Israeli TV Business Grinds Halt War

With a red-hot format industry, warm ties to Hollywood and two major U.S. productions lensing on its soil, the Israeli TV business looked, until this summer, like it would grow into a global force. But when war erupted in early July between Israel and Hamas, sending thousands of rockets raining on Israeli cities and the Israeli army moving deep into Gaza, the TV biz in Israel ground to a halt.

Israel’s two major channels – Channel 2 and Channel 10 – have lost millions of dollars as citizens have stopped shopping and advertising revenue has slowed to a trickle. Reshet, one of the nation’s two primary commercial TV broadcasters, reports advertising revenues, which in July are generally at 95% of capacity, have dipped into single digits.

Both Reshet and its fellow broadcaster Keshet have pulled most of their scheduled programming from the airwaves in favor of news and round-the-clock talk shows. Reshet, for example, has nixed the local version of “The Voice,” and instead added episodes of “The Circle” (pictured above) a current-affairs program.

Israel has also been the focus of worldwide condemnation for its offensive in Gaza, which has claimed more than 1,000 Palestinian lives as the Israel Defense Forces try to rout out the terror group Hamas from within one of the world’s most densely populated areas. In the midst of the fallout, some TV execs have seen international deals crumble.

Hadas Mozes Lichtenstein, topper of ADD content agency, said she had two potential deals in the works with companies in Turkey that have dried up in light of the fighting. “With one of them, it’s not dead but it’s frozen, and I get it,” she said. Turkey has seen has a surge of anti-Israel protests in the wake of the conflict and Turkish companies are understandably concerned that deals with Israel could cause backlash at home.

“With the other deal, though, I had just started to get to know the company, and they were like, ‘We don’t want anything to do with you because your government is killing kids,’ ” she said. “In that case, it’s not even worth fighting for. It is what it is.”

However, the first major losses were also the most painful: Both USA’s “Dig,” which had been filming in Jerusalem, and FX’s “Tyrant,” which had been on location in Tel Aviv for several months, made the difficult decision to relocate elsewhere following days of air-raid sirens over both cities in early July. The two programs, both from “Homeland” creator Gideon Raff and co-produced by Israel-based Keshet Intl., the format powerhouse behind some of Israel’s most successful exports, had been hailed as a sign that Israel’s dominance over the television industry could also one day make it a hot filming location. Those hopes were dashed when the conflict erupted.

“Tyrant,” which had only two episodes left to film in its 10-episode first season, flew its cast and crew to Istanbul to finish lensing, while “Dig,” which is set amid the ancient stones of Jerusalem’s archeological treasures, shifted of its interior scenes to Albuquerque, N.M., and continues to look for a stand-in location for its exteriors.

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