Egypt's hitherto thriving TV production industry, aimed through satellite channels at the local market especially during the month of Ramadan, faced a crisis of sorts this year with drastic cuts in production budgets as a result of falling advertising revenues. However, the US giant Netflix appears to have stepped in at the right time, announcing a major original series to be shot in Egypt for international distribution. Will this boost the local industry or hinder it?
Egypt, especially prior to the revolution of January 2011, attracted considerable foreign investment in manufacturing, agriculture, tourism and petroleum, but, with the entrance of Netflix, this is the first time it has attracted such a huge investment in TV drama production.
Netflix announced its entry into the Egyptian market through a press release on 23 May 2019. It said that it had chosen Beyond Nature, one of the bestselling novels by the late Ahmed Khaled Tawfiq, as a basis for its first made-in-Egypt serial.
The global network named Mohamed Hefzy, chairman and owner of the Film Clinic for Film Production facility and president of the Cairo International Film Festival, as executive producer for Beyond Nature. Arar Salama will direct the series. Hefzy announced on 2 July that the script and casting was being given the final touches.
As Egyptian TV drama production depends mainly on Egyptian satellite channels buying TV series for the month of Ramadan, Egyptian producers were forced to cut production costs for the Ramadan 2019 season because of the mid-2018 decision by the Chamber of the Audiovisual Industry, representing all Egyptian TV channels, to set an E50m [pounds sterling] ($3m) maximum limit on purchasing any series for the first and exclusive showing during the month of Ramadan.
Cost cuts cast a dark shadow
The impact of this drastic budget reduction cast a shadow over more than 2m Egyptians working in the TV series production sector. The production companies have dispensed with the services of thousands of workers or reduced their wages.
They have also cut the wages of TV star actors by 50%.
Under the cost reduction policy also, the total cost of Ramadan productions was also cut to E1.2bn [pounds sterling] ($72m), according to Sayed Fathi, Director of the Cinema Industry Chamber at the Federation of Egyptian Industries. Earlier it had been E1.8bn [pounds sterling] ($108m) for the production of around 362.5 hours of TV drama for the 2018 Ramadan season...