Rise Studios aims to raise the region globally, says co-founder Amanda Turnbull

Rise Studios aims to raise the region globally, says co-founder Amanda Turnbull
Rise Studios officially launched last month. (Supplied)
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Updated 18 November 2022

Rise Studios aims to raise the region globally, says co-founder Amanda Turnbull

Rise Studios aims to raise the region globally, says co-founder Amanda Turnbull
  • The regional studio is building an ecosystem of content producers to create stories that travel globally

DUBAI: More than 94 percent of households in the Gulf countries have Internet access, according to Euromonitor International, and this is reflected in the time they spend online — from shopping to consuming content.

In fact, the average monthly consumption per user increased from 12 hours in 2019 to 19 hours in May 2020 on StarzPlay, according to PwC.   

The rise in content consumption has led to a demand for not just more content, but also higher quality content.

Enter Rise.

Rise Studios officially launched last month and has been set up by former executives from OSN and Warner Bros. Discovery: Amanda Turnbull, former general manager at Warner Bros. Discovery Middle East, Africa and Turkiye; Emad Morcos, former chief content and commercial officer at OSN; and Amel Farag, former head of content commercial strategy at OSN.

Prior to the launch, the three spent time signing agreements with production studios from the region including Partner Pro of Egypt, whose past credits include “Finding Ola;” advertising creative house ASAP; and Lebanon- and UAE-based reality television specialist Different Productions, which launched “Dubai Bling” last month.

The studio has also signed agreements with Watan Network, a multi-channel venture, and Black Typhoon, which develops original Saudi productions, as well as a four-movie deal with Egyptian business Lagoonie Film Production.

Turnbull describes Rise Studios as an “entertainment company,” which means that its aim is to drive content investments across the region while being platform-agnostic.

Historically, free-to-air channels driven by advertising sales have dominated the region.

Amanda Turnbull, co-founder and CEO of Rise Studios

The entrance of streaming services and changing behaviors of a younger generation have shifted the ways in which content is consumed, and therefore, created. “We have gone from 30-60 episode dramas to eight-episode seasons,” Turnbull said.

She added: “There’s a different level of engagement, and so the content has to be good enough. It has to be premium.”

That’s true even for social media platforms, which have largely relied on user-generated content, with companies such as Snap and YouTube launching premium-paid subscription tiers.

“All the social media platforms are looking at how they monetize their audiences better and they’re wanting to put out premium content,” Turnbull said.

“They’re all having a really good look at the streaming platforms and replicating it in ways that are appropriate for their own platforms,” she said.

Meanwhile, streaming platforms are looking beyond their own models to either diversify their offerings — like with Netflix Games — or evolve to include an ad-supported tier.

This makes the ecosystem incredibly “complex” because “everybody needs something slightly different,” whether that’s different generations, geographies, or social and streaming companies, Turnbull said.

It also creates an opportunity for producers who now have a wide plethora of platforms to choose from — digital, social, free-to-air, and streaming.

“This is where Rise Studios can step in and support our producers to understand how their content has to be different for the different platforms,” Turnbull said.

The company is “really excited about and dedicated to finding, nurturing, and championing talent both in front of and behind the camera,” she added. And to do so, it works in several ways from producing and co-producing content to distributing it in the region.

As part of its commitment to regional talent, the studio is the platinum sponsor of this year’s Cairo International Film Festival, where it’s supporting the Bela Tarr Filmmaking workshop.

“We have only just launched so we’re at the beginning of our journey, but it’s something that’s important to us,” said Turnbull.

Traditionally, the time from script to screen has been fairly quick, Turnbull said. But, the demand for quality premium content that holds audiences’ attention as well as the global standards being brought to the region by international players is resulting in content creation taking longer than before.

Rise Studios’ goal is to support its partners with not only investment but also “all the heavy lifting in and around the distribution, the commercial deal, etc., so they can focus on their craft,” Turnbull said.

The studio works with different platforms to secure distribution for producers, and its next step is to secure long-term deals with platform partners, which would reduce the risks for both creators and platforms.

The deals would help platforms with a guaranteed content slate over a number of years, and producers would benefit from being able to retain their staff and having greater control over their projects.

