Netflix debuted its services in 130 new countries on January 6th. Among those countries which are mostly in Asia and Africa, we can see the name of the Iran too. We didn’t expect Netflix to launch its services in Iran so soon, but it clearly shows the interest of multinational companies which are trying to enter Iran’s market.
Iranians Are Watching the Same Movies and TV Shows as You Do
You might think that Iranians are not much into foreign movies or even TV Shows but you would be surprised to find out how popular the movies and TV Shows from HBO, Netflix and Showtime are in Iran. Basically whatever popular TV Show or Movie you are watching right now, people in Iran are watching them too. You just have to spend some time with the young generation to find out how popular these contents are between Iranians. It’s important to mention that some companies in Iran are dubbing some of these content to Farsi and selling it on DVDs or even online.
Because of the complicated relationship between Iran and the western countries, Iran’s government doesn’t take the copyright laws seriously. So what happens is that people are buying DVDs of Hollywood’s movies and TV Shows on the streets for a really low price (As low as a Dollar for each DVD). It’s interesting to know that these contents come with the Farsi subtitles so that people who don’t speak English could watch them too.
One of the main causes for the popularity of these contents is the copyright law. We have the copyright law in Iran but since we were disconnected from western countries, the government doesn’t apply copyright laws to the western companies. It’s important to know that the copyright laws are not that strong in Iran yet. Iran’s government and local companies such as Saba Idea are doing their best to implement these laws in the culture. But when you have access to high quality content for a really cheap price, with the Farsi subtitles or even dubbed. And you don’t see the need to obey the copyright law for foreign contents, you are probably going to buy it.
Downloading Pirated Contents
Apart from the DVDs that are available on the streets, with the improvement of the internet speed, people are downloading these contents from Torrent websites and other file sharing platforms. The other interesting fact is that we have many websites that are getting subscription fees to provide high quality pirated content. So with these conditions providers are having a tough job to sell it themselves.
Filimo Paving the Way
Saba Idea which owns Aparat (domestic version of Youtube), started Filimo one year ago. The company has been facing many obstacles since they started Aparat five years ago and now they are facing many regulation related problems for Filimo. I had a chance to talk to Mohammad Javad Shakouri Moghadam CEO of Saba Idea, and ask him about Netflix entering Iran. Mohammad Javad believed that if Iran’s government had been cooperated with them in the past years, local businesses such as Aparat and Filimo would have had much more viewers both inside and outside of Iran. With regulations and bureaucracy, government is making them slower and basically exhausting them. They can use this energy to improve their services and bring more contents for Iranians.
Netflix experience in Iran
I Installed the Netflix app on my iPhone and launched the app. As usual Netflix offered one month free subscription to use its app. But this time I could actually use the app with Iran’s IP and without using a VPN [for faking my IP address]. So the app offered me the standard plan with $7.99 per month but the interesting fact was the Iranian calendar. But the prices were still in Dollars without any payment methods available for Iranians except for App Store gift cards. In the next step, Netflix prompt a message that my choices for streaming would vary from country to country so I knew I couldn’t watch anything that I want. One of the good things that I saw, was the use of cellphone number for security. And the most important part was it worked with Iranian number.
As I mentioned the titles are restricted in Iran. I couldn’t even watch House Of Cards on Netflix. But the solution to this problem was easy. I just used a VPN to fake a US IP address in order to access the titles that are available there.
Netflix Opens up to Iran
Sanctions are going to be lifted soon and many companies are trying to enter Iran as fast as they can. We had many rumors about Apple, Microsoft and other big companies entering Iran. But these companies have the Iranian version of their platform as a competitor. Iran has Aparat (Domestic Youtube version), Filimo (Domestic Netflix version), CafeBazaar (Domestic Play Store version), Sibche (Domestic AppStore version) and many other platforms. The Iranian version of these platforms have the upper hand in many aspects too. Let’s explore some of the advantages and disadvantages Filimo and Netflix are facing.
You Can’t Have Any Kind of NSFW Contents in Iran
Iran’s Government forbids the NSFW content, which ties the hand of YouTube, Netflix or any other video sharing or video-on-demand platform. NSFW is just the glimpse of these laws. You can’t have any kind of scene that contains nudity, kissing or showing too much skin, otherwise you would be censored instantly.
