The change in production across the Mena region

Since the beginning, production has been known as a collaboration between expert professionals in their respective fields – from directors to producers, editors and more, with the ultimate goal of creating the best possible film or piece of content ever.

In the early 1990s in the MENA region, Lebanon and Egypt were at the forefront of creating many successful productions and campaigns targeted directly at television, which was the dominant platform for advertising. Clients and agencies understood that high-end production was a must to ensure commercials were of a high level – and implemented high standards, to ensure they were not lost among other brands.

Social media was then born – and everything changed. Platforms such as Vine and YouTube embraced amateur, videographer-style videos and when consumers started to engage with them, they became a success in their own right. Soon after, Instagram introduced its own video format, with TikTok soon following suite and becoming an incredibly popular platform in its own right.

This change shifted clients’ attention – and they started to concentrate more on the quantity of content, rather than the quality. For them, it became about presence over prestige which allowed the production format to change into a one-man show.

Previously, a videographer or editor would spend at least three days filming, editing and delivering content ahead of moving on to creating something new. With production, clients’ attention to detail was extremely important. Pre-production meetings could last up to 12 hours (if not longer) and every detail that would be included in the commercial would be presented. Today, it’s become more about the speed of delivery and simplifying content (to maximum effect) with minimal crew.

The biggest driver of change is the prominence of social media alongside the decline in live TV audiences. The loss of this captive audience is a result of the rise of DVR and OTT, which saw a huge drop in the number of people watching commercials on TV.  For context, DVR is Digital Video Recording and is available in the set-top boxes of your network provider. These allow you to record your shows and watch them at your convenience, allowing you to simply fast forward through the commercials. OTT is a direct-to-consumer video content platform such as Netflix, Amazon prime, Shahid, etc.

Concurrently, having the ability to choose and cater content to a specific audience versus a ‘spray and pray’ policy for TV saw a better ROI, not to mention the fact that digital advertising focused more on the content type, rather than content quality.

As the world began to shift further and further towards affordable, short-form content, production took a nosedive. However, the market soon evolved – and realised it needed something to differentiate brands from one another, hence the need for a change in the direction of production.

DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras were revolutionary and cheap, provided a great image, and were readily available. The Canon 5d as the most popular camera within the budget production and independent film market back in 2006 and 2007, along with RED cameras and the Alexa. Although the Alexa and RED have dominated more recently, the 5d was the most popular and budget-friendly.

The new era of production has what I would call two layers; one is the ‘run-and-gun’ content, such as reels and TikTok videos that are used by all brands – and the other is TVC scale productions, which are used by the bigger brands to stand out from the crowd. Although cheap short-form content is the most used, the most engaged and anticipated content is always the bigger, heartfelt productions for annual events such as Ramadan and Christmas, as well as Superbowl commercials.

Over the last five years, OTT has been the biggest driver of change in the MENA region. It has led to more regional long-form content, increasing the number of production companies, which in turn has led to producers wanting access to top-level equipment and skilled artists. All of this has translated towards the gold rush of MENA content production as the cost of access decreased due to the demand for equipment from TV show productions. Most TV shows are filmed within a span of 1-3 months which means the equipment is inactive for the rest of the year. This meant that even mid-tier commercials could rent and film on an Alexa or a RED camera as they became readily available.

In my opinion, the MENA region has overused the visual style of Wes Anderson. There was a point in time when almost every commercial was a comedy and had that specific desaturated look. The content we now see is a lot more diversified and has evolved in craftsmanship with most productions now having their own unique voice and life.

It has, however, truly developed over the last 15 to 20 years with productions using the latest technology to produce world-class results. The biggest reason for this is the ease of access to the latest technology and skilled craftsmen moving to the MENA region. I feel the MENA region has the biggest potential advantage as it is still a fairly new market and many of the younger brands are open to experimenting with new technologies and ideas for their campaigns. Everyone is constantly trying to exceed others and the competition is in a much healthier state.

Recently, we have seen the rise of AI-generated content and while they are still in the early stages, the results have been astonishing. I believe they will become useful tools in the next five to ten years, especially in the visual effects (VFX) space. I see AI being used as part of the workflow to reduce the costs and time needed for VFX artists to create their amazing work. For context, visual effects (VFX) is the process of creating computer-generated images that would normally either be very expensive to create or don’t physically exist in our world. For example, the world of Titan and the aliens in the Avengers or the elements of deep space in movies like Alien and Interstellar.

The next big thing is CTV and CTV advertising, but what is a CTV and how do you advertise on it? A Connected TV (CTV) is a device that connects to or is embedded in a television to support video content streaming. Simply put, it’s an Xbox, PlayStation, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, etc. that you watch your Netflix on.

What makes CTV advertising exciting? It leverages detailed targeting capabilities to allow advertisers to serve different ads to viewers streaming the same show on a connected TV device. It also offers in-depth analytics and brings back the captive audience as the ads are played while the person is streaming and is non-skippable.

With the emergence of CTV and consequently CTV advertising, within the next three to five years I expect to see more reliance on high-production value TV commercials – and with this, a further evolution of the art form of filmmaking and production across the globe. The biggest reason for this is the return of the captive audience, as most CTV ads cannot be overlooked.

With CTV advertising giving advertisers the ability to choose the content that will be advertised, the content in commercials will begin to mirror the shows and films to give people a seamless experience. For example, when watching an episode of Stranger Things, imagine if the advertisement during the episode mirrored the scene you were just on, it would flow seamlessly and further engage the audience, this is the level of control CTV advertising offers.

The biggest reason for my confidence is the CTV ad spend in the US alone is forecasted to exceed $26 billion dollars in 2023, which is an increase of 27.2 per cent from 2022, according to eMarketer. Also, according to a survey from Pixability, 76 per cent of agencies predict an increase in CTV spending in 2023.

Over the years, the production industry in the MENA region has undergone significant transformations. From the surge of social media and a decline in live TV viewership, to a shift in production focus and a higher demand for affordable, short-form content. Within this ever-changing landscape, the MENA region is poised to lead the industry in experimenting with new technologies and creative concepts.

By Elio El Chayeb, Head of Production at Socialeyez