“But in order to do that, we need to guarantee a volume of work and that’s our role as the studio for our production partners,” Turnbull said.

For now, the company is focused on English and Arabic content, but it is open to considering other languages over time, as well as replicating the current model in other high-growth markets in the future.

Turnbull explained that Rise Studios is working to tell stories with a twist that resonate with regional and local audiences, but its long-term vision is to amplify the stories from this region on a global stage.

If there is a “universality and relevance to the stories that we’re telling, then they should be able to work here but also travel globally,” she said.

Although the studio is headquartered in Dubai, UAE, it has partners across the region from Saudi Arabia to the US. The core team is intentionally small, Turnbull said.

The studio is hiring senior industry experts “who want to join the family” and share the company’s values, but “we’re more interested in investing in partners and content than in a heavy central team,” she said.

Turnbull, who has always worked in the media industry, has operated across high-growth markets such as Eastern Europe and Asia Pacific until 2003. But it was the opportunities and talent in the Middle East market that “absolutely energized” her, eventually paving the way for Rise Studios.

“There’s a reason why the studio is called ‘Rise,’” Turnbull said.

“Our long-term ambition is to rise up this region. This is our moment,” she said.

Iraqis outraged after father kills YouTube star daughter

Tiba Al-Ali. (Social media)
Tiba Al-Ali. (Social media)
Updated 04 February 2023

Iraqis outraged after father kills YouTube star daughter

Tiba Al-Ali. (Social media)
  • Ali had gained a following on YouTube, where she posted videos of her daily life and in which her fiance often appeared

BAGHDAD: The death of a young YouTube star at the hands of her father has sparked outrage in Iraq, where so-called “honor killings” continue to take place in the conservative country.
Tiba Al-Ali, 22, was killed by her father on January 31 in the southern province of Diwaniya, interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan said on Twitter on Friday.
Police had attempted to mediate between Ali — who resided in Turkiye and was visiting Iraq — and her relatives to “resolve the family dispute in a definitive manner,” Maan said.
Unverified recordings of conversations between Ali and her father appeared to indicate that he was unhappy about her decision to live alone in Turkiye.
Maan said that after the police’s initial encounter with the family “we were surprised the next day... with the news of her killing at the hands of her father, as he admitted in his initial confessions.”
He did not give further details on the nature of the dispute.
Ali had gained a following on YouTube, where she posted videos of her daily life and in which her fiance often appeared.
A police source speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity meanwhile confirmed that the “family dispute” dated back to 2015.
She had traveled to Turkiye with her family in 2017, but upon their return, she refused to join them, choosing instead to stay in Turkiye where she resided since, the police source said.
Her death has sparked uproar among Iraqis on social media, who have called for protests in Baghdad on Sunday to demand justice in response to her death.
“Women in our societies are hostage to backward customs due to the absence of legal deterrents and government measures — which currently are not commensurate with the size of domestic violence crimes,” wrote veteran politician Ala Talabani on Twitter.
Human rights defender Hanaa Edwar told AFP that, according to voice recordings attributed to the young woman, “she left her family... because she was sexually assaulted by her brother.”
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights too reported the allegation. AFP could not independently verify the authenticity of the voice recordings.
Amnesty International condemned the “horrific” killing, saying “the Iraqi penal code still treats leniently so called ‘honor crimes’ comprising violent acts such as assault and even murder.”
“Until the Iraqi authorities adopt robust legislation to protect women and girls... we will inevitably continue to witness horrific murders,” Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Aya Majzoub, said.


MBC Group names Christina Wayne as managing director of its studio arm

MBC Group names Christina Wayne as managing director of its studio arm
Updated 03 February 2023

MBC Group names Christina Wayne as managing director of its studio arm

MBC Group names Christina Wayne as managing director of its studio arm
  • She replaces Peter Smith, who stepped down last week
  • Wayne brings ‘wealth of international expertise,’ group CEO Sam Barnett says

LONDON: MBC Group on Friday announced the appointment of Christina Wayne as the new managing director of its production arm, MBC Studios.

Group CEO Sam Barnett said the company was “incredibly excited” by the appointment.

