KARACHI: Weak storytelling, a lack of professionalism among local producers, and the popularity of Indian content are blamed for Pakistan’s insignificant presence on increasingly popular video streaming platforms, industry stakeholders say.
The past few months have seen a boom in over-the-top (OTT) media services owed to the coronavirus pandemic, as homebound people are more relying on them for their entertainment. However, only 16 Pakistani movies, four drama serials and two animated films, including Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s “Sitara” on child marriages, are available on Netflix.
Tahseen Shaukat, chief executive of BVC media, who also works as digital content aggregator for Netflix and Amazon Prime, told Arab News that one of the main problems with Pakistani content is “weak storytelling, and flawed screenplays and scripts that don’t meet international standards.”
Netflix currently has over 180 million subscribers, but only about 100,000 are from Pakistan, according to Shaukat, which is another reason why the streaming giant is not acquiring original Pakistani content. This is due to the fact that most Pakistanis do not have credits cards, which are necessary to pay for the service.
“In neighboring India, the subscription rate is much higher, that is why global apps have started to invest in for original content in India,” he said, adding that as Pakistani audiences also consume Indian content because of the language, streaming platforms “do not feel any need to invest in a country like Pakistan with very nominal numbers of subscribers.”
But there are also issues with professionalism and exorbitant demands that international services are just unwilling to entertain, Shaukat said.
“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.”
For producers, registration with Netflix is also a lengthy and costly process as the platform will not receive any pitches unless they are approved by designated copyrights firms that screen all ideas for plagiarism. The process, according to Shaukat costs $1,500 and the possibility of getting a reply is very low. As neither Netflix nor Amazon Prime — another streaming giant — have official agents to look for Pakistani content, all submissions are voluntary, meaning that the platforms are not obliged to reply.
The Pakistani feature films currently available on Netflix are: “Teefa in Trouble,” “Janaan,” “Chalay Thay Saath,” “Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay” “Pinky Memsaab,” “Cake,” “Balu Mahi,” “7 Din Mohabbat In,” “Saawan,” “Abdullah: The Final Witness,” “Rangreza,” “Pari,” “Dukhtar,” “Chupan Chupai,” “Moor.” There are also two animated movies: “Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor,” a film for children by Uzair Zaheer Khan, and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s “Sitara” on child marriages in Pakistan.
The four drama serials that made it to the platform are: “Zindagi Gulzar Hai,” “Khaani,” “Humsafar,” and “Sadqay Tumhare.”
When it comes to Amazon Prime, Pakistani content that succeeds to break into the platform cannot even be watched in the home country. Soon two Pakistani feature films, “Baji” and “Talash” and one upcoming animation are going to be released on Amazon Prime. The platform already carries an animated Pakistani feature film, “Donkey King” and talk show “Behind the Curtain.” But they are only for audiences in the US and UK.
“Amazon either buys the product or pays on the number of views, so gives users the option to post their product on the app if they have official accounts on amazon.com,” Shaukat explained. But as Amazon is not available in Pakistan, they have to ask people abroad to help them upload content to Amazon Prime. “That is why these shows can only be watched in a limited number of countries, which don’t include Pakistan.”