New genres, formats way forward for MENA TV

Middle East TV producers need to start thinking differently about formats and genres ahead of the coming SVOD revolution, said speakers on a Dubai Film Market panel, The Big Binge Theory’.

“The way Arabic productions are made today is not sustainable,” said iflix strategic advisor Nader Sobhan. “The Ramadan-led production cycle means you have too many series competing for the same period. You’re also expanding the story across 30 episodes, diluting the strength of the production.”

Two years after Netflix made a big splash at DIFF, ahead of a launch across the MENA region, the SVOD giant has still only commissioned one Arabic production – a stand-up show with Lebanese comic Adel Karam. But Hani Osama, co-founder of Cairo-based The Producers, said the local industry shouldn’t be complacent.

“Whether it’s Netflix or a local company, once one platform starts commissioning Arabic content, they all will. If you don’t start early, you’ll have problems finding good projects to launch on a digital platform,” said Osama, whose recent credits include hit series The Seventh Neighbour.

Osama added that he’s experimenting with shorter formats, developing two 15-episode shows – Anta and Al Atabek – which is much closer to the average 10-12 episode runs of Netflix productions: “This is unusual for the Arab world, but it gives us a chance to sell to a digital platform first, then linear TV later.”

Sobhan also urged producers to experiment with genre, citing horror show Kafr Delhab, which was a big hit over the recent Ramadan season. “We should focus on changing the trends by creating more projects of different genres.”

OSN chief commercial officer Neil Martin said it was easier to commission new shows for digital platforms as they provide more user data. “We have far greater insight when making investments for digital platforms, while linear TV is still a bit hit and miss.”