“Christina brings with her a wealth of international expertise in content development and production where she has worked across a multitude of territories and languages, and led on the development of Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning series,” he said.

“We look forward to her building on the team’s successes as we continue to expand our horizons in international content even further.”

Wayne is a seasoned executive and producer with more than 25 years of international experience writing, directing and producing TV shows and films.

Before joining MBC Studios, she was principal creative executive and head of Canada and Australia at Amazon Studios, a position she had held since 2019.

A member of the Writers Guild of America since 1997, Wayne has also held positions with Assembly Entertainment, Cineflix Studios and AMC, and worked on a host of award-winning productions, including “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “Broken Trail.”

“I am absolutely delighted to join MBC Group and MBC Studios and have heard great things about the incredible team Peter and the rest of MBC have built,” she said.

“This is a very exciting venture for me, and I cannot wait to get fully involved in one of the world’s most exciting territories for content production.”

Wayne takes over from Peter Smith, who stepped down last week after four years at the helm of MBC Studios. During that time he helped launch the production arm of the free-to-air network MBC and led numerous flagship Arabic-language productions.

Building on Smith’s legacy, Wayne will continue to push into premium non-English-language TV programming and broaden the reach of MBC Group’s content to consumers worldwide.

TikTok rolls out new account enforcement system to address repeated policy violations

TikTok rolls out new account enforcement system to address repeated policy violations
Updated 03 February 2023

TikTok rolls out new account enforcement system to address repeated policy violations

TikTok rolls out new account enforcement system to address repeated policy violations
  • The new update allows TikTok to remove harmful accounts more efficiently
  • TikTik will notify its community members when the new system is available

DUBAI: TikTok announced an updated system for account enforcement for a smoother content creation experience on the entertainment platform.

The move aims to better act against those who repeatedly violate the policies, helping TikTok to remove harmful accounts more efficiently, while promoting a clearer and more consistent experience for most creators who want to follow policies, the company said in a statement.

The updated account enforcement system is currently rolling out globally, and TikTok said it would notify all community members as the new system becomes available to them.

The existing account enforcement system leverages different types of restrictions, like temporary bans from posting or commenting, to prevent abuse of product features while teaching people about the policies detailed in TikTok’s community guidelines to reduce future violations.

While this approach has been effective in reducing harmful content overall, TikTok heard from creators that it can be confusing to navigate. It can disproportionately impact creators who rarely and unknowingly violate a policy, while potentially being less efficient at deterring those who repeatedly violate them.

Repeat violators, according to TikTok, tend to follow a pattern. Analysis has found that almost 90 percent violate using the same feature consistently, and over 75 percent violate the same policy category repeatedly.

To better address this, TikTok is updating the account enforcement system to support the creator community and remove repeat offenders from the platform.

Under the new system, if someone posts content that violates one of TikTok’s community guidelines, the account will accrue a strike as the content is removed. If an account meets the threshold of strikes within either a product feature (i.e. comments, LIVE) or policy (i.e. bullying and harassment), it will be permanently banned.

Those policy thresholds can vary depending on a violation’s potential to cause harm to community members. For example, there may be a stricter threshold for violating TikTok policy against promoting hateful ideologies, than for sharing low-harm spam.

TikTok will continue to issue permanent bans on the first strike for severe violations, including promoting or threatening violence, showing or facilitating child sexual abuse material, or showing real-world violence or torture.

As an additional safeguard, accounts that accrue a high number of cumulative strikes across policies and features will also be permanently banned. Strikes will expire from an account’s record after 90 days.

The company said in its statement that these changes are intended to drive more transparency around TikTok’s enforcement decisions and help the community better understand how to follow the community guidelines.

To further support creators, TikTok will roll out new features in the Safety Center provided to creators in-app in the coming weeks. These include an “account status” page where creators can easily view the standing of their account, and a “report records” page where creators can see the status of reports they have made on other content or accounts.

These new tools add to the notifications creators already receive if they have violated policies, and support creators’ ability to appeal enforcements and have strikes removed if valid. TikTok will also begin notifying creators if they are on the verge of having their account permanently removed.

