Streaming battle in South-east Asia: Malaysia's home-grown Nurflix hopes to tap Muslim market

Nurflix CEO Syah Rizal Mohamed believes in providing appropriate content to help cultivate good moral character.
Nurflix CEO Syah Rizal Mohamed believes in providing appropriate content to help cultivate good moral character.PHOTO: NURFLIX

Step aside Netflix. There's a new player in Malaysia and it's ready to provide "responsible streaming" guided by Islamic values.

Called Nurflix, the Islamic entertainment streaming service is scheduled to start its trial phase next month, with an initial 10,000 subscribers after its July launch.

With a RM40 million (S$13.2 million) budget, Nurflix - nur means light in Arabic - is starting with its own original 12 dramas and films featuring popular local actors.

"We are not going to tell you why you should behave in a proper manner but through our content, you will already understand. Changes should come from within oneself," it says on its website.

The new streaming service is the brainchild of Nurflix's chief executive officer Syah Rizal Mohamed, a former member of nasyid (Islamic ballads) group Brothers.

The company's chairman is Datuk Seri Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir, a former senior executive of national petroleum firm Petronas, who also held key positions in Malaysian carmakers Perodua and Proton.

Nurflix's launch was broadcast live via its Facebook page Nurflix.tv from a mosque in Shah Alam, Selangor, and the event was officiated by popular preacher Habib Ali Zainal Abidin Al Hamid, who is also its adviser.

Islamic values may not scream prime time entertainment, but Nurflix believes there is a mass audience which yearns for Islam-based, family-oriented dramas and movies in Malaysia, whose population is 60 per cent Muslim.

"Media content is able to change the thinking and culture of this generation. The existing filtering system does not solve the real issue, that is the content mould or guidelines," Nurflix's corporate communications director Izaiha Zainol told The Sunday Times. "Yes, Nurflix is a response to this situation."

Nurflix's launch adds to what is already happening in the local entertainment scene, as the Muslim populace turns more conservative.

Actresses with their heads covered often hold lead roles in local TV series. On YouTube, all the country's top female singers - from Siti Nurhaliza to Yuna - wear headscarves.

 
 

There is a similar shift towards conservatism among Muslims in Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore who also share a common Malay language.

Not surprisingly, Nurflix has its eye on these markets.

"At least for the first year of operations, Nurflix is available in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore," said Mr Izaiha. "We will reach for the South-east Asia region before going to the Middle East and Europe in the following years."

In this Internet age, there is a worry among some in Malaysia's Muslim community that parents have lost the battle to control what their children watch.

Mr Ahmad Hazeri Ibrahim, 47, a Nurflix subscriber, feels that it is time Muslim parents find an alternative medium for entertainment.

"We should give Nurflix a go. It's important to filter the content because, as a parent, I would like my children to be instilled with good values even when they're looking for entertainment," said Mr Ahmad, who has four children.

 
 

"This realisation came after I got the shock of my life when I saw minors dancing suggestively in a French film. So I'm going to see what Nurflix has to offer and how it can help cultivate good morale," the businessman added.

As beta testers, subscribers will enjoy the 12 original titles exclusively aired on its stream TV platform, Nurflix.tv, before its official launch in January next year.