As more viewers in Oman cut the cord to their cable and satellite TV providers in favour of over-the-top media streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, we take a look at the changing youth-led trends in media and entertainment in the region and examine the future of modern television.
Only time will tell what the future holds for humanity.
But without a doubt, the coming of the 21st-century has spawned new technologies and inventions that we can be proud of.
From matters of convenience such as GPS, autonomous vehicles, and social networking, to more groundbreaking tech such as the artificial beating heart and smartphones, it’s a wonderful time to be alive.
Yet even as we revel in the success of our creations, there’s one invention that has stirred a revolution; one that’s strong enough to have shaken the very basis of the way we consume our media: Netflix – an over-the-top (OTT) video-streaming platform.
While Netflix began its journey as a humble DVD rental company in 1997 in the US, the company has transformed itself and is currently valued at more than US$15 billion – taking the cake in what is the lucrative video-streaming business that includes companies such as Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO, CBS, and the like.
It’s also causing millennials to cut the cord to basic cable (quite literally!) and satellite television, while also slowly dropping trips to the theatre.
And, why wouldn’t it? At RO3.85, a Netflix subscription for a month will set you back less than the cost of a single movie ticket. It will also offer you access to more than 1,569 TV shows, 4,010 movies, and over 1,128 documentaries – all of which are spread across a wide range of genres and can be accessed through your Smart TV, laptop, or PC, or any compatible streaming box (ex: Google Chromecast).
This brings stream-able content to a staggering 34,000 hours – which amounts to a stout four years’ worth of content if you decide to binge on shows without breaks.
It also means that people in Oman – and those around the world – are cozying up to their favourite TV shows and movies in the comfort of their home more often than opting for traditional television or theatres.
In fact, as per the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a trade body that represents major Hollywood studios and Netflix, all video-streaming services now have a combined subscribership of 613.3 million users worldwide when compared with a cable connection, which has some 556 million users.
Speaking to Y about this change in consumer demands is Fawas Puthenveetil, an engineer and tech enthusiast studying local market trends in the Sultanate. He tells us: “We’ve entered a bold new era of entertainment, and it’s incredibly exciting.
“Tens of thousands of hours of shows and movies are at your fingertips. I won’t lie – it doesn’t get any better than that. Moreover, when you talk about video-streaming, you think of the two biggest players here in Oman: Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
“That’s the kind of stronghold these two companies have on you. Their ‘Original’ (in-house production) contents are gripping, and their inventory of movies is getting better. The latter isn’t the most polished of content you’ll get, but the final product is improving by the day.
“You can also practically play, pause, and rewind the shows at your convenience. I’m not sure anyone would turn down such an offer. This is the next best thing to TiVo (a television recorder used to tape shows in the late 1990s).”
Whether you buy into the hype or not, Netflix alone currently has more than 148.8 million subscribers from the 190 countries it streams to. While we can’t procure statistics for Oman, it’s safe to believe that the country is moving towards a streaming-friendly media setting.
Its nearest competitor, Amazon Prime Video, meanwhile, clocked in at 75 million active subscribers (as of 2018), although, it also offers other goodies such as Amazon Music and other services for no added cost.
As Aisha al Barwani, a clinical psychologist and life coach, says: “The reason online video streaming is picking up so quickly is because: one, it’s cheaper than regular television; two, it breaks down barriers and opens content from one region to people all over the world; and three, it can bring local actors, directors, and other members of the production instant fame for their work in what is now being called ‘The Netflix Effect.’”
As Radio Times – a British media firm – puts it, ‘The Netflix Effect’, is the phenomenon where young and relatively unknown actors receive international exposure and fame almost instantly following the release of their show on the streaming platform.
Actors that shot to fame following successful shows on Netflix include Radhika Apte from ‘Sacred Games’, Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown from ‘Stranger Things’, and Katherine Langford from ’13 Reasons Why’.
Meanwhile, local actors from Oman and the rest of the GCC are also keenly watching the proceedings, as Netflix has begun testing waters in the Middle East with an all-new Original series (a Netflix production), titled ‘Jinn’.
The show is expected to star Hamzeh Okab, Salma Malhas, and Sultan Alkhail – all of whom are Jordanian actors on début.
Sahara Hamayon, a social media influencer and an emcee, is among those who believe that Netflix can bring TV stars instant gratification.
“Netflix is a hot pot that’s full of great content – from crime and drama to more intriguing documentaries and movies… they’ve got it all covered.
“This means that the chances of you finding something you like are high. I, for instance, have been binge watching ‘Stranger Things’ on my weekends. And, the lineup of young stars in the show makes for some fresh faces.
“The fact that Netflix regularly releases TV shows in clusters (with several episodes crammed into one season) over a day also means that people are likely to spend time trying to watch it all in one sitting.
“Not only will that translate to more time being used on the app, it can also help viewers get emotionally attached with the characters; almost like you’re taking a journey with them,” she adds, before praising the production staff and cast members from the ‘Stranger Things’ TV show.
If that wasn’t all, Netflix also pumped in funds of up to US$13 billion on content alone – but a staggering 85 per cent of the fund was diverted towards Netflix Originals.
All its efforts are paying off too, as the Netflix movie ‘Bird Box’ starring Sandra Bullock clocked in nearly 45 million viewers on its first weekend on the website alone – a number that rivals even blockbuster movies released in theatres.
While Netflix buffs like Sahara exist, there are some devotees to the app that crank things up a notch or two. Among them is Aaron Albuquerque, 25, an entrepreneur based out of Muscat, who has cancelled his cable TV connection to make way for streaming services.
He weighs in saying: “Before Netflix, we all hit the movies, rented DVDs, or just had everything in our hard disks – legally, of course. Now, however, we can stream content smoothly to any device – be it a smartphone or even a laptop.
“That’s the kind of versatility that these applications bring to the table.
“I’ve been subscribed to Netflix for the past two years and have cancelled my satellite TV connection since. There are no commercials or unnecessary interruptions, and I can also switch between any show depending on my mood for the day.”
All of this is probably why nearly 33 per cent – or 33 million people – cancelled their cable connection in the US in 2018 alone.
There are no statistics readily available in the Sultanate, but one expert believes that the nation is still a year or two away from completely adopting internet-streaming as its primary mode of entertainment.
But the results still reverberate through the television industry, with the Middle-East’s largest pay-tv service, OSN, going up for sale – (though, not for the first time in the last five years) – late in 2018.
The future of the company remains undetermined to this day.
However, what’s promising is the imminent rise of video streaming apps in the country.
“There’s no doubt, Netflix will take over the entertainment scene here in the Sultanate. But, the reason for this is beyond just the great content,” says Sahara.
“Platforms such as Netflix is trendy and youthful, making it a matter of social discussion ever so much than before. Perhaps that’s what makes it stand out among a sea of other apps that do the same tasks.
“This brings us back to the big question: will Netflix take over traditional forms of TV entertainment?” she asks.
“The answer to that is easy: yes. Give it a couple of years and Netflix will stand on top among websites such as Facebook and Twitter. There’s no more questions surrounding the streaming vs. screening war.”