Unprotected: Peak season Ramadan Arabic dramas – by H Consult’s Heba Korayem

Last year, more than 80 per cent of these Arabic assets landed on pirate websites, significantly affecting their profitability, explains H Consult’s Heba Korayem

By Heba Korayem, content market and distribution – Arabic entertainment, H Consult

Last year, close to 200 brand new Arabic series were released on April 1 for consumption during Ramadan- most of them either 15 or 30 episodes each.  The budget for producing and marketing these tradeable video assets collectively was estimated to be around half a billion dollars. The upcoming Ramadan TV season starts around March 23, 2023,  and a similar pattern will occur.


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The B2C distribution of most of these high value video assets, or what we call musalsalat (series) are controlled by only a few platforms like Shahid, WatchIt!, OSN, TOD and Jawwy. In some instances advertising-based video on demand platforms like Weyyak and Viu, Awaan and ADTV would manage to secure streaming rights to a couple of cool titles that would ultimately make the jobs of their ad sales teams a bit easier. 

Last year, more than 80 per cent of these Arabic assets landed on pirate websites, affecting the profitability of the entire Arabic content production ecosystem. To put it in perspective, Kuwaiti sociocultural drama Bibi, for example, was found on almost 9,000 points of illegal distribution – that’s 9,000 websites carrying good-quality episodes that viewers can enjoy from anywhere in the world.

Regional platforms seem to save their antipiracy resources for the assets where strict international copyright clauses are enforced, such as sports rights or valuable western releases. 

This is understandable, given that the cost of protecting content can eat up more than 100 per cent of a regional platform’s average revenue per user – due to the region’s generally low subscription prices and low advertising cost per thousand (CPM) – creating a cycle that explains why Arabic content production is underfunded as an industry.  

With this in mind, did we reach a point where Arabic content is so undervalued to the extent that it’s not even worth protecting? 

To find the answer, we joined forces with Vestigit, a Poland-based security company that recently won a research and development grant worth €4m to develop AI-based content protection software.  The study was about the impact of piracy on Arabic series released during the Ramadan season.  

The analysis included tracking the entire list of first-run Arabic series Ramadan releases. The study highlighted the top 10 Arabic pirate websites, which alone were responsible for delivering 40 per cent of the traffic of all illegally consumed peak season releases. What is interesting is that 80 per cent of all the Ramadan titles offered during this period on these websites were leaked from the regional OTT services. 

To try and get a realistic estimate of dollar values that these pirates make, we took a closer look at two things: volume and territory. Volume for scalability and territory for CPM values; with the assumption that the main source of revenues for the pirates come from ad placements.

According to a URL traffic tracking tool, each of these websites in Ramadan receives between 1.2 million and 2.5 million visits: eyeballs that are there specifically to watch those Arabic releases. This translates to approximately 20 million valuable, sound-on, large screen-type ad impressions that could’ve been harboured by legitimate OTT services. Keeping in mind that this is a very conservative calculation measuring only the top 10 websites responsible for less than half of Ramadan piracy traffic – actual figures go well into billions of impressions. 

Now that we’ve established that there are enough eyeballs for scale, the next part is to figure out where the traffic is coming from, for CPM values. 

The URL traffic tracker reveals an expected trend: the top three countries contributing to this piracy traffic are the population-dense countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Algeria. The unusual observation is the fact that almost a third of the countries contributing to piracy traffic of Arabic Ramadan drama series are western countries like Germany, the UK and the US – where advertising CPM values are up to 20 times higher. On average, a pirate would make a conservatively calculated $100,000 per title per month. 

If Arabic content is in sufficiently high demand abroad, where problems such as credit card penetration, internet bandwidth, and willingness to pay for content aren’t a concern, the demonstrated 30 per cent foreign demand for Arabic content lost to piracy becomes a worrisome atrophy for the Arabic entertainment trade.

The bigger problem isn’t just the million or so dollars that pirates are making from Arabic content illegally consumed abroad.  It’s the fact that these eyeballs are significant but aren’t measurable; they can’t be used as evidence for success or for financial projections. They aren’t used to encourage international entities to further invest in acquiring broadcast rights of Arabic content and consequently to be properly valued and traded in international content markets.