Media powerhouse builds bridges

When Nashwa al-Ruwaini founded production shingle Pyramedia 10 years ago, she had an ambitious, but seemingly simple, plan: After a career that had seen her crisscrossing between Europe and the Middle East, al-Ruwaini envisaged a company that could live comfortably in both worlds.

“I wanted to create a bridge between East and West,” al-Ruwaini say. “Having lived in the West for a long time, I wanted to bring its production expertise to the Arab world and at the same time open the doors of the Middle East to Western formats.”

A decade on, Pyramedia has grown into one of the region’s most dynamic production companies, with 400 full-time employees; offices in Cairo, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and London; and annual revenue of $200 million.

It currently produces shows such as “Nashwa” for Dubai TV as well as the popular “The Million’s Poet” and “The Prince of Poets” for Abu Dhabi TV plus a slew of other one-off and series programming for satcasters across the Arab world.

The company also produces Abu Dhabi’s Middle East Intl. Film Festival, slated to unspool its third edition in October; al-Ruwaini is the exec director of the fest.

In addition, Pyramedia is launching separate film and documentary divisions as well as attempting to put together an agency for Arab film talent to service both the local and international markets.

The company’s current expansion has been aided in no small part by the support that al-Ruwaini has received from the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

“It really is the place where dreams can become a reality,” she says. “There has been unlimited support from the government there, and you can really see history being made before your eyes with what they’re attempting to build there. The relationship couldn’t have gone better.”

A case in point comes with the production of hit show “Prince of Poets.” Essentially a “Pop Idol” for Arab poets, skein has become an unlikely hit, particularly among Emirati and Gulf auds who share a passion for classical Arab poetry.

“We first had the idea to produce the show in 2005,” al-Ruwaini says. “Even though very few people at the time thought it would cross over, the Abu Dhabi authorities backed us and allowed us to create a show that could appeal across the region.”

And while Pyramedia’s recent growth has sprung from Abu Dhabi, the company initially benefited from al-Ruwaini’s own successful career in front of and behind the camera. After presenting a number of popular shows for Saudi-owned net MBC, the first privately owned Arab satcaster and still the most popular, al-Ruwaini turned her hand to producing. She helped MBC launch a number of well-rated programs, including “The View”-inspired femme chatshow “Kalam nawaem.”

In fact, she was prompted to launch her own shingle after witnessing the success of so many of the shows she had produced with MBC, and she hoped to maximize the programs’ commercial opportunities. Now the company can draw on her formidable experience to branch into event management, media consultancy and PR services.

“We see everything through the eye of a lens,” al-Ruwaini explains about Pyramedia’s other efforts. “That’s the added plus we bring to the table: We’re used to seeing how a production will look on a TV, so that’s how we plan our event.”

With the Middle East Intl. Film Festival, for example, Pyramedia helped produce the opening-night gala with the viewing public firmly in mind. That approach may have its drawbacks, however: A number of those who attended the ceremony fled the auditorium in the stately Emirates Palace as the event neared the two-hour mark — before the opening-night film had screened — but it did make for great viewing back at home.

With the Abu Dhabi fest now giving Pyramedia a foothold in the film biz, the company plans to expand its production activities onto the bigscreen. It’s developing a number of features it hopes will come to fruition in the next year.

As the Arab TV biz enters a period of consolidation after having mushroomed in the past 15 years to include more than 400 free-to-air channels, the next challenge for Pyramedia execs will be to adjust to the digital world if they hope to keep growing in its second decade.

The company is already developing its multimedia strategy as well as dedicating itself to helping the nascent media talent in Abu Dhabi — and the United Arab Emirates as a whole — mature.

“On every single project we produce, we’re going to have a local Emirati shadowing the head of the department,” al-Ruwaini says. “We’re also hoping to get them internships with the Natural History Unit in London to work on our documentaries. It’s good for us to give something back.”

PYRAMEDIA’S DEPTH CHART

Middle East intl. Film Festival: Pyramedia produces the fest for the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage

Pyramovies: Its independent film division

Pyradocs: Its independent documentary and factual division

Pyrastars: Its talent agency for Arab thesps

Al Mahabba Awards: Pyramedia produces the three-day event for the Tabah Foundation

PYRAMEDIA PRODUCTION RECORD

Nashwa”: A talkshow for Dubai TV that features celebrity interviews and social affairs, presented and produced by Nashwa al-Ruwaini. The show is currently in its fourth season.

“Million’s Poet”: A reality gameshow for Abu Dhabi TV that airs weekly in front of a live audience. Skein focuses on local Gulf Nabati poetry and gives contestants from around the region an opportunity to prove themselves as the best poet, decided by a panel of judges and public votes a la “American Idol.” Now in its third season.

“Prince of Poets”: Like “Million’s Poet,” this is a contest for poets but is open to lyricists from across the Arab world. Airs weekly on Abu Dhabi TV. The top prize is worth 1 million dirhams ($270,000).

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