Ramadan is a time of year when TV channels enjoy soaring viewing figures as families gather around to spend their extra free time catching up with this year's biggest dramas or laughing at the latest Egyptian prank shows.
Netflix is no exception – it may be a relative newcomer to the region, but its experience of viewing habits during last year's holiday, the first since it became fully operational in the region, persuaded it to go all out this year to make viewers aware of its offerings. The streaming service doesn't plan on just following the same old Ramadan TV theme, either.
“We don’t want to change people’s behaviour during Ramadan,” says Leyla Guilany-Lyard, Netflix Mena spokeswoman. “We know people have their routines during Ramadan, having the TV on in the background with the family and the big Ramadan dramas, and that’s totally something we don’t want to compete with because the roots of that are so deep in the culture. What we want is to focus on what people are already naturally doing on Netflix, not try and change their behaviour.”
Netflix's campaign this year is focused not on Ramadan-specific content, but simply on "great storytelling", entitled 1001 Stories and themed on literary classic Arabian Nights. The campaign will focus on the best of Arabic, English and international shows, and, yes, traditional Ramadan content.
Netflix's research from last year revealed that, across the Mena region, people feel they gain two to three extra hours a day of free time during Ramadan – the UAE was actually slightly below the regional average, which researchers attribute to the higher proportion of expats surveyed compared to markets such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Some 35 per cent of those people cited watching TV as one of their three favourite ways of spending that time.
Perhaps even more interesting is the timing of this extra viewing – during Ramadan, Netflix's peak hours for streaming are from 2am to 5am, while for the other 11 months of the year, Guilany-Lyard says audience figures remain fairly constant throughout the day. The research found that in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the typical bedtime during Ramadan is after 5am – the UAE again bucked the trend here, probably because of its high expat presence, with bedtime remaining at 10pm to 11pm.
With all these extra hours at hand – about 90 for a typical Mena viewer – Netflix isn't short of suggestions on what to watch. You could, for example, start watching Friends from scratch and get as far as series 10, episode 8. Or if Ramadan cookery is your thing, you could watch all four seasons of Chef's Table four times over.
Watch the trailer for Chef's Table:
Alternatively, Netflix has some big original releases due to land during or shortly before Ramadan. The Rain, which lands this weekend, has had the critics in ecstasy since the first screeners started landing. The dystopian Scandinavian thriller follows the adventures of two young brothers as they team up with a band of survivors of a rain-carried virus that has eliminated most of the world's population, and is being widely touted as the new Dark.
Watch the trailer for The Rain:
Cargo, meanwhile, received rave reviews after its premiere at Tribeca last month, and stars Martin Freeman in more post-apocalyptic fare, this time of the zombie variety, as the British actor's stranded survivor tries to care for his baby daughter in the Australian outback.
For more traditional fare, there's plenty of Arabic content available too, from Netflix's first Arabic original show, the Adel Karam stand-up special, to epic Egyptian series Secret of the Nile. The latter is a 30-episode drama that sees a man searching for his missing sister, who disappeared while working at Cairo's luxurious Grand Hotel.
Mahmoud Al Massad's Blessed Benefit, meanwhile, takes an ironic look at life inside the Jordanian prison system, surmising that it may actually be significantly saner than life in regular Jordanian society, while crime caper Very Big Shot was originally a hit for Lebanese director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya at 2015's Toronto Film Festival. It also had a successful cinema release here in the UAE, and was Lebanon's entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Oscars.
Hajwala: The Missing Engine, meanwhile, should need little introduction to UAE audiences. Ibrahim Bin Mohamed's street-racing thriller was the biggest Emirati movie ever at the UAE box office, grossing more than Dh3.7 million in 2016.
Watch the trailer for Hajwala: The Missing Engine:
The director announced in December that a sequel was about to start shooting. That is due to land in cinemas, and on Netflix, later this year, but until then, use some of that Ramadan spare time to remind yourself what all the fuss was about last time.