These requirements for the distribution of the video contents are major obstacles in front of Netflix and YouTube. Netflix can’t just censor the contents for Iran’s markets. But Iranian Platforms such as Filimo, doesn’t have that obstacles, mainly because they started their platform with respect to local laws. It would take so much resources to censor their contents for Iranians.
Netflix was censored by the government yesterday. You can’t access the website but the app still works.
Nearly No Copyright Law for Foreign Contents Here
Iranian companies don’t need to obey the copyright laws for the foreign contents. Even a local TV channel doesn’t need to obey these laws. They broadcast pirated contents on national TV channels too. It worths to mention that Filimo the Netflix’ competitor in Iran is doing its best to improve the copyright law with the new the government. As you can see they even have the BlackList TV Show and many other dubbed Movies on their platform for sale. And yes as they told us, they have all the licenses for those contents.
Insight on Iran’s Culture and Tradition
As we have seen before with the Rocket Internet’s companies in Iran, foreign companies are having a hard time to grasp the culture to implement their marketing strategies and localize their platform. It might seems simple at first but Iran has a complicated culture and to understand that culture, companies have to study it very closely. They have to find a way to provide their content with respect to Iran’s law, culture, tradition and taste.
Access to Local Content
One of the main advantages of Filimo is that they can get the license for local contents, though Filimo has been struggling with this issue for the past year. There are many Iranian TV Shows and movies that have many fans, but acquiring the licenses for these contents is a tough job. Even Filimo which is a local company can’t get the licenses easily. They are still negotiating with the government and the other organizations to acquire the licenses.
We can see the power of local contents in Cafe Bazaar which is the biggest rival to Google’s Play Store. The main advantage for Bazaar is the aggregated local and Iranian apps on their platform. Many android users are using Bazaar as their main App Store. Iranian developers can easily submit their apps to Bazaar and make a revenue out of it. The payment system is a complicated subject right now and it’s pushing many users to use local services instead of the foreign ones. This situation can apply to Netflix and Filimo too.
We don’t have international payment systems yet. Sure, we can buy gift cards from the middle man companies but that’s the closest thing that we have to use international services. This restriction, force Iranian users to use specific type of services that have gift cards, such as: Play Store, App Store, Amazon Gift Cards etc. The other problem with gift cards is that we have to pay more to buy these gift cards. For example a $10 gift card costs Iranians nearly $12 to $13. So Filimo have the advantage in this area for the time being.
High Price Tags for Iranians
The minimum wage in Iran is 711,000 Tomans right now, which is nearly 200 Dollars. With 9 Dollars subscription fee, the majority of Iranians won’t be able to use Netflix. We have the same problem with other services such as Spotify and Apple Music for instance. Foreign companies should come up with special subscription plans for Iran in respect to Iran’s average salary.
Speed is the other factor in video-on-demand services. FIlimo’s servers are in Iran and they can offer faster loading time for users inside the country. This is something that Netflix can’t offer to Iranians so easily.
Dubbed titles and Farsi subtitles
Netflix does not offer dubbed titles or even Farsi subtitles. Filimo offers many Iranian movies and dubbed titles so its content is suitable for all the Iranians. This is an important feature for Iranians, since majority of the people in Iran are not able to watch these movies in English. At least they should provide the Farsi subtitles in order to get the market. Although, Mohammad Javad Shakouri moghadam mentioned in his blog post that Netflix were in talks to buy dubbed contents from Iranian studios.
Better Titles and Good Relationship With International Studios
It’s a fact that Netflix has much more power to provide international titles to Iranians. This is the subject that Iranian companies have many problems with. With the popularity of foreign TV Shows and movies in Iran, Netflix could offer something to Iranians that they’ve never had before.
The Whole Product
It’s obvious that Netflix has the advantage in this area in comparison to Filimo. From Artificial intelligence that they are using and massive database of titles to UX and UI, Netflix has the advantage for the time being.
Netflix is an old and experienced company in this business. Competing with such a company is not an easy task. Let’s not forget, Netflix has been here for 18 years and Filimo for only a year.
What’s your opinion about this subject? share your opinion with us.
Featured Picture: Courtesy of Netflix.