Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, speaks during a keynote address at the 2016 CES trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada January 6, 2016. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai:  Web TV giant Netflix on Thursday (January 6) confirmed the launch of its UAE and Middle East operations, following intense speculation in recent weeks. The company has also confirmed the addition of Arabic to the languages it supports.

The service will be available for free for a one-month period and can be accessed via www.netflix.com. In the US, its most popular subscription package is $9.99.

In fact, the move on the Middle East is part of a same-day 130-country simultaneous rollout. This takes the total number of countries where Netflix can be accessed to 190.

But it is not yet available in China, ‘though the company continues to explore options’, it said in a statement. There will also be no services in Crimea, North Korea and Syria ‘due to US government restrictions on American companies’.

Netflix has been building up its own portfolio of TV shows, including the critically acclaimed and popular ‘House of Cards’ starring Kevin Spacey.

“Today you are witnessing the birth of a new global Internet TV network,” said Reed Hastings, Co-founder and Chief Executive, while announcing the saturation coverage move. “With this launch, consumers around the world will be able to enjoy TV shows and movies simultaneously - no more waiting. With the help of the internet, we are putting power in consumers’ hands to watch whenever, wherever and on whatever device.”

Netflix is available on any device with an internet connection, including game consoles, and automatically provides the ‘best possible streaming quality based on available bandwidth’. Many titles are available in high-definition with Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround sound and some in Ultra HD 4K.

“From today onwards, we will listen and we will learn, gradually adding more languages, more content and more ways for people to engage with Netflix,” said Hastings. “We’re looking forward to bringing great stories from all over the world to people all over the world.”

That Netflix was making a move on the Middle East was confirmed when job postings requirements were made with a regional profile. The company’s entry into the market sets off an already intense competition in the web-, satellite- and cable TV space. Its US rival Starz Play has been building up a sizable base since its formal entry last year. There are also local/regional web TV operators, while the likes of OSN abd Al Jazeer Group owned beIn have been aggressive in targeting new audiences across multiple platforms. The regional telcos are also in play by offering up various packages specific to the diverse demographics.

Incidentally, Netflix was already being accessed by viewers in the UAE and the Gulf through either having US-based credit cards or through subscription to VPN (virtual private network) services.

Does Netflix's formal launch mean anything for advertisers? "Right from the beginning, Netflix has resisted advertising and has been reliant only on its subscribers," said Hoshi Siganporia, CEO at The Big Idea agency. "Now, with the addition of 130 new countries, and probably millions of additional subscribers, Netflix will continue to provide advert-free experience to its viewers.

"On the other hand Netflix’ competitor Hulu has plenty of commercial breaks and viewers find these quite obtrusive. Then there is HBO which does not air commercials, but accepts sponsors who are willing to pay top dollar to place their products directly into a programme."

Who wins the Web TV streaming wars will eventually boil down to content. "The need for bespoke curated content has never been higher," said Siganporia. "Content will need to reflect changing trends in the region, while also adhering to the region’s sensibilities.

"And advertisers will have to find new ways to narrate their brand story to their targeted customers."