Around one in six independent films produced in the Arab world are “made in Qatar,” according to a new wide-ranging study looking at media trends in the Middle East.
The country is responsible for the funding and production of 17 percent of all Arab indie films, just behind France, Egypt and Lebanon who each produce 20 percent of the total market, findings from the Media Industries in the Middle East 2016 Report said.
The report, a joint initiative of Northwestern University in Qatar and Doha Film Institute (DFI), was launched this week during the annual Qumra film festival, which aims to support fledgling film talent in the region.
The research studies all genres of media across the Middle East, looking at trends such as newspaper circulation, which has remained relatively static unlike the rest of the world, and advertising revenues, which are down for magazines and newspapers but stable for TV and a growth area for digital.
Indie film funding
Using five years’ worth of data from DFI, researchers were able to look more closely at trends in filmmaking, particularly the independent sector.
“Our analysis of previously unreleased data compiled by the Doha Film Institute reveals a robust independent film scene in the Arab World, which reflects far greater diversity than the relatively homogeneous mainstream cinema that has been the custom in the Middle East,” the report states.
One of the key findings of the movie-making research is that more than a quarter (26 percent) of all independent film directors are female – twice the figure for mainstream films (13 percent).
Funding on average 43 films a year in the five years from 2011, DFI gives the most grants for independent films in the Arab world.
The Sanad Abu Dhabi Film Fund comes in second, with an average of 20 films given grants during the same time, the report shows.
“DFI is now one of the main funding bodies for film in the region, and the vast majority of film-makers apply to them for funding,” the report’s co-author Robb Wood told Doha News.
While Qatar fares well in terms of its investment in independent cinema, it still falls behind the other countries in the region in terms of creative talent and its nationals don’t feature in the study’s lists of most common nationalities of producers, directors or writers.
Internet TV growth
Trends regarding TV production, viewing and advertising across the region were another key area of study.
“TV in the region is expanding so fast, particularly the number of channels, and this is marked in internet protocol TV (IPTV),” Wood added.
Growth of IPTV (such as Netflix and Hulu) in the region, particularly in Gulf countries due to their faster internet, has outstripped the global average despite starting from a relatively low base, the report found.
Qatar’s beIN Sports is the region’s leading provider of pay tv, with around 1.9 million subscriptions, some way ahead of Emirates-based OSN’s 1.3 million subscriptions.
In Qatar and the UAE, the high percentage of expats has helped to drive up the penetration of pay TV to 80 percent.
But the MENA region as a whole only stands at 9 to 10 percent, which is “still far behind other markets” such as North America (80 to 85 percent) and Europe (55 to 60 percent), the report said.
Looking at digital developments, Qatar has the region’s second-highest level of internet penetration (90 percent), just behind the UAE (97 percent) and the third-highest mobile broadband subscription rate (77 percent), after the UAE (89 percent) and Saudi Arabia (85 percent).
Qatar’s website reach is also strong, with 65.07 million total unique views internationally per month – more than double the figure for its neighbor Saudi Arabia (24.35 million).
The most popular Qatar sites were overwhelmingly in the news and current affairs (98 percent) category, with a significant proportion of this likely to be Al Jazeera, Wood said.
While digital advertising revenue is growing in the region at nearly twice the rate of other markets in the world (at an annual compound growth rate of 39 percent), its share of the market is a long way behind.
“At the moment, regional advertising spend is still heavily focused on traditional media and when it comes to digital, ad spend is mostly funneled into websites. The relative share of mobile advertising, the fastest growing advertising platform in other markets, is relatively small in the region, despite its popularity with consumers,” the report states.