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Middle East ‘poised to make its mark on global content landscape,’ says TV boss

DUBAI: Last month, Dubai-based production company Blue Engine Studios unveiled Nabil Soueid as the new chairman of its board and majority shareholder, as part of its strategy to bolster growth and expand its production of diverse scripted, unscripted and short-form content for regional and international platforms.

The business launched in late 2021 with the aim of targeting pan-Arab digital media, linear TV and the expanding streaming market. It was co-founded by CEO Ziad Kebbi, along with industry veteran Hani Ghorayeb who left the company last month shortly before Soueid was appointed.

“Nabil brings a wealth of experience and a deep understanding of the television industry, both regionally and globally,” Kebbi told Arab News.

As the company works to bring “incredible stories to life through our distinctive approach to content production” and carve out “a unique position” in the market, Soueid’s insights will be valuable, he added.

In late 2021, the company formed an exclusive partnership with Dutch media conglomerate Talpa Concepts, developing what it describes as a robust format catalog that includes the recent global game show sensation “The Floor.”

Now, Blue Engine Studios is entering a new phase that involves “sharpening our focus on innovative television programming,” said Kebbi.

“Our vision for Blue Engine Studios is to be at the forefront of producing compelling, high-quality content that not only entertains but also creates a deep connection with our audiences across different platforms, tapping into both regional sensibilities and global storytelling techniques.”

The media landscape has become more cluttered in recent years, he added, and to stand out, streamers must “deliver unique, quality content, provide exceptional user experiences and, perhaps most importantly, create an emotional connection with their audiences through stories that resonate.”

This is why the company has adopted a collaborative approach, working with local, regional and international streaming services, Kebbi said.

“We aim to create content that aligns with their brand and audience, while maintaining the integrity and uniqueness of our creative vision.”

Soueid noted that audiences in the Middle East are diverse and there is demand for both local and international content.

“Content consumption in our region is multifaceted,” he said. “While there’s a significant appetite for local content that resonates culturally, international formats adapted for regional audiences, like ‘The Voice,’ have also been very successful.”

In response to this audience demand, international streaming services such as Netflix have made significant investments in the region, through training programs and funding.

This “interest in developing the talent pipeline in the region is a positive sign” that “signals growth in the regional talent pool, opening up opportunities for local storytellers and creators to showcase their work on a global platform,” Kebbi said.

In addition, governments in the region are investing in the media and entertainment sectors to further support the development and growth of talent. Last month, for example, MEFIC Capital, in collaboration with Roaa Media Ventures, launched the Saudi Film Fund with an initial capital injection of SR375 million ($100 million), 40 percent of its funding coming from the Kingdom’s Cultural Development Fund. The aim of the fund is to bolster international partnerships with major studios and deliver content that reflects Saudi culture and values.

“Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has been a catalyst for talent development and production in the Kingdom,” said Kebbi. This focus on media and entertainment “has given rise to a new generation of creators and an infrastructure supportive of high-quality production,” he added.

With shows from around the world such as “Squid Game,” from South Korea, and “Money Heist,” from Spain, increasingly making their mark on the global stage, Hollywood is perhaps no longer quite as dominant a force in quality content as it once was.

In fact, the era of “peak TV” might be over, according to 17 entertainment-industry executives, agents and bankers who recently spoke to Reuters.

“I think there will be a significant retrenchment in the quantity of content and the amount spent on content,” one veteran TV executive told the news agency.

Could this present producers in the Middle East with the perfect opportunity to step up their presence on the international stage? Kebbi certainly believes so.

The region “is poised to make its mark on the global content landscape,” he said. “With strategic investments, nurturing of local talent, and stories that resonate universally, the region has the potential to follow in the footsteps of South Korea, Spain and India in becoming a global content hub.”

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