Exclusive: Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos, Fills Us In On What’s Next For Netflix in The Middle East

It is rare that a brand comes along and is able to capture such a diverse audience, solidifying itself so you mention the brand and not the technology. Let alone breaking boundaries so that it becomes a case study for generations to come!

Netflix has done just that, yet it’s safe to say that what makes Netflix so unique is their content and ever-developing technology. These two points are the main factors for its success and gaining popularity. The developing technology works on ensuring that every user experience is so unique that absolutely no profile, from the 300 million registered, is the same. Every viewer’s habits are different hence using algorithms Netflix has ensured a way for you to keep coming back. Why? well because they are catering to you!

The content itself is unique, mimicking TV Networks such as the likes of HBO and Showtime, Netflix did not rely solely on aggregating/signing already existing shows, no they have created a stream of their own.

Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer of Netflix, has been at the core of this for the last 18 years. Having mastered the game and being around video content from his early days at Video City, where he spent over ten years. Netflix was the obvious choice once meeting CEO Reed Hastings.

Since then he has been responsible for bringing shows to life such as Kevin Spacey’s hit House of Cards, Orange Is The New Black, Stranger Things, Money Heist, and Narcos, all that have been very popular in the Middle East. As seen the range of shows mentioned are diversified; highlighting different cultures and are not country or language centric. Netflix has found the way to bypass barriers and make a story told in Spanish as appealing as if it was told in your mother tongue. You may watch it dubbed or with subtitles, but due to the fine storytelling and unique angle, you will end up watching it and will only end up waiting for the next season as if your life depends on it.

The Middle East is a new market for Netflix and Sarandos seemed excited to share a couple statements about what is going on right now, what to expect, and their heavy interest in the region’s storytellers.

What are you looking for in the Middle East?

Well, we are constantly looking for proven storytellers in the market and compelling stories that will play well in the country and region and world in general. Due to the fact that we don’t produce pilots the show needs to be very developed and shootable.

How do you choose the kind of shows that are on Netflix?

Well, we are constantly looking at the types of shows that are in demand in that territory or region. Those that are in demand yet underserved. We look at things like piracy as great data for us for those looking to watch online, like youtube watching which has become very popular all over the world simply because TV is so heavily censored.

So, we’re constantly just studying trends in a marketplace and online video sources. We believe that one thing that is truly relatable to the Middle East is just that, with the low budget filming and high censorship leaving it not as premium as it should be. So when pursuing local shows in the region we want to bring our principles to the table, being high production value, locally developed cast, and compelling stories that are otherwise not being told on TV.

Is there a reason as to why you picked Jordan as the first place to launch a Netflix original from instead of the obvious choice being Egypt, that is famous for its history in cinema and TV?

Its just a rhythm really… It was never planned to go to Jordan first but we are in discussions with a variety of partnerships in Egypt and the rest of the region.

We do have a history with Jehane Noujam and The Square, a documentary film that came out in 2013 where Netflix got its first Oscar nomination. They have been helpful in guiding us and introducing us different storytellers and just all around new contacts in the country.

The Middle East is known for its tele novella styled series that focus on a lot of drama and theatrics. Why did you steer completely away from that for your first original series and do you intend on creating that kind of content as well?

Yes, we definitely will be creating all types of content, but I think we would like to bring those elements to the cinematization of television, so the kind of things people enjoy from television like the soapy stories but produced on a grand scale.

How involved does Netflix get with budgets and the overall making of the show?

Budgets for sure, because we need to know how much the whole thing is going to cost. Beyond that, we trust the storytellers very much. We use local production companies, sometimes we will get more involved simply because this will be a much bigger production than it must be. But we are always there to support and make sure the best results come out of any project.

What are your thoughts on Shahed, as a competitor, or is Netflix completely different?

What we are doing is completely different for us. It’s not only about regional programming it’s global programming that’s relevant locally. We are not really the go-to for old Arab Hollywood classics the audience for Netflix, or at least the first million subscribers in any country, are going to be younger and more unsatisfied by traditional media. So our early days are all about that, but as we get bigger and bigger it will become more mainstream.

We are going more for the underserved market first by telling stories like Jin and then working accordingly.

We noticed that when it came to Grand Hotel, the first series launched from the region, that you, in fact, changed the title to Secret of The Nile. Any reason for that?

We test what gets the highest reaction, so it may be called this in Egypt and yet something else somewhere else. A prime example of this is with Cable Girls; which is showing all over the world in a hundred different titles but the country is all based on the take rate.

A note from Sarandos to Egypt

The one thing I would like to point out is, as one of our observations, is that Egyptian programming, cinema, and film seems to be more pan-regional. The region looks up to Egypt for great storytelling.

I met with some Saudis recently in LA and it was funny even they acknowledged the same thing “What makes something Pan Arab VS Saudi specific” and the answer was Egypt. There is a great history of a less censored storytelling and with more edge, where you are culturally aware yet with a great balance.

We have not filmed anything or solidified anything in Egypt yet but we are excited to see what the whole region has to bring.

The Middle East is a large addressable market that has a tremendous history of telling great stories. When I see the viewership, the hours of watching youtube videos, its a combination of people that are used to that. It is the perfect recipe for us, and is a very fascinating part of the world!

WE SAID THIS: Get In Contact With The Netflix Team Arabs! Go Tell Your Stories.

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