VENICE – Prominent Dubai-based independent Middle East film distributor, Front Row Filmed Entertainment has sealed a deal with iTunes under which it will act as an aggregator for independent Arabic and Bollywood distribution companies who aim to make their titles available across the Middle East and also worldwide.
The agreement is particularly significant because Arab nations have one of the world’s largest populations of digital-savvy consumers and are heavily underscreened. In entertainment hungry Saudi Arabia, movie theatres are banned by conservative clerics.
In Saudi, Front Row will looking to provide windows on iTunes so audiences can watch films playing in Middle East theatres day-and-date at a premium.
iTunes is the only platform in the Middle East that offers simultaneous releases in eight countries: UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait.
Front Row is considered a pioneer in the Middle Eastern VOD market after introducing the “Premium VOD Window” with titles such as Bent Hammer’s “The Resident,” Matt Reeves’ “Let Me In,” and George Clooney’s “The Ides of March.”
They have also launched several of the their theatrical titles through electronic sell through including Pierce Brosnan-starrer “A Long Way Down,” “Rush,” and Nadine Labaki’s all-time Middle East box office champ “Where Do We Go Now,” in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. Their next theatrical release is Liam Neeson-starrer “A Walk Among The Tombstones” (pictured).
“With 109 iTunes Movie Stores globally, this is an exciting opportunity for Arab Cinema and emerging local talent, not only across the region, but also worldwide,” enthused Hisham Al Ghanim, General Manager of the Kuwait National Cinema Company and partner in Front Row Filmed Entertainment in a statement.
“With Free Television not acquiring independent titles, the DVD market dying, and Pay TV being extremely selective, I’m sure that local film distributors will finally find a common ground and encourage the VOD medium even more. We’re sure iTunes will become the place to turn to when looking for a movie,” added Gianluca Chakra, who is Front Row’s Managing Partner.
Front Row was launched in 2003 by Gianluca and Michel Chakra. It currently boasts a film library of over 875 titles which include VOD and TV rights. The company is also partners with the Kuwait National Cinema Company (KNCC) that represents a 97% market share in the Kuwaiti exhibition market. Kuwait currently represents 36% of the Middle East theatrical business.
Front Row and KNCC acquire between 90-120 titles a year and are leaders in the Arabic language titles acquiring almost 70% of the Arabic language-produced titles for the Middle East.