The Fifth Cairo International TV and Radio Market and Festival (CAMAR TV '99), held from July 11-15 at the sprawling Cairo Convention Center, presented a world in itself of the growing Middle Eastern broadcasting and radio industry. The business of television and radio coincided with the presentation of more than 150 awards given to 730 competing radio and TV Arabic programs (prizes totaling approximately $75,000) at a glittering televised ceremony resembling the American Emmys.
Some of the more unusual awardees included Iraq Radio and Television, which came again for the first time after a considerable gap with a 20-person delegation and won five trophies in the field of radio; the revitalized Algerian TV, winning for best dramatic series (Algeria certainly has had dramatic years); a best script to the only Saudi Arabian woman TV director-producer, Miriam Mohammed; more than 20 awards for Syria television and its TV films their filmmakers have been using funding from television to make international award-winning films; and six coveted prizes for the four-year-old Palestine Broadcasting Corporation based in Ramallah and Jerusalem, whose chairman and Palestine Deputy Information Minister Radwan Abu Ayyah received a thunderous round of applause.
"We were happy to win so many awards this year, especially since we work with a shoestring budget of only $60,000 a month for all our four television channels," said Abu Ayyah, who had once been jailed one and a half years during the political upheaval in Palestine. He is also an author of three books and holds a PhD in English literature from Ipswich University in the U.K.
"Maybe we got so much applause for the fact that we are a new broadcasting group which is surviving under great challenges. There is $10 million in advertising generated each year, but that unfortunately does not go into our programming" it goes to the state. We are in the process of expanding to sell, especially our news documentaries, and hope to buy more programs."
The Cairo TV Market is generating more sales each year, according to its representatives. "The Market recorded $40 million in sales, compared with $28 million last year, with the Egyptian Radio and TV Union (ERTU) getting sales of $15 million," said Abdel Rahman Hafez, president of the Festival and chairman of ERTU. "There were more participants this year, with 26 Middle East broadcasters attending with 184 stands, showing an increased market for Arabic programming and more satellite channels in the Middle East."
The gracious host ERTU ran the market and, with the Ministry of Information, lavished traditional oriental hospitality on delegates including a dinner on the sets at the newly opened 6th of October Film and TV Studio.
Guests sampled its Disneyland-like theme park set in the shadows of the pyramids, watching a disco dance by dolphins and walruses in a Sea World stadium and then sipping tea, watching an elaborate music show and dining in the old Alexandria sets created by Mohammed Fadel for his last year's TV series about Alexandria in the l940s. His new film on the singer Umm Kulthoum will be released in the fall, he said. Like his first theatrical hit, Nasser 56, it is produced by Egyptian TV but he has the international theatrical rights.
Minister of Information Safwat Al Sherif proudly calls the 6th of October Studios his "creation" and said that he anticipates international TV and film companies using the burgeoning studio grounds. Since the runaway success of the film "The Mummy" by Stephen Sommers, perhaps the ancient Egyptian sets in the authenic desert will be a draw to TV and film producers.
The Market, guided by Zeinab Ezzat, International Marketing Director of ERTU, expertly directed the organized atmosphere, with tight schedulings, regular shuttle buses from hotels to the market and a strict reign on her employees. She is also an undersecretary in the Ministry of Information.
But like most Middle East business and like most of the TV and film world, deals were mainly conducted outside the Market, albeit almost exclusively in Arabic. "This market is a must for all those dealing with the Middle East," commented Paul Bolous, a sales executive with 30-year-old Beirut-based Trans World Television Corporation (TWT), a $20 million annual distributor of Hollywood majors like Disney, King World and CBS for the Middle East, headed by Hamaain Issam. Boulous was a diplomat with the Australian embassy before joining the world of TV and sometimes he needs these skills to negotiate these worlds.
