Netflix to debut its first Egyptian original series ‘Paranormal’
Cairo, Nov.3, 2020 Netflix Inc will on Thursday debut its first Egyptian television series “Paranormal,” a major step in the streaming service’s Middle Eastern strategy.
The series is based on Egyptian novelist Ahmed Khaled Tawfik’s books about a doctor whose lifelong scientific convictions are suddenly called into question. His critically acclaimed novels in Arabic have sold more than 15 million copies.
“Our plan is: invest in Arab creators, in Arab production, in Arab content. We have announced four projects, plus ‘Paranormal’,” said Ahmed Sharkawi, director of Arabic and African original series at Netflix.
Paranormal centres on Refaat Ismail, a cynical doctor with a dark wit and whose convictions about the natural world are put to the test when he begins to experience paranormal activities.
“This is one of my life’s projects. I loved (the novels) since I was a kid … We’ve been trying to get (a series) out since 2006, so finally it has been shown to the audience,” said Amr Salama, co-producer on the show along with Mohamed Hefzy.
Egypt was historically dubbed the “Hollywood of the Middle East” and produces the most Arabic films and television series which are viewed widely across the region.
“We are on a global platform… so this is an opportunity that is different from any other opportunity we’ve worked on. We can now have fans from other regions, other countries, who speak other languages,” said Ahmed Amin who plays the show’s protagonist.
Netflix has said it expects to complete shooting over 150 productions by the end of the year and that it would release more original programming in each quarter of 2021 compared with 2020.
Edited By: Emmanuel Okara)
Wall Street’s main indexes slipped on Monday as losses in tech-related heavyweights Facebook and Amazon eclipsed optimism on a coronavirus relief deal before the Nov. 3 presidential election.
United States stocks had opened higher after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was optimistic legislation could be pushed through before the election, but acknowledged an agreement would have to come by Tuesday for that to happen.
Last week the White House proposed a $1.8 trillion stimulus package to help Americans struggling with the economic ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, but Pelosi said the offer fell short in a range of areas and stuck to her demand for $2.2 trillion in aid.
“I do believe that both sides, even though two weeks before election, can see the way to getting some money back into unemployment programs,” said Kim Forrest, Chief Investment Officer, Bokeh Capital Partners, Pittsburgh.
Wall Street’s fear gauge rose for a sixth straight session as election campaigns kicked into high gear, with early voting starting in Florida, a battleground state that could decide the presidential election.
President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden will debate for a final time on Thursday.
Amazon.com, Facebook Inc and Microsoft Corp fell between 0.8 per cent and 1 per cent. They were among the biggest drags on the S&P 500.
All major S&P sectors were trading lower, with the communication services index down about 1 per cent.
“It’s just the general volatility here. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this bouncing around all day,” said Tony Bedikian, head of global markets at Citizens Bank.
At 12:40 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 100.05 points, or 0.35 per cent, at 28,506.26, the S&P 500 was down 15.01 points, or 0.43 per cent, at 3,468.80.
The Nasdaq Composite was down 36.10 points, or 0.31 per cent, at 11,635.45.
Video-streaming service Netflix Inc was a bright spot, rising 1.2 per cent ahead of its results on Tuesday.
After the financial sector set a mixed tone to the start of the third-quarter earnings season, investors will look to results from about 91 S&P 500 companies this week including International Business Machines Corp, whose quarterly report is expected later in the day.
Oilfield services provider Halliburton Co posted a fourth consecutive quarterly loss as this year’s slump in oil prices due to the COVID-19 pandemic hit demand for its services. Its shares, however, rose about 3.3 per cent.
ConocoPhillips slipped 0.1 per cent as it agreed to buy United States shale oil producer Concho Resources Inc for $9.7 billion as the energy sector continued to consolidate. Concho fell 0.9 per cent.
Chipmaker Microchip Technology Inc gained about 1.6 per cent after Morgan Stanley upgraded the stock to “overweight”.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.01-to-1 ratio on the NYSE.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.07-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.
The S&P index recorded 25 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 94 new highs and 22 new lows.
