The media landscape across the Arab world is rapidly evolving, with a pay-TV boom under way and SVOD competition starting to heat up. But though this should be a game-changer for local filmmakers, the Arab film industry is not feeling much of an impact yet.
Since arriving in the region in January, Netflix has announced only one major Arabic-language acquisition for worldwide distribution, Emirati director Majid Al-Ansari’s Tarantino-esque neo-noir “Rattle the Cage” (aka “Zinzana”). Starz Play Arabia shows only Hollywood titles.
Al Jazeera-owned beIN Media group’s acquisition of Miramax in March was good news for Hollywood, which is set to benefit from the battle over the Middle East pay-TV arena being waged between beIN and prominent Dubai-based paybox OSN by upping the ante on studio volume deals.
“We are all hoping that independent Arab filmmakers can take advantage of the opportunities created by the growth in pay television,” said Doha Film Institute topper Fatma Al Remaihi during the recent edition of Qumra, an incubator event for Arab filmmakers at which the DFI and Northwestern University in Qatar presented a wide-ranging Arab industry report.
The report pointed to a proliferation of new TV channels in the MENA region — 159 between 2012 and 2014 — and said pay-TV revenues have almost doubled over the past five years to an estimated $975 million.
“The growth of TV channels doesn’t mean I’m making more money,” says Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy. “Generalist TV is a significant component of how I recoup my budget. But when I sell to them they usually want all rights to fight the competition, so I don’t get to monetize on pay or SVOD.”
Michael Garin, CEO of Abu Dhabi’s Image Nation, is proud they produced the first Arab title acquired by Netflix for global distribution. He notes that in the theatrical arena, aside from Egyptian movies, “no film can really make its money back” solely from this severely underscreened region.