Media in the Arab world has been diversifying steadily over the past few years with the entrance of numerous local and international content channels in the regional market, according to a study by Northwestern University in Qatar and the Doha Film Institute .
"This report shows that the number of media channels has increased and that the content they offer has not only expanded, but also diversified – across all sectors, including broadcast, digital media, and event print. This content has come from a wider range of different sources, including new local and international players not typically associated with the industry in the Middle East," the overview of the report says.
While previous research has shown that audiences in the Arab world are hungry for content more closely related to their specific cultures, the market has generally been driven by the mainstream regional and international producers. However, according to the study, "The recent expansion of channels, Internet infrastructure, and services has coincided with increased content offerings [and] may be dissolving the disconnect between what audiences in the Middle East want and the media they can access."
Region's independent film scene on the rise
The report found that while blockbuster local and international films still dominate the cinema market, the Arab world definitely has a burgeoning independent film scene as well. "While independent films are typically under-represented or excluded from the offerings in mainstream cinemas, taken as a whole they more closely represent the demographics and cultures of the region."
More than 75 percent of mainstream Arabic films are produced in Egypt followed by Lebanon at 15 percent. However, when it comes to independent films – classified for the purposes of the study as having a budget of $1,000 to $5 million – the distribution is more proportional. Egypt, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates each respectively produce 20 percent of the total independent film output. The rest of independent Arabic productions hail from throughout the Arab world, with some also produced by Germany, France and Canada.
Interestingly, independent Arabic films are also "twice as likely to have female directors and originate in a far wider range of countries than their mainstream cinema counterparts." Some 26 percent of independent films are directed by women in the Arab world as opposed to only 13 percent of mainstream films.
As the study has revealed, countries like the UAE and Qatar have made a strong push to increase funding for young and independent filmmakers within the region. These efforts have seen the likes of Jordan's "Theeb" and the UAE's "Zinzana" find significant international success. With constantly increasing avenues for young directors to secure funding in the region as well as venues to showcase their films, the local film scene is set to continue to develop and transform.