Edited By: Emmanuel Okara)
Walt Disney Co’s (DIS.N) revamp of its media and entertainment businesses represents Hollywood’s latest move to prioritise streaming media, raising questions about how much big media companies will continue to support movie theatres.
On Monday, Disney said it had restructured its media and entertainment businesses to accelerate growth of Disney+ and other streaming services as consumers increasingly gravitate to digital viewing. AT&T Inc (T.N) and Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) have made similar moves.
Disney is facing pressure from activist investor Daniel Loeb, founder of hedge fund Third Point, to increase funding to Disney+ and the rest of its streaming businesses.
While Loeb applauded Disney’s restructuring on Monday, a person familiar with the hedge fund’s thinking said Third Point is urging Disney to take more feature films directly to streaming platforms, or to put them in theatres and on Disney+ on the same day.
Disney, the company behind blockbuster movie franchises including “Avengers” and “Star Wars,” said it was committed to theatres when it announced the restructuring.
The changes separate creative divisions from the distribution unit that will send programming to cinemas, streaming or other platforms, though Disney said they work in “close collaboration.”
Chief Executive Bob Chapek, speaking to CNBC television, described the shift as “tilting the scale pretty dramatically” toward streaming.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed consumer habits and driven more viewers to Netflix Inc and other digital video services.
It shuttered theatres and forced experimentation with release patterns, upending the traditional practice of keeping a movie exclusively in theatres for a window of roughly 90 days before sending it to other platforms.
To meet the need for fresh streaming content during a worldwide halt in production, Disney made its remake of the animated classic “Mulan” available for purchase in the United States on Disney+ over the Labour Day weekend, and in movie theatres in a handful of other countries.
It will debut the Pixar animated movie “Soul” on Disney+ on Christmas Day, rather than in theatres in November, as originally planned.
Part of the calculus will hinge on how the cinema business emerges from the pandemic.
There is concern now about how many movie theaters will survive. Theatre chain AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc said on Tuesday it would run out of cash as early as the end of this year if conditions did not improve.
“Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins is among dozens of top Hollywood names urging United States Congress to provide financial aid to help cinemas weather pandemic shutdowns.
“Everybody is absolutely paralysed and trying to read what is going on at every level and how that is going to trickle down into the way people watch movies,” Jenkins said in a recent interview.
The total number of films released annually already has been falling. Major studios released 124 films in theatres in 2019, down from 147 in 2015, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
But even as investors have rewarded Netflix with high valuations for its single-minded focus on making content exclusively for subscribers, Wall Street analysts questioned the financial viability of traditional studios doing the same.
A premium video-on-demand model like the one Disney used for “Mulan” will not work for a studio’s biggest, most ambitious films, LightShed Partners analyst Rich Greenfield said in September, noting that a $2 billion box-office film can generate over $800 million in profit to a studio.
“While we remain confident that streaming economics in totality are far superior long-term than traditional movie/TV economics … nothing can achieve the per-picture economics that Disney is able to generate through a global theatrical release,” Greenfield wrote on Tuesday.
That “makes it very hard economically for Disney to pivot away from” current movie windows in theatres, he said.
Releasing more films that were meant for theatres directly to streaming “would be a material step down in content revenues from the level generated by their current business structure, but likely even a greater drop in profits,” MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson wrote on Oct. 1.
Chapek hinted during a CNBC interview on Monday that changes to its theatrical model could be coming.
He said details would be unveiled at an investor presentation on Dec. 10.
Edited By: Emmanuel Okara)
Netflix Inc, in a response to United States senators’ concerns over the company’s plans to adapt a Chinese science-fiction book trilogy, said on Saturday it did not agree with the Chinese author’s views on the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.
Five Republican United States senators urged Netflix this week to reconsider plans to adapt the book into a TV series because they said the author has defended the Chinese government’s clampdown on ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
“The Three-Body Problem” and two sequels were written by Liu Cixin.
Netflix announced this month that it was turning the books into a live-action, English-language TV series led by D.B Weiss and David Benioff, the creators of HBO megahit “Game of Thrones”.