"Although we attend all the TV markets like MIP and MIPCOM, this is a place to meet our customers and conclude deals. Business is not easy in the Middle East and every country has its own specifications. Sometimes you get rejected without knowing the reason; it could be just for a woman wearing flimsy clothing or a question of religion in the TV series. It is not difficult to make a sale, but it is the follow-up and getting the money. Luckily, we concluded our $100,000 deal with the Sultanate of Oman TV."
Fayez H. Weiss Al Sabbagh, Managing Director of the Saudia Arabia-based Young Future Entertainment, which provides dubbing for Hollywood companies like Fox, Turner and Warner, concurred on the vagaries in the Middle East region, explaining that "Dubbing has become more sensitive in some of the Middle Eastern countries and without changing the context of the script some of the more American expressions must be left out."
Although the noise level of blaring music from huge stands made it virtually impossible to do business within the convention walls, the deals seemed better orchestrated with aromatic cups of mint tea and strong Arabic coffee in a more conducive setting like the gardens of the hosting Marriott Hotel.
"Anyone who just takes a stand at a Middle East Market can not expect to do business immediately, since it's about contacts and gradual conclusions," said Mazen Rifka, International Sales Director of the Damascus-based Al Cham TV Film Company, who said Al Cham is the second largest buyer and seller of programs in the Middle East region. They have made 40 TV series and two films and have registered a 58% growth within three years.
"This is the most important TV Market in the Middle East since it is an annual event for Middle East television and satellite, unlike markets in Tunisia and Dubai. In this kind of festival we continue with old contacts and start new ones.' It was interesting to meet new broadcasters like the Andalus International TV, which has set up an Arabic channel in the resort area of Marabella, Spain, chaired by Sheikh Mohammed Ahmed Al-Asmawy and doing business with the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation.'"
But for some of the Egyptian participants, it was a "lazy market" where booths opened late and company owners did not attend, except for the first day. They complained when Information Minister Al Sherif inaugurated the impressive stands, some decorated with elaborate furniture, technical equipment and Persian carpets. "A lot of the stands were all for show, not substance. This year's market was lazy, since we did not have many people come to us except those who we called," commented Mohammed Omar Mashaal, general manager of Cairo-based Al Nour Company for Audio Visual, which sells and produces mostly Arabic radio and TV programs. "We hope to export more Arabic radio programs and TV abroad, but at the Market, it was more for contacts than actual buying and selling."
Despite the Arabic thrust to the Market (no English translations at most events), there were ten participants from the west, including the 150-year-old German company Siemens BSE, which had the "highest stand at the market (their boards hovering high above everyone else)," according to Harold Tuachnitz, development chief for what he calls Siemen's 20-year-old "daughter" BFE. He was joined by six sales directors from BFE, who came from Austria and Germany.
"When we saw that 28 heads of Arab channels were present at the opening ceremony of the Market, we knew this was a vital market to attend. But although none of these chiefs actually came to our stand, we realize that BFE must appoint a representative in Cairo," said Tauchnitz, who promotes BFE's range of TV equipment, studio and training programs around the Middle East, Asia and Russia. "If you want to go to the Arab market, you must participate and meet the people, just like business in Latin America and Russia, where we just completed a $170 million TV project, setting up TV mobile vans and providing equipment."
"We do what the client wants and we understand the various climatic environments which can affect the equipment. If one thinks of us as costly, remember that you do save in the end by using equipment that has a back-up system."
Sales Manager Michael Edwards of the very British company Screen Subtitling Systems from the heart of England, Ipswich, said enthusiastically that the Middle East has become an important market for their 35-person company located in an office building called the Old Rectory Church. "We started in the l970s as a Swedish-backed company, primarily for subtitling, and have seen a growth with DVD and the new digital and language systems," said Michael Edwards. "The market seems to be increasing for Arabic television, and we just signed with Dubai Television for subtitling for Showtime and Discovery. This is definitely an important region and we expect that subtitling will be an important area for many of the programs, especially for DTH coming into the region."
