IN the past, the viewer was the passive part of the TV-deal. He / she used to accept whatever the TV-station has to offer him / her. When the Satellites started offering more alternatives, that model didn’t change much. Enter the internet and that scenario has been totally changed.
Now, the viewer has the upper hand, he now has online services ready to help him watch whatever he wants or chooses. In the Middle East, the viewer has icflix.
Netflix in the US is maybe the most famous example for such Video-On-Demand (VoD) / media streaming service. Problem is, Netflix caters mainly for North and South America, and some parts of Europe. What can other viewers outside those regions do then? They look for local alternatives, who have so far done a good job in entertaining their subscribers. (Of course they can also opt to use proxy servers to make such services believe they are coming from allowed regions, but those providers are cracking down on such services and banning them!)
Leaders in MENA
Enter the Middle East, where internet connections are not that reliable, and download speeds are still a concern. To say the Middle Eastern VoD market is challenging is an understatement, yet some pioneers have managed to leave their marks. Among those comes icflix [pronounced i-see-flix], a company based in UAE with an increasing number of branches coming out in North Africa, US, and Europe.
icflix media was established in Dubai in 2012 as the region’s first online streaming media platform. It was founded by the duo: Carlos Tibi and Fadi Mehio. A Lebanese and a Palestinian / Canadian who both worked before in big companies and know the region well, or so they thought in the beginning.
Icflix provides online Hollywood, Bollywood, and Jazwood (Arabic) content (movies, music, TV series, dramas, cartoons, sports and documentaries) as well as some exclusive content that can be streamed online.
By launch time (July 2013 / Ramadan time), $40 Million have been invested in icflix. The initial monthly subscription fee was at $11.99 but later on that came down to $7.99 per month, which proved to be the price that market is willing to pay each month. Yes, you can’t watch Game of Thrones on icflix, but you have Vikings. The last season of Walking Dead is not available at the moment, but this is about to change.
Sailing in uncharted waters
icflix is trying to compete in an uncharted territory. They thought 70-80% of viewers in the Gulf region would buy using credit cards but found only 15% of them willing to do so. They thought only younger audience will use their services, but found out their older audience is not a small percentage and should be catered for in terms of content.
They also had to digitize majority of the Arabic content they licensed, and they had to look for swearing, nudity or politically inappropriate content to rule it out. That also called for restricting some content in some countries due to censorship rules that must be followed else the whole service may be banned easily.
Ease of subscribing
icflix thought that users would accept the fact that they needed to use their PCs, Macs, tablets, mobile phones, etc to watch the content they want, but icflix discovered that the majority wanted to watch their favorite movie or series on their TV screens.
That prompted icflix to look for partners to make this wish come true. In the pipelines are plans for set-top boxes OEMS, and also with Telecom providers, like DU in UAE, where its users can now pay for icflix subscription with their land-line / mobile phone bill, without the need for a credit card. They also enjoy of one-month free subscription to encourage users to try the service without any risks and opt out if they were not happy with it.
Arabia speaks many languages, not one!
The current belief is that majority of Arabian countries speaks English and Arabic, but that is not true. icflix discovered that other languages rule Arabia as well. You have regions that demand French and some Spanish even. Localizing the content for those demographics was another challenge to say the least.
High demand is there
Since its launch and the number of subscribers is increasing. Not in the millions, not yet, but that day may be nearer that one might think. UAE has the biggest number of subscribers, followed by Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt.
What’s in the future?
Icflix is now sponsoring private movies as well. They are encouraging local talents to shoot their movies and show it exclusively on icflix. They opens a door for many undiscovered artists and producers in the Middle East to make it big and become famous.