Liu serves as a consulting producer on the project.
“Mr. Liu is the author of the book not the creator of this show. We do not agree with his comments, which are entirely unrelated to his book or this Netflix show,” said Netflix Global Public Policy Vice President Dean Garfield in a letter to the senators.
“If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty,” Liu told the New Yorker magazine in 2019.
“If you were to loosen up the country a bit, the consequences would be terrifying.”
The senators also asked Netflix to reconsider the implications of providing a platform to Liu in producing this project.
The Netflix streaming service is available in more than 190 countries but does not operate in China.
The United States and human rights groups have criticised China’s treatment of the Uighurs.
China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly denied the existence of internment camps in Xinjiang, calling the facilities vocational and educational institutions and accusing what it calls anti-China forces of smearing its Xinjiang policy.
Edited By: Emmanuel Okara)
An Indian court’s decision to stall the release of a Netflix Inc series on four Indian tycoons facing fraud allegations “freezes free speech” and hurts the company financially, the United States streaming giant has argued in a court filing seen by Reuters.
“Bad Boy Billionaires” is a documentary series about liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya, Sahara group’s Subrata Roy, Indian IT executive Ramalinga Raju and jeweller Nirav Modi.
Netflix put the show on hold this month on order of a state court where Sahara alleged violation of Roy’s privacy rights.
Roy is currently on bail in a case where he was ordered by court to repay billions of dollars to investors in a scheme which was found to be illegal.
Roy denied wrongdoing in the case and has already repaid investors, his counsel said.
Arguing for free speech in an appeal at the High Court of eastern Bihar state, Netflix said the docuseries was an assimilation of information available in public domain.
The filing has not previously been reported.
The pre-publication injunction granted by the court “freezes free speech,” Netflix said in the filing earlier this month, which was reviewed by Reuters.
It argued it has a right to free speech “on a matter of public interest.”
Some Netflix shows in India have faced court challenges and police complaints for obscenity or for hurting sentiments.
The ongoing legal spat is among the most high-profile ones Netflix has faced in India, one of its key growth markets.
The court in Bihar that gave the injunction earlier had said the series “would certainly damage the reputation” of Roy Sahara and Netflix declined to comment.
Roy could not be reached for comment.
The United States streaming giant has argued it had invested large sums and done worldwide publicity on the series.
The injunction, Netflix argued, resulted in irreparable monetary loss, as well as affected its goodwill and reputation.
Netflix describes “Bad Boy Billionaires” as an “investigative docuseries (which) explores the greed, fraud and corruption that built up – and ultimately brought down – India’s most infamous tycoons.”
Netflix is locked in a legal spat not just with Sahara, but also another businessman Raju whose story was to appear in the series.
Raju, accused of a $1-billion accounting fraud more than a decade ago, had secured a separate state court order against the show’s release, but Netflix has challenged it in a higher court, said A. Venkatesh, a lawyer representing Raju.
Raju will continue to argue against the show’s release, said Venkatesh.
Both Netflix’s appeals are likely to be heard in coming days.
It was not clear if the other two tycoons – Modi and Mallya – have filed petitions against the release of the series.
Modi is facing extradition attempts by India after his arrest in London last year over his alleged involvement in a $2 billion bank fraud.
Mallya, too, is in Britain fighting India’s extradition bid for alleged fraud at his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines.
Modi and Mallya have denied any wrongdoing.
Zulfiquar Memon of Indian law firm MZM Legal, who is part of team representing Modi in his extradition case, said they hadn’t filed any case to halt the release of the series, but were “sitting on the fence” tracking the ongoing proceedings.
A lawyer for Mallya could not immediately be reached for comment.
Edited By: Emmanuel Okara)
United States online streaming giant Netflix Inc. on Wednesday has expressed interest to partner with Nigerian practitioners in the movie industry to showcase their stories on the global stage.
Addressing a webinar, Ben Amadasun, Netflix's Director of Content Acquisition and Co-Productions in Africa, said the Nigerian movie industry, also known as Nollywood, has been at the epicenter of the African entertainment industry, creating stars and producing content that has resonated with fans across the continent.
