Viewpoint: Discop Dubai fills a gap in the MENA market

On the eve of the inaugural Discop Dubai event, Yvonne Pilkington, senior VP of format sales and production at NBCUniversal International Formats, explains how content is evolving in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The creation of Discop Dubai last year reflected the growing appetite for high-quality content in the Middle East. Boasting an ever-increasing and diverse population, the region’s media industry is continually expanding as is demand for international formats.

Yvonne PilkingtonIn recent years, the likes of The Voice, Pop Idol and Top Chef have all experienced widespread success in the region. Although Western by their very nature, these shiny floor/reality shows have garnered mass appeal, triggering a growing drive from non-scripted sellers internationally. As is the case in most emerging markets, a solid track record and strong international ratings is still what makes a real difference to most buyers.

While in-studio entertainment formats are currently most popular, we anticipate the landscape will continue to evolve as SVOD platforms increasingly penetrate the market.

Opening up new avenues for western content, the changing nature of content consumption only poses further opportunity for sellers like us operating in the region. We are already for instance seeing interest in the structured reality genre across vibrant cities such as Beirut, Dubai and Cairo, which traditionally only gained traction in western markets.

As a huge growth market for studios everywhere, it is no surprise that a number of high-profile international sellers will be flooding to DISCOP this week, and rightly so given MENA is a market driven by relationships. We ourselves have been heavily focused on growing these in recent years to get to the heart of the key networks’ strategies and format requirements. Although these relationships take years to build and the market is growing day-by-day, there has never been a better time for western format specialists and distributors to be honing in on MENA.

Throughout the region, both producers and broadcasters also operate as distributors, as this is usually the way they put together the funding for the production of local scripted series. Often, they will line up around three to five broadcasters to deficit-fund each production.

Of course, this isn’t the simplest business model, but it also means that the same show will continue airing hundreds of episodes, which is the opposite of what is happening in the West at the moment, where we are seeing shorter runs.

Although the drama market continues to grow across the Middle East, viewing habits are still particularly traditional in keeping with its predominantly Islamic population. As a significant religious holiday, Ramadan has a major impact on demand for scripted content and its scheduling.

With families typically gathering together at home during this period, many hours of TV content are consumed, with an average of 26 to 44 episodes of each drama series produced and aired back-to-back.

With a complex market to navigate, relationships continue to be of utmost importance between buyers and sellers. Due to the way the industry operates, pan-regional deals are usually the norm, which means some of our format deals are co-productions between free TV and cable operators, or even a number of broadcasters all buying pre-sales and second windows after specific holdbacks.

Depending on the deals, we might even see many of the producers investing their own money in the production of these shows to later recoup long-term from second window sales.

The content market in MENA has always been fiercely competitive, particularly given the strong preference from buyers for local stories, local characters and simple plots. However, as the population continues to grow and diversify, so does the demand for a different kind of content, further driven by SVOD platforms and the internet in general, both reaching much wider and younger audiences.

Demonstrating our content has the potential to resonate with wide-scales audiences, these platforms have done wonders in expanding opportunity and reach. With such change on the horizon, there certainly could not be a better time to launch a content market in Dubai.

Discop Dubai is held at the Madinat Jumeirah Resort on January 29-31, 2017

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