- By Region
The Ramadan festival observed by Muslims the world over is unlikely to conjure thoughts of Everybody Loves Raymond, the US television sitcom about a dysfunctional family from Long Island, New York.
Yet the month-long festival has become a launch pad in the Middle East for the latest series of a new Arabic version of the show, made by Sony Pictures Television.
Sony is at the forefront of Hollywood’s charge into the Middle East, opening offices in Beirut, Dubai and Cairo.
The company has embraced Ramadan as the most significant time of the year to launch programmes, when working hours are shorter and people stay up late and spend more time with their families. Sony will premiere five new shows over the month-long festival, which ends on August 18.
“Hollywood is waking up to the fact that this is an untapped market,” says Jawad Abbassi, founder of Arab Advisors Group, a specialised Amman-based consultancy.
Ziad Kebbi, president of Sony Pictures Television Arabia, says: “We’re targeting a region where people don’t have much access to entertainment…there is little cinema so they turn to TV.
“The peak viewing period really starts the hour before they break the fast and they want to kill some time,” says Mr Kebbi.
With high viewing figures across the region during Ramadan, advertising budgets also increase.
Mr Kebbi says advertisers spend about the same as they spend throughout the rest of the year. “This drives competition for broadcasters, who want the best shows for the advertising grid. It’s the most critical month of the year.”
In the US, the peak viewing season starts in the autumn, when broadcasters launch their new schedules. Yet the US market does not have an equivalent 30-day concentrated period when all its new programming hits the airwaves.
Santino Saguto, a partner in Deloitte’s Middle East telecoms, media and technology practice, says: “Ramadan represents a peak in Arabic content viewership in the Arab region.”
Regional studios tend to launch drama mini-series during Ramadan known as mosalsalat in Arabic. Traditionally many of these have been produced in Syria and Egypt but business is also shifting to Dubai, where the ease of operating has helped studios to flourish.
According to Mr Kebbi, while Ramadan used to be dominated by scripted shows, reality shows and light entertainment have now become an established part of the mix.
The programmes being made by Sony all have a 30-episode run so that they can be broadcast in multiple countries on each night of Ramadan.
is launching two sitcoms – including the Arabic version of Everybody loves Raymond – an Arabic version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, an interview show called The Desk, and a chat show based on female celebrities. It is due to launch an Arabic version of The Voice singing show in the autumn.
It can only get bigger, says Andrea Wong, president of international production at Sony Pictures Television. “We have a vibrant business in Russia, we’re growing our Brazil business and we have a joint venture in China. But Middle East, in my opinion, is the biggest growth market that we have in the next five years.”