Netflix: Behind The Hype


Julius Fadehan


Understandable. That was what I thought of the huge excitement provoked last week by the announcement that Netflix, the US-based streaming service, was launching in 130 countries of the world, including Nigeria.

The excitement, which seemed like another Christmas had come, is a fallout of the belief that Netflix provides a considerably cheaper alternative to pay-TV, the death of which many-seized by momentary glee-predicted. This is in spite of the fact that pay-TV remains alive and kicking in the US and other countries where Netflix had previously launched.

Time to party? Not yet.

It did not take long for the excitement to dissipate, as would-be users of the service started doing some mathematics. At $8 (N2,240) a month, the cost is stunningly low. That, however, is when you ignore the exchange rate, whose notoriously volatile nature suggests what you spend in buying dollars is not going to stay the same, a development that could make Netflix seem like Netfleece!

But that is just the cost of access.

You also need data. So, who pays for the huge volume of data required for downloads? Note that there are no unlimited data plans in Nigeria.

The cost of data got many thinking more rigorously, with most reckoning that data spend will relieve them of something in the region of N15,000 monthly. Add that to N2,240 or whatever it rises to when, not if, the naira goes down the slope.

Cheaper still? You know the answer.

Related News

There is also the not exactly small matter of local internet speed. Most local networks have their downloading speed pegged at 200Kbps, something that will make Netflix use the equivalent of an ordeal arising from long buffering periods. Even at this low speed, stability is not guaranteed.

Similarly important: Netflix will bill exclusively in dollars. This means that Nigeria stands to lose tax revenues and face another round of pressure on its external reserves.

But there are other issues, notably those of compliance to local regulations and values. The experience in Kenya is instructive. Already, Netflix has compelled the regulatory authorities to raise a number of compliance issues. Two days after its launch in the country, the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) announced that it had identified inappropriate programmes hosted by Netflix which, curiously, is rated for age 13 years.

The KFCB said Netflix, which carries mostly foreign content-some of which may contain gay and lesbian movies- will not be allowed to stream content considered inappropriate by the Kenyan society. The film board warned that it will flag the unsuitable content and block it within an hour of reporting.

KFCB head of compliance, Emmah Irungu, was quoted by the country’s media as saying that any foreign content once received in the country shall be subjected to the Kenyan law.

“In this case, Netflix will be subjected to the film classification guidelines in the country,” said Irungu who added that what could be considered as extreme violence in one country may be rated differently in another.

“Since it is in Kenya then it needs to be subjected to the Kenyan ratings for consumer protection,” she said.

In Nigeria, the authorities responsible for licensing, production as well as marketing of film, drama and documentaries have appeared, so far (I hope I am wrong) indifferent to whether some of the offerings by Netflix comply with local regulations and values.

This seeming indifference will expose Nigerians, particularly young ones, to practices we consider abhorrent.

Fadehan, a culture activist, writes from Lagos