Laraichi leans on local producers to broaden footprint
MARRAKECH, Morocco– As CEO of the nation’s two pubcasters and joint VP of the Marrakech Film Festival Foundation, Faical Laraichi is uniquely positioned as the driving force behind Morocco’s TV and film industry.Between 2007 and 2010, Laraichi financed 42 low-cost TV movies with helmer-producer Nabil Ayouch and is now producing a $1.5 million, 120-episode telenovela about two rival families in Casablanca, also with Ayouch, which began shooting in November. Laraichi views this as a big step forward for the local industry. Following the success of the 10th Marrakech fest, which wrapped Dec. 11, he also aims to pool forces with local producers to develop more films with international appeal. “We need new economic models and more ambitious projects in Morocco that will work in primetime and can also generate a secondary market,” he says. Born in the northern city of Mek-nes, Laraichi was primarily educated abroad, like many of Morocco’s top business executives. He received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from ESTP in Paris — one of Gaul’s elite administrative schools — and a master’s degree in civil engineering from Stanford U. “I’m a child of Silicon Valley,” he quips. “Back in 1985, we had all the major IT companies on campus, and a whole new world opened up for me.” It was there that Laraichi became interested in the technical opportunities within the media biz. Returning to Morocco in 1986, he founded Casablanca-based Sigma Technologies with UCLA-trained Dino Sebti, and they began working on computer graphics, 3D animation and advertising. “At the time, it was impossible to work in Moroccan television,” Laraichi explains. “So we focused on CGI and producing TV commercials in Morocco — we were the first company here to interface a Mac-intosh computer with a broadcast suite, and the first national company to buy HD cameras.” By 1999, Sigma was Morocco’s leading commercials producer. Although a relative outsider to Morocco’s TV establishment, in the wake of the powerful wave of change ushered in by King Mohammed VI’s ascent to the throne in July 1999, Laraichi was appointed CEO of state TV channel Television Marocaine in November 1999, charged with injecting new blood into the pubcaster. “TVM was then just another branch of the civil service. It took us five years to turn it around,” he recalls. Laraichi launched a major efficiency drive, including inhouse training and team building. He delegated responsibilities and revolutionized content, with an emphasis on homegrown fiction. He also outsourced projects, increasing the pubcaster’s number of independent producers from four to 45 — all from Morocco. He also commissioned work from a few French producers. In 2003, Laraichi was appointed CEO of the broadcasting holding company, Radiodiffusion Television Marocaine, and was reconfirmed in the position in 2005, when the pubcaster became a 100% state-owned company, Societe Nationale de Radiodiffusion et de Television (SNRT). In 2006, Laraichi also was appointed CEO of Morocco’s second TV channel, 2M, which was set up as a commercial broadcaster in 1989 by Soread, part of the ONA Group, an industrial and financial conglom controlled by the Moroccan royal family. The state acquired a 68% stake in 2M in 1996 when the broadcaster was on the verge of bankruptcy; there are presently no commercial networks in Morocco. SNRT and 2M have annual operating budgets of $190 million and $90 million, respectively. As CEO of both, Laraichi is responsible for nine channels, which have a combined primetime audience share of 45%-50%. While there are no competing commercial broadcasters, the two networks face considerable competition from more than 300 pan-Arab satellite channels. SNRT1 offers traditional, general programming, predominantly in Arabic, while 2M is more urban with a higher proportion of French-language programming. Other key channels include the 24-hour movie channel Aflam, the Riyadiya sports channel, an education channel, a Koranic religious channel and an Amazigh Berber-language channel. SNRT also runs Al Maghribia, a satellite channel aimed at Moroccan expats. Latin American telenovelas and U.S. series such as “CSI,” “House” and “Monk” are dubbed into Arabic, and air on both SNRT1 and 2M, but Laraichi aims to sked popular homegrown soaps and series every day, with at least one local movie per week. Homegrown content draws the best ratings, he says, but foreign fare is only slightly less popular. Laraichi considers the main challenges ahead are stabilizing the audience, expanding training initiatives and achieving higher quantity and quality in local production. He is particularly keen to improve script writing. While Moroccan TV still has a ways to go to become dominant, even within its own borders, few doubt that Laraichi has things moving in the right direction.