Magazine article Screen International

UAE Box Office: Riding to the Rescue

Magazine article Screen International

UAE Box Office: Riding to the Rescue

Article excerpt

Hollywood films of every stripe can take the UAE box office at a canter. But specialist titles, except for Bollywood films, tend to fall at the first hurdle and are increasingly pinning their hopes on VoD. Colin Brown reports.

Ever wonder why the Middle East is often one of the first international territories to be sold when new film projects are unveiled to buyers at Cannes or American Film Market (AFM)?

Well, just listen to what Ryan Kavanaugh, CEO of Relativity Media, had to say at last month's AFM film finance conference: "We have seen growth in Europe and in the Middle East - massive growth. We're seeing it 10 times as much from the Middle East in the last three years."

Led by the UAE, the Gulf states are one of the world's most fiercely competitive film-watching regions, one where the three hungriest distributors - Gulf Film, Italia Film and Front Row Entertainment - can funnel as many as 600 titles to pay-TV networks between them in a year.

Just weeks ago, Relativity announced it was extending its Middle East distribution partnership with Gulf Film, under a multi-year agreement that covers rights across all media in the region for Relativity-produced and acquired titles as well as third-party pick-ups sourced through its international sales agency. When Relativity first started striking similar output deals across the world, it was able to cover as much as 50% to 70% of in-house production budgets through those collective agreements.

Now, as those deals are being renewed amid revenue jumps in territories such as the UAE, Turkey and South Korea, "We are now over 100% in many cases," marvels Kavanaugh.

Ever one to stay ahead of the industry's growth curves - Relativity was the first US studio to bypass the premium cable window in the US when it struck a 2010 deal with VoD platform Netflix to stream its films just months after their DVD release - Kavanaugh has hatched plans to create a "Relativity Middle East". The aim of this regional hub is to partner with local Arab producers to create a pipeline of original film, television and digital entertainment content.

Playing catch-up

That Gulf Film is now fully owned by Q Media, which itself works closely with Doha Film Institute, opens up intriguing possibilities, perhaps even as a much-needed co-producing or gap-financing entity in the Arab world. …

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