Carlos Salim Tibi, the founder and chief executive of the region's first online streaming media platform icflix.com, which launched last week, is driven by an idea of developing Arabic digital content. The 37-year-old Palestinian-Canadian heads the company, which began streaming 18 new Arabic TV series yesterday especially for Ramadan.
What is icflix?
It is a standard video-on-demand service, streaming movies, TV series and documentaries on devices such as laptops, television sets or gaming consoles. It's like Netflix and Hulu.com, but it is the first of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa. It caters to Hollywood, Bollywood and Jazwood, which is literally derived from the words Al Jazeera and refers to Arabic media. Icflix will launch in 28 countries in Mena. We are headquartered in Dubai, with offices in Prague and Cairo.
What will you stream?
Currently, we have 18 brand new Arabic TV series because people love to watch TV series during Ramadan. From Hollywood, we have several exclusive TV series, including Vikings and Falling Skies. We have roughly 2,500 Hollywood movies from classics to films released in 2010. In Jazwood, we have more than 3,000 movies, including classics and those from 2012. And we have already bought 500 TV series in Arabic. In Bollywood, we focus on feature films, because most TV series have 100 plus episodes. We will launch with 1,200 films from Bollywood, including classics and 2013 films. Moreover, there are films in different languages in India. We will also have children's shows and documentaries. We have documentaries from A+E Networks and independents from the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia on health, the universe, natural world, science and some biographies. We also have French content for the North African population.
How long have you been working on this and what is your pricing structure?
We have been working on this for the past 18 months. The service is priced at Dh45 per month for unlimited viewing. In the Gulf, it is US$11.99 a month. Among the three partners - chairman Fadi Mehio, managing partner Joy Ghossoub and myself - we have invested upwards of $40 million to date.
What were the challenges you faced?
A major one was that most of the Jazwood content is still sitting on tape, and the digitisation and re-creation of the art work is a challenge. Moreover, a ratings scheme for Arabic movies does not exist. We had to see each of the films individually to rate it, and it took us longer than usual. We were looking for swearing, nudity or politically inappropriate content.
Will you diversify into the production business like Netflix is doing?
We have already started on three projects but these won't be available before next Ramadan. These will be funded by either local production houses or ourselves. Our Cairo office will have a director and cast on staff, on a freelance or full-time basis. This is to enhance the Arabic content by bringing in a western production style to make up for the lack of quality.