Those who miss their Egyptian or even Italian, Greek or ethnic programming when in Australia could contact the stand of Television and Radio Broadcasting Services (TARBS) based in Pymont, Australia, which participated for the first time at the Market. "TARBS brings channels from all over the world to the ethnic Australian communities like Italians and Greeks in a package for about $20 a month, and we're currently taking the satellite channels in Egypt, uniting one Arab world," said Mike Boulous, the Egyptian chairman of the $40 million company which he started 30 years ago. "We are in the middle of talks with other Arabic stations, like in Lebanon, to buy their channels for our small but active Middle East community living in Australia."
At the Cairo TV Market, one had a chance to speak to participants like Lyes Belaribi, a veteran in television in Algeria, who said that violence seems to be on the wane in the country known to kill TV and media journalists. "Terrorism in Algeria is abating and with more oil money now in Algeria, the television is expanding," commented Belaribi, director of programs for Algerian TV. "France had provided money and co-productions but now we are getting our own identity for television, buying new shows, and we have a sports channel."
And where else could one meet the only woman Saudi Arabian director, Miriam Mohammed, who won the Grand Prize for her script for the Saudi Arabian based TV series that she also directed, appropriately called "The Woman Who Faces the Challenge." "I suppose I am the only woman in Saudi Arabia doing television because there are no other interests in the field for women so far," said the youthful looking attractive 50-year-old director/producer/writer. "I have been a TV presenter, actress, author of three books and consistent writer for series like this 30-episode TV show on the different challenges Saudi Arabian women have faced for the past 50 years."
Miriam Mohammed said that since the age of 12 she has been writing scripts and penning radio programs and so has been accepted in this most conservative society. "Generally they don't like women to work in Saudia Arabia, or involve themselves in the television area, so of course it was difficult, but I believe if you have the will, you can do what you really want to do there is a way," said Miriam, speaking at the Marriott Hotel garden caf, where delegates buzzed around the spacious grounds. She had kept her telephone off the hook all day, saying that people were "bothering" her as she had become a popular person to interview. "This is a good step for not only me, but also for Saudi Arabian television programs, and perhaps now in the future, I will be able to do an international project with Saudi Arabia and other countries like the USA."
In the end, "globalization" was the key word from Yusuf Chahine's Cannes Un Certain Regard entrant "Al-Akhar" (The Other) which premiered at the Festival's opening, providing a surreal attack on the concept of global power and sexual conquest, to the Minister of Information's declaration of increased Arabic TV programming.
"This Market represents how in the past 15 years, the Egyptian TV and satellite channels have grown to promote our own television and increased satellite penetration in every corner around the world," said Minister Al Sherif. "With the Arabic language, we have succeeded in preparing future globalization and dealing with other cultures."
Minister Al Sherif gave an erudite 30-minute reply to just one question on the globalization of Egyptian and Arabic television. He traced the history of Egyptian television, from being the first Arab country to set up an Arab satellite in l990 and covering the Gulf War to its current leading position. "We must have the right to choose, with no censorship concerning the satellite TV dish," said the minister impassionately, perhaps with subtle reference to the recent banning of satellite dishes in Qatar and Saudi Arabia and attacks against Egypt's more liberal television style. "We have to keep the balance. Egypt is the traditional leader in the Arab world of cultural programs and shows and our increasing satellite network which can be seen from Latin America, Africa to the United States."
The executive board of the Arab TV Union, headed by its Algerian president Abdelkader Lalni and Director General Abdelhafidy Herguan of Tunisia, had its first meeting of l999, with a three-day meeting following CAMAR TV 99, at the Marriott Hotel. They discussed various issues including the Olympics broadcast in the Middle East and an upcoming UN-sponsored Arabic TV conference in October, which will delve into many of the topics that were discussed in Cairo.
This was followed by an Arabic TV programming meeting with 35 programmers and television directors, making the Cairo TV and Radio Market '99 complete for its final year of this century. Perhaps the globalization direction of the Market and Festival will play a unifying role in the Middle East TV and radio world.