He said Africa is full of incredible stories that will finally get to share with the world, and Netflix seeks to join hands with Nigeria's most talented movie practitioners to bring their unique stories to the world.
"We have a wealth of fables that have been passed down from generations, and Netflix has a great opportunity to bring those stories to the forefront, which will resonate all over the world," Amadasun told his audience.
Mo Abudu, chief executive officer of EbonyLife TV, said the investment by Netflix will help take the Nigerian and African story to a global audience.
Abudu said the investment by Netflix is going to help grow the African creative industry and get African stories to the world.
"This step that Netflix is taking is going to help grow the African industry and get our stories out there," Abudu said.
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted producers, movie studios and workers’ unions to seek expert advice on how to safely reopen film and TV sets, which shut down worldwide in mid-March.
In demand are epidemiologists and other public health specialists to provide detailed strategies for dealing with large crews who work in cramped spaces, makeup artists who get face-to-face with stars and actors who kiss, hug and fight on set.
The shutdown has taken a severe financial toll across the industry, as well as on cities such as Los Angeles that benefit economically from production.
Restarting is important to companies, including Netflix Inc, Walt Disney Co and others, which need fresh programming to engage audiences.
While sets remain empty in the United States, productions are ramping back up in South Korea, Australia, Sweden, as well as New Zealand, where James Cameron’s “Avatar 2” is restarting this week.
People who work in the industry expect to see smaller crews, regular testing, hand sanitisers everywhere and the use of computer-generated imagery to create big crowds on screen when work resumes.
Writer-director Tyler Perry has taken the lead on getting cameras rolling again, announcing plans to begin shooting two BET television series on July 8 at his studio complex in Atlanta.
Perry’s 330-acre self-contained lot offers housing where people can be isolated to help prevent spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes a sometimes fatal respiratory illness called COVID-19.
In a 31-page outline, Perry said “it took a village of staff, medical doctors, epidemiologists, lawyers, union reps, talent and their reps, crew members, insurers, and a lot of other great thinkers” to develop safeguards.
One was Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious diseases expert at Emory University, who said he advised that all cast and crew be tested at the start and at least once during the two weeks they remain sequestered for a shoot.
Del Rio also made recommendations on hygiene and other protections, though he noted nothing offers a 100 per cent guarantee.
“It may fail” to keep coronavirus completely out of the set, he said.
“But I think it’s also not feasible to say we’re going to wait until the virus goes away, or we have a vaccine, because then we might as well not work for the next two years.”
Unions representing actors and set employees, including SAG-AFTRA, IATSE and the Directors Guild of America, have hired experts from Harvard and the University of California to help develop guidelines.
All are looking to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is taking input from labour and industry representatives and said he is aiming to release protocols for film and TV shoots as early as this week.
Actors are watching closely. Actress Anna Kendrick, in an interview promoting her HBO Max series “Love Life,” said some ideas she’s heard sound like they’re from “somebody who’s never been on a film set.”
“In my experience people on film sets, as opposed to people in an airport, we all know we’re on the same team, we’re all just trying to keep each other safe,” she said. “I think it can be done, but I haven’t seen super great solutions yet.”
Handling the coronavirus is complicated in television because many workers are freelancers, said Dr. Paul Litchfield, an occupational physician, who helped develop guidelines for TV networks in Britain.
“People are moving in and out of your bubble to other productions with other companies,” he said. “So it’s making sure that the guidance is consistent across (TV) companies.”
Edited By: Emmanuel Okara/Silas Nwoha (NAN)
Some of the top creative minds at Mexican broadcaster, Televisa, are puzzling over an unexpected challenge: crafting their signature soap operas without a single love scene, or even a tender kiss.
As cases of coronavirus mounted in Mexico, producers were forced to scratch physical contact from their typically steamy telenovelas. Then the cameras stopped rolling altogether.
“We follow the motto: The show must go on,” said producer Lucero Suarez, who halted production of her hit “Te Doy La Vida” (“I Give You Life”) in March.
“Never in my life have we stopped a novela.”
