LONDON- The Middle East has officially landed. The past week saw a clutch of high-profile deals between financial execs from the region and entertainment biz players from around the world.
First up was Dubai Intl. Capital’s acquisition of between 2%-3% of Sony Corp. DIC, an investment company owned by Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed Al Maktoum, reputedly paid up to $1.5 billion for its Sony stake, which though undisclosed, is said to be “substantial,” according to a DIC statement.
Egyptian brokerage firm Borak Holding soon followed that acquisition by investing $550 million in the U.S. shingle the Insomnia Media Group. The Borak deal will see Insomnia, founded in 1994 by Bret Saxon and Jeff Bowler, retain majority ownership and use the new coin to finance future film-related activities, including production and acquisitions of film libraries as well as talent and management firms.
The two firms are already collaborating on a $70 million historical war epic about a 12th century Arab general, which they hope will go into production by summer 2008.
Other Insomnia/Borak projects in the pipeline include “Across the Hall,” starring Mike Vogel (“Cloverfield”), and a possible dip into animation.
Borak Holding’s founder and chairman Ayman Kandeel originally set up an Arab comic book company called AK Comics, based on superheroes derived from Islamic stories. Insomnia execs are exploring the possibilities of adapting his characters into a full-blown feature.
In fact, 2007 has witnessed a flurry of entertainment biz-related activity emanating out of the Middle East. In October, Abu Dhabi inked a multi-billion dollar, multi-media deal with Warner Bros. that includes a $500 million film fund, $500 million vidgame fund, and real-estate projects.
Viacom has forged a strategic partnership with the U.A.E-based Arab Media Group, which launched MTV Arabia in November and will launch an Arabic language Nickelodeon channel next year.
MBC chairman and founder Saudi Sheik Waleed Al-Ibrahim has invested heavily in Mark Gill and Neil Sacker’s new production and finance shingle, the Film Dept., while rival Saudi maven Prince Waleed bin Talal will be expanding the film division of his multi-media titan Rotana into English-language film production.
With other deals including a string of multi-billion dollar real estate deals between Hollywood studios such as Universal and Paramount with Dubai, as well as Canadian CCI Entertainment and Dubai-based Blink Studios announcing a deal in October to produce “Tooterville,” among other projects, and Foresight’s Mark Damon developing a sales and production shingle, with potential coin for the venture coming from Saudi Prince Faisal bin Sultan, 2007 may mark a watershed in relations between Mid East mavens and their Western counterparts.
“Things are going well in the Middle East and they’re looking at opportunities across the board,” said Saxon. “The people who were thrilled to be getting $12 for a barrel of oil a few years ago are getting $98 a barrel now. There’s a lot of extra capital investment available to people in the region now.”
The trend isn’t likely to stop anytime soon. With oil prices posting record highs — and regional instability and uncertainty over the U.S. dollar unlikely to end anytime soon — the Middle East, particularly the Gulf, is awash with deep-pocketed investors looking for international media companies to invest in.
What’s more, unlike in previous years when some Gulf investors saw film and TV as more of a social hobby, the current crop of Middle East mavens are expecting sizeable returns on their coin.
“The Middle East is one of the areas which Hollywood hasn’t completely tapped yet in terms of potential,” said Gill. “It’s one of the most interesting areas to work with right now.”