Shofha: The Next Big Thing or a Big Disappointment?

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Earlier in February, LINKonLINE, a subsidiary of LINKdotNET and a major online services provider in the Middle East, launched; the first legal service of its kind in the Middle East to buy, rent, and watch Arabic movies instantly from anywhere in the world, you can say it is the Middle Eastern version of Netflix and Hulu. Before Shofha; you had two options if you wanted to watch an Arabic movie on your computer; you either buy the DVD, which is sometimes ridiculously expensive, or you simply download a pirated version of the movie from any of the massive number of Arabic forums that exist only for this purpose, completely free. Of course, people download the pirated versions, even though most of the times the movies’ quality is very poor. What Shofha did is providing a legal, high quality, Silverlight smooth streaming option for a very low price, 12 LE to buy, 8 LE to watch, and 6 LE to rent to a movie. You even get a 50% discount if you are a LINKdotNET ADSL subscriber. According to Shofha manager Mostafa Kamel, streaming on Shofha works well on 512k ADSL, great on 1MB, and perfect on 2MB and higher. He also said that downloading a full movie takes 2 hours on 1MB ADSL and described Shofha as “one of the greatest leaps in the history of Arabic internet”.

Now, let’s not go overboard here, people have been downloading pirated movies for years. The fact that they are of poor quality is a little price to pay for not actually paying to see the movies. When you come now and tell them, hey, you are gonna have high quality movies, but you will pay for it because it’s legal. How many of them will choose the legal option? The fact that it is relatively cheap is irrelevant; the vast majority of people will still choose the illegal option, simply because in the Middle East- and probably the whole world- free is always better than little money! Also, the only bad thing about pirated movies- besides being illegal, which is not that big of a problem here!- is their poor quality. With the availability of a high quality option, what guarantees that some guy will not find some way to actually use Shofha to provide high quality pirated movies for free online? The fact that it uses Silverlight instead of Flash will not prevent that for long, someone always finds a way. Should that happen, not only will Shofha fail in solving the piracy problem, but also contribute to its severity.