The Doha Film Institute (DFI) and Northwestern Uni have teamed up once again on a major new study that shows the shifting media landscape in the Middle East. The new study, unveiled today at DFI’s Qumra forum, revealed a number of key findings, including in the region’s two biggest theatrical markets, Egypt and Lebanon, Arabic-language films earned more at the box office per title than international films. Research also showed that indie Arabic films were twice as likely to have female directors as well as include more countries of production than their mainstream counterparts. There had also been a sharp rise in the number of TV channels available in the region in the years after 2012, with the pay TV providers enjoying a two-thirds increase in subscriptions. That final statistic will be welcome news to the likes of Netflix, Starz and Qatari pay TV platform beIN, all of whom are new entrants into region’s pay TV market.

In a wide-ranging presentation, that also included an on-stage debate featuring local film biz professionals Mohammed Hefzy, founder of indie banner Film Clinic; Hania Mroue, founder of the Metropolis cinema and Gianluca Chacra, managing director of UAE-based distributor Front Row, execs from Northwestern gave a lay of the land.  Digital revenues are increasing across the board and to a general expansion of channels and offerings across all sectors, including broadcast, print, and digital media. The new content also tends to represent a wider variety, created by a broader diversity of content producers.

The UAE has the most cinema screens across the Middle East, with 374, despite having a population less than a quarter of Egypt, which has only 295 screens serving a population of over 80 million. In research that highlighted again the dominance of Egyptian cinema in the region and also blasts away any notion of a pan-Arab cinema industry, 99.9% of box office grosses in Egypt for Arabic films were earned by Egyptian films, leaving only 0.1% for all other Arabic films in the country. In the UAE, 96% of Arabic cinema grosses were earned by Egyptian films. In Lebanon, 64% of theatrical grosses for Arabic films were earned by Lebanese films, with 28% going to Egyptian films.

Interestingly, total box office grosses in Egypt for Arabic and non-Arabic films were split down the middle at $22 million each, despite there being limits on how many prints (eight) non-Egyptian films are allowed to be released on. In the UAE, the split was more prominent, with the lion’s share of grosses being earned by non-Arabic films. Hollywood and Bollywood are equally popular in the UAE.

A lengthy on-stage debate between the panelists laid out once again the challenges of independent Arabic cinema finding a home with theatrical audiences in the Arabic world, with the hope that new platforms such as Netflix could offer viewers a new way to see that content, despite some filmmakers’ preference for their films to be seen on the big screen.

“Our most recent collaboration with Northwestern has produced a significant piece of research that presents new and informative insights on the regional media landscape which will bring tremendous value to the industry,” said DFI chief exec Fatma Al-Remaihi. “At DFI, we have been strong advocates for promoting Arab voices through the medium of film. It is heartening to see from the study that the emergence of new systems, entities and collaborations across the region has contributed to an increase in the number of films being produced. It is imperative that we sustain this momentum through more co-productions and joint venture initiatives to meet the growing appetite for Arab content in the region.”