After decades of keeping viewers on the edge of their seats with its high-octane soap operas, Mexico’s largest broadcaster is facing a cliffhanger of its own.
When will Televisa’s army of producers, actors and actresses return to the set? Even the company’s top executives can’t say for sure.
Like its Hollywood peers, Grupo Televisa was forced to suspend production of series and novelas – the soaps that typically air daily episodes during the week – to avoid spreading coronavirus among cast and production crews.
The broadcaster hopes to resume filming in late May or early June, albeit with fewer moments of passion.
Televisa’s shares have slumped 78 per cent over the past five years amid anemic earnings growth.
More recently, advertising has waned as the federal government and companies make cuts.
Streaming giants such as Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc have also made a run for an audience that Televisa long had almost to itself.
Like all broadcasters and media companies that rely on advertising income, the coronavirus has further complicated Televisa’s fortunes, analysts say.
“On the one hand, with everyone staying home, ratings are through the roof,” said Gilberto Garcia, an analyst with Barclays.
“On the other hand, given that everybody has to stay in, advertisers are very much cutting back on their budgets.”
With more people staying inside, Televisa’s audience in Mexico has risen 19 per cent over the past three weeks, a spokesman said.
Novelas, which dominate the primetime lineup, are crucial to the equation.
The company’s stash of fresh content should last well into the summer, Co-Chief Executive Alfonso de Angoitia said on an earnings call last week.
Televisa’s unit providing cable TV and broadband has become its biggest moneymaker.
Yet content still accounts for 27 per cent of net sales and could become even more vital as growth in the cable unit slows, Garcia said.
For decades, Televisa profited handsomely from low-budget novelas that dominated Mexican airwaves and were successfully exported to far-flung markets overseas, too.
The broadcaster still holds a commanding lead in Mexican ratings, but in recent years it has lost viewers to streaming services that have invested heavily in Latin America and hooked audiences with flashy dramas such as Netflix’s Spanish thriller “Money Heist”.
Televisa has an admirable record of holding novelas to their production schedules in the past, even after a devastating earthquake struck Mexico City in 1985.
Strikes that occasionally delay filming in Hollywood have been virtually unheard of.
At least two of its shows have been disrupted by the coronavirus, however. Crime drama “Imperio de Mentiras” (“Empire of Lies”) was only able to complete about 20 per cent of filming before production ground to a halt.
Once scheduled to debut in late April, its premier has been pushed back to the summer.
Suarez’s show, “Te Doy la Vida,” is focused on a love triangle involving the adoptive and biological parents of a boy with leukemia and debuted in March to strong ratings.
As cases of coronavirus rose in Mexico, Suarez and her team ramped up production, tacking on an additional day of filming on Saturdays.
With the finale tantalisingly close, Suarez said she was tempted to press on. But as her team grew more nervous, she halted production.
In the last stretch, scenes were filmed with social distancing measures – no hugs, kisses or other physical contact between cast members.
At times, actors struggled to channel their characters’ emotions within the new rules of the game. Cesar Evora, a Televisa veteran of roughly 27 years, recalled filming a wake in which characters gathered to mourn without ever embracing.
“It was pretty surreal,” he said.
Suarez has churned out hit novelas for decades, soldiering on through injuries to her leading men and other unforeseen obstacles.
She is nervous about navigating the return to the set, fearing it will be like “starting over”.
Most vexing of all could be the love scenes.
But Suarez said she has already reworked some, opting to show the moments just after passion, such as one character touching up her appearance at the vanity while the other lounges in bed.
“You get the idea,” said Suarez, who spoke with Reuters by phone last week.
She noted she had taken to watching a lot of Turkish soaps, which have borrowed Televisa’s formula with great success, though intimacy is only implied.
“If my last scene is not a kiss … we will make do,” Suarez said.
“Sometimes you can convey love with just a glance.
