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Thursday, 05 August 2021

Egypt's Generation Z as main consumers of films, drama series on digital platforms

YouTube, Netflix, Watchit, Shahid, Dailymotion, and TikTok attract an increasing number of Gen Z viewers, while many provide them with a platform to create their own content

May Selim, Thursday 7 Jan 2021
Saheb Al-Maqam
Still from Saheb Al-Maqam
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Aged between 10 and 24 years old, they no longer watch television. This generation is happy watching their favorite videos, television series, talk shows, and movies through electronic platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, Watchit, Shahid, Dailymotion, TikTok, etc.

Taking photographs or creating a video with one’s smart phone camera has become a regular practice, which allowed members of Generation Z (Gen Z), also known as zoomers, to become stars over night.

“These young people find pleasure in moving between different broadcasting and downloading applications,” comments film critic Mohamed Atef to Al-Ahram Hebdo.

He adds that “the digital platforms try to meet the needs of zoomers and offer them a variety of choices in order to attract them. Those young people become their dedicated consumers.”

He adds that “the process of artistic creation is based on the work, the medium, and the receiver. Today, the order has simply changed. The platforms in question start with the receiver and his wishes,” Atef explains.

Al-Haress (The Guardian), Saheb Al-Maqam, Nemra Etnein (Number Two), etc. are striking examples of such recent productions, broadcast exclusively online. Shown on Shahid, the streaming platform, launched by the pan-Arab channel MBC. They attract a large audience, especially zoomers.

Al-Haress is a movie directed by Mohamed Nader and produced especially for Shahid. Similarly, Saheb Al-Maqam, a work of fiction by Mohamed Al-Adl, premiered on the same platform, given the closure of cinemas due to the pandemic. The Nemra Etnein series, consisting of eight separate episodes, each with a different cast and director, was also very successful.

“Sometimes the quality of the productions is quite average, but they respond to the public’s tastes, including zoomers, which prefers content that they can watch on laptops,” Atef believes. 

As he explains, in such productions, there is no need for large zooms or gigantic panoramic frames, neither is a high-quality image with original frames required. 

“This is not a pessimistic view, but rather a realistic one,” he says, adding that the silver lining comes with the bigger freedom, “as they are far from the grip of censorship. Of course, the content presented on the various Arab platforms remains safe and does not tackle taboo subjects. These platforms are often owned by Arab producers who practice self-censorship. They follow the model of the American platforms, opting mainly for videos, and films of suspense and horror which attract zoomers.”

Al-Haress
Still from Al-Haress

Cinema in crisis

What is the prospect for film production in the presence of these platforms, which seem to hold the future? Do they threaten the seventh art as we have known it? How do the diktats of the medium and zoomers affect the production? 

“Not only in Egypt, but in the whole world, cinema is going through a crisis. In the United States, Spain, Italy, etc., the films produced are less important, for lack of quality subjects and scripts. Add to that the spread of COVID-19 which locked people in their homes,” comments Doaa Fathi, professor at the Higher Institute of Cinema. 

She adds that “in Egypt, young people or adolescents between the ages of 16 and 17 do not often have the freedom to go to the movies alone. Some families still do not approve of it. A few of them can’t afford to spend around EGP 200 on tickets and snacks. Digital platforms come as a solution, a tool at their fingertips. Moreover, producers and filmmakers in Egypt no longer want to embark on the adventure like some of their predecessors. At the Film Institute, students learn how to create films using digital cameras. In such cases, we no longer use negatives that can live for more than 100 years.”

Fathi deplores the current phase of transition but remains hopeful and bets on time. 

“Cinema is not going to disappear. It will experience a boom. Digital platforms will develop further, as will the quality of their production. Today, around the world, there are two versions of every movie: one for the cinema screen and one for online platforms viewed on cellphones. The situation is not that bad. And there are still young zoomers who like to go to the movies. There will certainly be a way out,” comments Mona Rabie, an editor who was part of the Nemra Etnein series crew.

For the moment, the platforms on the market impose their subjects and their techniques, but everything is evolving to attract young consumers. Because these platforms follow the logic of “consumers” and not that of contents or productions.

2 X Fisconifa
Still from 2 X Fisconifa

Stars of a new genre

Thanks to certain digital platforms, young zoomers are able to express themselves freely by filming their own content. With a single click, the video is posted online. This is the case with YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, etc. Through these applications, young people impose their rules. They toy with the cameras and produce their own reality show. 

“TikTok, for example, pays young people who manage to film themselves online for 16 continuous hours and who attract more than 10,000 followers. It is truly catastrophic!” Mohamed Atef warns.

Regardless of the “stars’” or “influencers’” rating, with a certain number of views, these young people are making money and getting noticed. 

Shady Sourour’s videos, the Halim and Amal series, the 2 X Fisconifa programme, the Voluntary Prison series, etc., introduced us to several talents from Gen Z. 

“I am a directing student at the Higher Institute of Cinema. With some friends, I started to introduce online services to small customers at moderate prices. I created an agency called Tlifreec. We create music videos, commercials, and shows that we post on our Facebook page. For us, it is a way to exist as a medium without being challenged by the constraints of the market, controlled by large companies and professional agencies,” explains Sherif Ragab, who is working on a series of videos titled 2 X Fisconifa, with the cast consisting of his friends and colleagues. The series addresses a wide variety of societal topics and creates parodies of famous talk shows.

In collaboration with the same agency, Mohamed Saeed, one of Gen Z’s favorite singers, produced the music video Ragaa Tani Leh (Why Are You Coming Back?) and posted it on YouTube. Having reached more than two million views, the young singer started to make enough money to self-finance his next songs, and as such launch a career without resorting to traditional channels.

Volunteer Prison is a drama series on YouTube, performed by young students of the Faculty of Business of Ain-Shams University. Under the direction of their mentor, uthor, and director, Mahmoud Gamal, these young people also succeeded in reaching zoomers.

“Why are we afraid that these young people reveal their talents? The more talented will continue, and the less talented will eventually disappear,” comments Rabie.

Despite their low artistic level, this content expresses aloud the desires of an entire generation. 

“Cinema around the world began with individual adventures. The Institute of Cinema in Egypt was established in 1959. All the experiments leading up to that date were the work of extremely talented artists, even if they took place outside the institutional framework. This can also be applied to the current experiments of zoomers; they can lead to something different. We just need the perspective of time to be able to judge,” Doaa Fathi concludes 

*This article was originally published in Al Ahram Hebdo, in French, 6 January 2021 edition. Additional edit: Ahram Online.

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