Photo for illustrative purposes only

Islamic Lifestyle

New Islamic streaming service aims for 1 mln Malaysian subscribers in first year

KUALA LUMPUR - From October, Malaysians will be able to tune into Nurflix, when the new streaming platform begins a three-month soft launch during which subscribers can sample its original content, initially consisting of 12 shows in Bahasa Melayu with English subtitles.

Launching fully next January, Nurflix has set an ambitious goal of 1 million subscribers within its first year, which it needs to sustain its operation, according to Izaiha Zainol, who handles communications for the project.

“In five years, we want to be streaming across Southeast Asia, China and Europe, but first we have to get our marketing right and enough subscriptions in Malaysia to be sustainable,” Izaiha told Salaam Gateway in Kuala Lumpur.

While streaming media has become a well-established battleground for the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Disney, with many other major broadcasters also going on the attack with their own channels, the emergence of services with Islam at their root has been rare.

Among them, Ali Huda, from the United States, has had a library available for Muslim children since 2017. Britain’s Islam Channel brings its cable television format onto a streaming platform, alongside a live schedule filled with prayers and charity telethons. Muslim Television Ahmadiyya International, a fellow British provider, is expansive in its religious instruction coverage. And Aflix, which featured in headlines briefly last year in Malaysia, is still no more than a barely functioning web page.

Few, though, have sought to adopt the “Netflix for Muslims” descriptor that Nurflix clearly craves, and which was previously awarded by the press to Alchemiya, another British streaming service in a format the new Malaysian start-up appears to emulate in many ways.

Alchemiya, which was founded by BBC veteran Navid Akhtar in 2013, curates a library of titles with a Muslim flavour, though not necessarily with a religious message.


“We don’t do Islam,” Akhtar told Salaam Gateway from his home in East London. “What we are is a reflection of Muslim culture globally, and who we are as a minority in non-Muslim countries.” The service is currently only available in the UK, United States and Canada.

Nurflix’s audience ambition is a couple of zeros larger than the subscriber base Alchemiya has managed to achieve in approaching eight years of business, despite it being picked up by Amazon Channels in 2017.

For most of the time since it started streaming, Alchemiya has struggled to find funding and subscribers, though it has at some points come close to securing multi-million-pound deals with media companies including The Guardian and Channel 4.

Despite moments of doubt that the broadcaster could stay afloat, the three-man team behind it has managed to battle through and they are now “at a place where we don’t need investors anymore” with steady subscriber growth and a sustainable revenue stream. Indeed, a portion of the revenues generated by Alchemiya goes to a foundation carrying its name that supports young, creative Muslims around the world.

Akhtar warns that even though the potential within the hardly-tapped segment appears infinite, new entrants looking for scale will have to work hard to find the necessary financial backing, data storage and subscribers.

Investment is not easy to come by, especially in an area where technology meets the creative arts, with conventional fund managers and venture capital funds wary of Muslim ventures, and their Shariah counterparts averse to risk and suspicious of those who use technology for novel solutions, said Akhtar. “You can appreciate that we have been kicked at both ends,” he added.

The Alchemiya founder estimates that anything between 70,000 and 100,000 subscribers would provide a sweet spot whereby a streaming start-up will have space to invest in the infrastructure it needs to scale up by increasing the network bandwidth and storage necessary for handling large data streams.

However, Nurflix’s business model is based entirely on original content, at least for the first year, Izaiha said. This means costs will be much higher than the sums required to accumulate a catalogue of third-party content.


Streaming platforms competing in South and Southeast Asia

iFlix (Malaysia-based company bought by China’s Tencent Holdings in June 2020)

13 countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal, Bangladesh

Subscribers: 25 million at the end of April 2020

Data source: S&P

Netflix (U.S.)


Subscribers: 192.947 million, including 22.492 million in Asia-Pacific at the end of June 2020

Data source: Netflix



Sutera Hijau Ventures Bhd, the company behind Nurflix, has allocated 40 million Malaysian ringgit to develop its content, with 12 series of 12 episodes slated for release during the first year. Pilot episodes of these shows will be available during a test run of the platform, which will start in October.

The programming will include Kembara Mahsyar, The Call, Abdullah and The Khadijahs, all of which were funded by Nurflix and written by and featuring Malaysian television and film artists. The plan is to introduce the full series at intervals throughout the coming year, with family sitcoms, science fiction series, dramas, documentaries and movies all on the anvil.

Farihin Abdul Fatah, a seasoned Malaysian producer, writer and talent manager will be content director at the service, which is headed by chief executive Syah Mohamed, an entrepreneur who develops Quran reading courses through his company, Sutera Hijau.

Syah is in the process of fundraising from investors in exchange for an equity stake in Nurflix. Currently 4 million ringgit is available for the pilot episodes.

“[Fundraising] is still ongoing as we don’t need that 40 million ringgit now,” Syah told Salaam Gateway. “To start with, we have 4 million for the first 12 titles—episode zeros, as we call them.

“These require a small amount of funding. When the full series go into production, we will have the 40 million available.”

It is hoped that funding will come from private sector investors as well as from government agencies such as MDEC, which promotes the Malaysian digital economy. The service, which already has a small studio on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, will also apply for state incentives directed at film producers.


When it launched at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur in mid-July, Nurflix was branded as a “Shariah-compliant streaming service”. Speaking to Salaam Gateway, Izaiha downplayed that message, stressing instead on the aim for a broader appeal.

“We can’t limit ourselves to only Muslims, which is why our content will have to have a broad appeal to people with different religions and nationalities. It’s going to be less of an Islamic channel and one with more of a focus on ethics and a clear teaching of morals,” Izaiha said.

The platform may eventually seek some form of halal certification, which as yet is unavailable for broadcast media. In the meantime, an advisory council of religious experts will be called on to check that each production is in line with moral messaging and Islamic teaching.

“This is a new model for content development. We haven’t followed the commercial model, and instead are going for some form of Shariah compliance. We have been bringing in ulama scholars to promote morals and ethics within our productions, and they work with the producers through their storyboards to achieve this,” said Syah.

A cop series showing crime may be included in the Nurflix roster as long as it shows what causes criminals to act the way they do. “We can have a violent movie, but we want to see it end with a moral message,” said Izaiha.

“We also don’t want to scare away non-Muslims. We aren’t teaching Islam but we are teaching good etiquette and morals for human beings. Hollywood does that; it’s made bible stories and Disney tends to have a moral element to its movies.”

It is yet to be seen if Indonesia and China, which do not allow Netflix access, will permit the streaming of Nurflix. If not, it will be a blow to the broadcaster’s plans to increase its scale.

Given the level of domestic political support, it is likely that the Malaysian start-up will have a powerful lobby to argue its case, with government ministers, including the minister responsible for religious affairs, Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, publicly supporting the endeavour. Religious leaders across Malaysia canvassed by Nurflix have also pledged to promote the service to their congregations, said Izaiha.

“The way we see it, this is something everyone will gain from. If you want to leave your kids with a phone in their hands, at least you will know that what they are watching is safe—it will be family orientated and family-friendly,” said Izaiha.

“Our challenge is now to get more subscribers and funding, and we don’t have much time. Subscription will be the real deal for us to survive and be sustainable.”

(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim

© 2020 All Rights Reserved


Streaming services