High speed Internet is available in most Arab countries
  • Netflix and other streaming services are a cheap alternative
  • OSN and Arab cinema are no longer competitively priced
  • Arab cinemas offer an inferior experience