With low demand, weak storytelling, Pakistan struggles to break into Netflix

The Netflix logo is displayed at Netflix offices on Sunset Boulevard on May 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. ( AFP/File)
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Updated 13 September 2020

With low demand, weak storytelling, Pakistan struggles to break into Netflix

  • Netflix has over 180 million subscribers, but only 100,000 in Pakistan as most Pakistanis do not have credits cards to pay for the service
  • Since Pakistani audiences also consume Indian content, streaming platforms feel no need to invest in the country 

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.”

Pakistan in search of 'dead' woman over $1.5 million US insurance fraud

Updated 05 December 2020

Pakistan in search of 'dead' woman over $1.5 million US insurance fraud

  • After her reported death, Kharbey had traveled to Hong Kong, Thailand, Iran, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates
  • Federal Investigation Agency inquiry was initiated upon a complaint from the US consulate general in Karachi

KARACHI: Pakistani investigators are searching for a woman who faked her death certificate to receive $1.53 million from two American life insurance policies, a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) official said on Saturday.
Investigation reports show that a son and daughter of Pakistani citizen Seema Saleem Kharbey applied for a $1 million American General Life Insurance policy in December 2008 and for another one from MetLife in March 2009. After submitting their mother's fake death certificates in 2011, the siblings received from the insurers nearly $1.53 million and transferred the funds to a Karachi branch of JS Bank.
"We are conducting raids to arrest the woman after our enquiry found her committed fraud in compliance with her children, health and local government officials," Stephen, the FIA inspector in Karachi, told Arab News.
According to a report lodged with FIA's Anti-Human Trafficking Circle in Karachi on Dec. 1, 2020, an inquiry was initiated upon a complaint by Scott J. Jess, assistant regional security officer-investigator of the US consulate general in Karachi.
In his letter, Jess said that Kharbey had contacted the mission in person in April 2019 although she was declared dead in June 2011. She also told US consulate officials that she had traveled internationally on her Pakistani passport after the date of her reported death.
"Kharbey did not cooperate with investigators upon being confronted with the fraudulent Pakistani death certificate other than stating that she was living in Karachi at the residences of her brother and sister, but she refused to provide her siblings' names and addresses,” Jess's letter reads.
After her reported death, Kharbey had reportedly traveled to Hong Kong, Thailand, Iran, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates between August 2011 and August 2013.
A spokesperson of the US consulate declined comment, but the FIA officer confirmed that the matter was taken up by the agency upon the mission's request.
The FIA has registered a case against Kharbey’s son and daughter, a doctor at a general hospital in Karachi's Lyari area, and a former secretary of the Union Council.