It is safe to say that Netflix has done wonders in making the local content of countries more accessible on a global level. After all, when before Netflix could a person enjoy quality content in English, German, Turkish, Korean, Hindi, etc that was all available on one platform? With Netflix offering its services to 190 countries, the platform has definitely changed the viewing habits of viewers worldwide.
Of course, the catalog that Netflix offers differs from region to region. It is not necessary that titles that are available on Netflix Canada will be the same as being offered on Netflix Pakistan. While that may be the case with the titles that are only being streamed on Netflix after the platform has acquired distribution licenses for them, the case with Netflix’s original programming is different.
When Netflix produces or co-produces, content for the platform, it gets the exclusive rights to digitally stream in international territories. Because Netflix provides services in 190 countries, a deal with Netflix can ensure that the content gets a global release and reaches viewers on a much wider scale than it would if released on its own. This makes Netflix an extremely lucrative platform for content creators to feature their programs on.
So, why hasn’t Pakistani content found a home at Netflix yet?
Fewer subscribers for the platform
Pakistan only has four drama serials, sixteen movies, and two animated features that are available on Netflix. All these titles have been licensed by Netflix to be streamed from the platform in “selected territories”. There has been no development where the platform has commissioned or co-produced any Pakistani content and the reason for that is more to do with Pakistan itself than the platform.
According to an article published on Arabnews.pk, the demand for subscription-based OTT platform in Pakistan is very less for Netflix to take interest in the country. Only 100,000 subscriptions out of Netflix’s 180 million subscriptions are from Pakistan. This is a very low number compared to India which is not only a much larger country than Pakistan but has already adopted a digital-friendly culture for itself.
It is not wrong for Netflix to be wary of venturing in Pakistan based on the stats. While some may argue Pakistan’s digital streaming habits cannot be denied as episodes of shows uploaded daily on Youtube get millions of views within 24 hours of their upload, Youtube is a very different case than Netflix. For starters, Youtube is free. Apart from the few minutes worth of advertisements on monetized videos, that a viewer can skip within seconds, Youtube offers seamless streaming to its viewers for no cost. For Netflix, a paid subscription is necessary before even browsing the contents.
Consuming Indian content
In contrast to Pakistan, India already has a good catalog of original programming that is hosted on Netflix. From 2018 to 2020, India has created 13 original drama titles exclusively for Netflix. This is excluding the Netflix Original Films made in India for Netflix. Because of shared language, the Pakistani audience readily consumes the original Indian content which further pushes Netflix away from investing in Pakistan as it doesn’t feel the need to invest in two different regions that have very similar content to offer.
Amazon Prime, another giant streaming platform, hosts even more original Indian content. While Amazon Prime has some Pakistan titles available for viewing on the platform that are not acquired by Netflix, the irony of the situation is that Pakistanis have no way of viewing them because Amazon Prime is not available in Pakistan. The same is the case with Viu. It is a Hong Kong-based OTT streaming platform that primarily offers services in Asian countries. Viu hosts Pakistani drama titles to be streamed in the list of territories where Viu offers its services. Pakistan is not included in that list.
However, perhaps the most embarrassing reason why Netflix does not seem very keen on pursuing to commission or produce Pakistani content is the unprofessional behavior exhibited by some Pakistani producers. Tahseen Shaukat, chief executive of BVC Media who also works as a content aggregator for Netflix and Amazon Prime, told Arabnews about the unreasonable demands made by the producers from the international giant.
“A producer quoted the massive amount of almost Rs800 million for Netflix original, which was not acceptable for the platform, so the idea fizzled out because of the unreasonable budget. One writer, who got his idea approved by the app, demanded Rs120 million just for the tagline.”
Talks and rumors of some Pakistani content or the other getting a home of Netflix do appear from time to time. And those talks fizzle out just as quickly. Last year, Shamoon Abbasi had claimed that his web series Mind Games had a “90% chance of going on Netflix” and yet nothing came out of that. When Hum TV’s drama Aangan didn’t get a digital release on Youtube like other dramas, rumors of it being kept off the digital space for a Netflix release were circulating a lot. The drama is yet to find a home on any digital platform.
But what of content that is already aired in Pakistan and only needs Netflix’s licensing to be hosted on the platform? Mr. Shaukat said in the Arabnews article that the Pakistani content suffers from, “weak storytelling, and flawed screenplays and scripts that don’t meet international standards.”
Apart from this, Pakistan does not have official agents in the country that can submit Pakistani content to the platform for reviewing that could potentially turn into a licensing or production deal. All submissions are voluntary from the producer’s part and the process to do so is both lengthy and it costs a lot of money. Still, the chances of the content being approved after going through the entire process are not 100%.
So yeah, the chances of Pakistan getting a Netflix Original to its name seem very slim in the near future considering all these things. However, the success of Churails, Pakistan’s first web series to be commissioned by OTT platform Zee5 and get a release in 190 countries, has definitely worked in favor of Pakistani content creators. Zee5 has four more original Pakistani web series that are awaiting releases. Maybe their success can nudge Netflix into finally taking interest in Pakistan.