Edited By: Emmanuel Okara/Muhammad Suleiman Tola (NAN)
U.S. online streaming giant Netflix Inc. has reported a strong growth in subscriptions, with 15.77 million new customers in the first quarter of 2020, as people around the world stay at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Netflix said Tuesday it now has 182.86 million paid subscribers in more than 190 countries and regions, an increase of 22.8 percent from a year earlier. The company also saw a higher-than-expected quarterly revenue of 5.77 billion dollars, against 4.52 billion dollars in the first quarter of 2019.
Netflix said there have been three primary effects on the company's financial performance from the crisis.
"First, our membership growth has temporarily accelerated due to home confinement. Second, our international revenue will be less than previously forecast due to the dollar rising sharply. Third, due to the production shutdown, some cash spending on content will be delayed, improving our free cash flow, and some title releases will be delayed, typically by a quarter," the company said in a letter to shareholders.
"In our 20+ year history, we have never seen a future more uncertain or unsettling. The coronavirus has reached every corner of the world and, in the absence of a widespread treatment or vaccine, no one knows how or when this terrible crisis will end," the letter noted.
"At Netflix, we're acutely aware that we are fortunate to have a service that is even more meaningful to people confined at home, and which we can operate remotely with minimal disruption in the short to medium term," the letter stated.
Netflix said it projected 7.5 million global paid net additions in the second quarter this year as "progress against the virus will allow governments to lift the home confinement soon."
Asian shares neared a 20-month top on Monday as Wall Street extended its run of record peaks on solid U.S. economic data and lashes of liquidity from the Federal Reserve.
Oil prices jumped as oilfields in southwest Libya began shutting down after forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar closed a pipeline, potentially reducing national output to a fraction of its normal level.
Early turnover in Asian shares was light with U.S. stock and bond markets closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan firmed 0.1 per cent, after notching its highest close since June 2018.
Japan’s Nikkei added 0.2 per cent to be near its highest in 15 months.
Australia’s main index scored another all-time peak and South Korea was near its best level since October 2018. E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 edged up 0.1 per cent.
Eyes will be on U.S. corporate earnings with Netflix Inc, Intel Corp and Texas Instruments Inc set to report this week, while central banks in the European Union, Canada and Japan hold policy meetings.
Sentiment was supported by the relentless run of record highs on Wall Street. Only three weeks into the new year, the S&P 500 has gained just over three per cent and the NASDAQ almost five per cent.
Ray Attrill, head of foreign exchange strategy at National Australia Bank, suspects the strength on Wall Street owes much to the Federal Reserve’s decision in September to rein in rising repo rates by flooding markets with cash.
“The relationship between the size of the Fed’s balance sheet, now some 11 per cent bigger than where it was in late September, and the performance of U.S. risk assets is uncanny,” he said, noting the balance sheet had just hit a three-month top of 4.18 trillion dollars.
Analysts at BofA Global Research noted global stock market capitalisation had ballooned by 13 trillion dollars since its September lows and the S&P was only five per cent away from marking the biggest bull run in history.
“We stay irrationally bullish until peak Positioning and peak Liquidity incite a spike in bond yields and a 4-8 per cent equity correction,” they said in a note.
The Fed’s buying binge on Treasury bills has kept bonds bid even as stocks surged and economic data stayed healthy.
Yields on two-year notes are dead in line with the overnight cash rate at 1.56 per cent, compared to 2.62 per cent this time last year.
The string of mostly solid U.S. data has underpinned the dollar, particularly against the safe-harbour yen. The dollar stood at 110.18 yen on Monday, having hit an eight-month peak of 110.28 last week.
The euro was stuck at 1.1093 dollar, while sterling idling at 1.3000 dollar after poor British economic news fanned speculation about a cut in interest rates.
Against a basket of currencies, the dollar had firmed to 97.624 and away from the recent trough of 96.355.Spot gold stood at 1,557.75 dollars per ounce, having hit a seven-year top earlier this month of 1,610.90 dollars at the height of Iran-U.S. tensions.
Concerns about a cut in supply from Libya sent oil prices higher.
Brent crude futures rose 79 cents to 65.71 dollars a barrel, while U.S. crude jumped 67 cents to 59.21 dollars.
Edited by: Abdullahi Mohammed/Tajudeen Atitebi