Netflix or نتفلكس : why Arabic language storytelling matters

31 August 2021

Since Netflix started dubbing and subtitling content in Arabic back in 2016, the availability of Arabic content on the mega streaming service has continued to grow slowly. 

By 2018, Netflix launched its first Arabic “Originals” production, and we nodded in appreciation at this first tentative step towards creating fresh content for a new generation of Arabic-speaking viewers. 

And now, here we are, sitting in front of our televisions in 2021, scrolling through an impressive list of 144 Arabic series and movies all available to stream right now on Netflix. 

Granted, only a handful of these titles are ‘Netflix Original’ creations, but this still marks an important milestone in the thoughtful incorporation of a major world language into the most subscribed streaming platform in the world. 

Why Arabic content on Netflix matters 

The fact that Netflix has actively started to seek out stories from the Arab and Arabic-speaking world matters so much because whole cultural attitudes, race relations, discriminatory behaviors, and harmful stereotypes are all informed and fed by the media we consume. 

Netflix knows the power it holds as a channel and force for education, entertainment and enlightenment. By putting Arabs in front of the camera and at the center of what Ahmed Sharkawi, director of Arab and African Original series at Netflix, calls “big ideas”, they’re empowering Arabic-speaking creators and giving a voice to a whole new world of Arab stories. 

Streaming services like Netflix have the power to shape social perceptions. With Islamaphobia and anti-Arab sentiments increasing in the West, media giants like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ must use their viewership to produce stories responsibly and shine a light on the Arab world in a way that doesn’t constantly push Arabs as villains. 

Why now is the best time to focus on Arabic language content

Aside from the social and cultural impact of sharing stories from the Arab world, there is, of course, a practical business logic in Netflix pursuing Arabic content. 

And this interest comes in the shape of the needs of Arabic-speaking users online. 

“Arabic content remains one of the most under-represented languages online” in terms of its share of the world’s online content. And that’s a gap that desperately needs to be filled with high-quality content. 

Middle Eastern video streaming competitors still outrank Netflix’s presence and market penetration in the MENA region. The only way to challenge video services like Starzplay (a UAE-based subscription service) is to meet viewers with content in the Arabic language. 

But where in the Middle East and Africa is demand growing fastest? And what does this mean for Netflix? Currently, 49% of all Middle Eastern streaming services are accounted for in interest and subscriptions from the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The most recent predictions expect online streaming subscriptions to overtake TV subscriptions by 2025. When it comes to digital, Gulf countries are truly paving the way, and their nations are quick to uptake new technologies. 

The numbers don’t lie. And they provide a strong case for dedicated Arabic-language content online. Arabic speakers are riding the streaming superhighway, and the increase in viewer time online reflects the need for more Arabic in our lives.

How can you support Arabic-language storytelling? 

Believe it or not, simply watching Arabic content on Netflix (and other streaming services) is one of the best ways you can support the increased creation of Arabic language content online. 

The more we consume, the more we shape the data around consumption. If the data shows we’re watching more, production companies will be motivated to provide more Arabic language content for us, the viewers. 

As one of our clients, Netflix employs us to support Arabic subtitling for shows and movies. We’re proud and excited to be part of the effort to provide more language options for Arabic-speaking viewers worldwide.

What to watch first

If you’re overwhelmed with the options, then you might want to add Jinn (جن) to the top of your watch list. 

The first-ever Arabic Netflix Original, it’s filmed in Jordan (our hometown!) and recounts a familiar battle between good and evil - with a not so classic twist on what happens when two Jinns enter a high school. 

Jinn’s certainly not a Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s a step towards fresh Arabic content for younger generations, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for Arabic-speaking Netflix subscribers in the region. 

How to watch Netflix in Arabic 

If you’re keen to improve your Arabic and support creating more Arabic language content on the Netflix platform, you can check your audio subtitle options for Netflix by clicking here. Use the drop-down menu to select Arabic, and settle in with a bag of popcorn.

It’s time to Netflix and chill.

And if you’re interested in subtitling video content for your business, then get in touch with us today, and ask how our expert subtitling team can create customer-connecting subtitle experiences for your brand.