The Mipcom Market in Cannes (October 8-18, 2003) provides one of the best opportunities among the international TV markets to sell and buy television programming, according to most professionals in the television industry. Egypt TV has been attending for more than 20 years, but almost failed to take the Riviera plunge this year.
"We decided at the last moment to go to Mipcom because we realized there would be various Arab TV and other representatives there," said Egypt Radio and Television Union (ERTU) international marketing director Maha Darwish, coming with ERTU CEO Hassan Hamid with a special Egyptian booth designed to enhance its image.
"It is important to give Egyptian TV a global presence and sell to Arab channels attending at the beginning of our program schedule. We are marketing new social drama series made for Ramadan like 'Aunt Nour' and 'White on White' at the start of our programming schedule. Our most popular soap operas, 'Heart and Dilemma' starring actress Yousra and 'Amina from Al Geen,' are bought by Arab channels around the world.
"There were many factors contributing to our change of world direction because we thought our own CAMAR TV had been the place for the Middle East to make this penetration but there is a new president of the Economic Sector and we are also initiating a special system of distribution."
In September, ERTU appointed a new economic director, Aleya Gohar, the first time a woman has been in this position. Her office declined an interview with TBS and other media for the next few weeks, however, claiming the need for more time to focus on new policies. "This step is encouraging for more changes in transnational directions," said Darwish, who would like an increased international role for Egypt TV.
But some two years'-worth of unpaid bills might have to be settled by Egypt TV, according to one Egypt TV sales rep, who said that companies like Carlton, BBC, and Freemantle TV, are waiting for remuneration, holding up deals for Warner, Fox, UA, and Paramount to sell to Egypt TV. Darwish counters that Egypt TV has also not been paid and that bills are being cleared.
The increased representation of Arab channel at Mipcom reflects the growing TV and satellite penetration in the Arab region, which is currently estimated to contain more than 150 free-to air and 50 pay-per-view channels. Satellite revenues have reflected this increase, doubling since last year to an annual take of about $1 billion, according to Nour TV president Tarek Nour, who estimated half revenue comes from Saudi Arabia with 40 percent from MBC, followed by Lebanese Future, LBC TV, Al Jazeera, and Dream TV, along with satellite channels from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Nour's "Star Maker" is the leading TV show in Egypt, with its making of a pop star following the successful formula of shows in the West.
Local versus Global Content
Egyptian TV music channels such as Melody and Rotana chose not to participate in Mipcom, citing reasons from Egyptian pound-dollar depreciation to preference for locally produced programming, according to Magida Kotb, program director of Egypt's private channel El Mihwar. Mohamed Al-Gazaz, CEO of Egypt's other private channel Dream TV, told TBS, "We won't visit Mipcom this year because our strategy is to use more locally produced programs."
ART channels also did not go the Riviera route. condensing Arabic content by launching ART Aflam ("ART Movies") 1 and 2 while Showtime's Al-Shasha ("Screen") channel also featured Arabic films. Some TV shows for Egyptian audiences are being rethought, according to Egyptian TV representatives, and once popular local talk shows are scoring low ratings with viewership. The audiences are showing a preference for news channels, reflecting the viewer rating increase for Al Jazeera, Abu Dhabi, and Al Arabiya news channels, with Egypt TV and Nile TV reformatting news to compete.
"I wanted to attend Mipcom to represent American and European children's and Arabic-dubbed animated series to sell to Arabic TV stations," said Raymond Iskander, CEO of Cairo-based Laser Productions, "but I decided at the last minute to cancel attendance. It is getting difficult to place films on Egypt TV with fewer slots, down from 300 to 50 films and more censorship with even films like 'Topkapi' presently rejected due to its portrayal of Turkish policemen. Repeats of foreign series are being used, making Egypt TV boring."
Laser is Egypt's largest agent for international programs including National Geographic Television, BBC Worldwide TV, ABC Australia, RACTI Emirates, 20th Century Fox TV, and Granada TV, to mention just a few. Iskander told TBS that a global perspective is needed to increase sales of Egyptian programming such as the National Geographic TV shows on Egyptian archeology.
New pan-Arab satellite TV channels like MBC English entertainment Channel 2 in Bahrain are looking for youth-oriented Hollywood programs and movies for the Arab market, according to Channel 2 chief Tim Riordan, who said in an interview that "there is a new market in the Arab region for English programming geared for an Arab audience."
The universally common factor is music, as reflected by Egypt TV's growing music channels, from the music star searches to music videos on music channels Melody Hits, Mazzika, and Rotana (owned by one-time Michael Jackson partner Saudi Prince Al Waleed Ibn Talal).
"Our strategy is to produce new entertainment programs to diversify," said Frederic Giccardo, Founoon Distribution's president, running Mazzika. "At the next Mipcom we will seek European music shows to give our channel a fresh look and accelerate the launch of Mazzika 2."
The global reach of the new channels interfaces with Egypt TV's vision, according to Maha Darwish, who said Egypt TV will increase its news and music programming. This vision extends the continuing transnational broadcasting orientation of the region.