As a separate step toward improving transparency about moderation practices at the content level, TikTok is beginning to test a new feature in some markets that would provide creators with information about which of their videos have been marked as ineligible for recommendation to the “For You” feed, let them know why, and give them the opportunity to appeal.

Big Tech earnings show digital ads market not out of the woods

Big Tech earnings show digital ads market not out of the woods
Updated 03 February 2023

Big Tech earnings show digital ads market not out of the woods

Big Tech earnings show digital ads market not out of the woods
  • Mood among advertisers remains ‘cautiously optimistic’ for the year ahead as economic slowdown looms

LONDON: After a challenging 2022 in which advertising-dependent companies faced shrinking budgets and cratering stock prices, fourth-quarter results this week from Alphabet, Meta Platforms and Snap showed they were not yet in the clear.
The health of the advertising industry closely mirrors the economy, and many advertisers have pared back their marketing budgets in response to record-high inflation rates and continued uncertainty about a recession.
Google-owner Alphabet Inc. on Thursday reported a slight fall in quarterly ad revenue, missing Wall Street expectations and surprising investors as the world’s largest digital ad platform has traditionally been resilient compared to smaller rivals. Shares of Alphabet were down 5 percent in trading after the closing bell.
“For a company the size of Google and as influential as Google to have such disappointing results, (that means the ad industry) won’t turn around in one quarter,” said Evelyn Mitchell, an analyst at Insider Intelligence.
Snap Inc, owner of photo messaging app Snapchat, said Tuesday it expects current-quarter revenue to decline as much as 10 percent due to competition for ad dollars and a challenging economy.
“(Advertisers) are managing their spend very cautiously so they can react quickly to any changes in the environment,” Snap Chief Executive Evan Spiegel said during an earnings call.
Meta Platforms Inc, the second-largest digital ad platform, lifted Wall Street on Wednesday with its cost cuts and big share buyback, though it posted its third consecutive quarter of year-over-year revenue decline.
Lower ad spending from brands in the financial services and technology sector was one reason for the revenue decline, the company said.
Meta Chief Financial Officer Susan Li said the broader economy continues to be “pretty volatile” and it was too early to tell what the year would look like.
The mood among advertisers broadly is one of “cautious optimism” for the year ahead, said Nicola Mendelsohn, Meta’s vice president of global business group, in an interview on Thursday.
By region, advertisers have been bullish about the US market, while sentiment in Europe has struggled comparatively and China has shown signs of improvement, though the future remains uncertain amid the country’s reopening, Mendelsohn said.

Meta accused of playing double game on data scraping

Meta accused of playing double game on data scraping
Updated 02 February 2023

Meta accused of playing double game on data scraping

Meta accused of playing double game on data scraping
  • Tech giant filed lawsuit against data collection company it collaborated with for years
  • Evidence shows Meta hired firm to pull information from a number of e-commerce sites

LONDON: Meta is accused of playing a double game on scraping, with the tech giant criticized for having scraped data for years while denouncing the practice.

According to evidence that surfaced from a legal case being pursued by the company, the tech giant has been subcontracting a company for years to scrape data from other websites, despite publicly criticizing the practice and suing companies that scrape data from its own social media platforms.

In an ironic twist, Meta filed a lawsuit against Israel-based data collection company Bright Data for allegedly pulling data from its platforms, but a series of emails between the two businesses reveals that Meta has worked with the Israeli firm for years.

The professional relationship was confirmed by Meta spokesperson Andy Stone, who said that the social media giant had hired Bright Data to pull information from a number of e-commerce sites in order to build brand profiles, as well as identify “harmful websites” and “phishing operations.”

“The collection of data from websites can serve legitimate integrity and commercial purposes, if done lawfully and in accordance with those websites’ terms,” said Stone.

He said that Meta was not using Bright Data to scrape rivals’ websites, but declined to specify what websites users’ data were pulled from.

Stone added that Meta interrupted its partnership with Bright Data after it found that the Israeli company breached terms and conditions for carrying out the practice on Meta’s own platforms.

“Many companies scrape websites to retrieve data that can help them keep track of competitors, better understand a specific audience, follow market trends and compare prices,” tech expert and writer Marissa Newman said.

“However, scraping can pose a privacy risk when it targets personal information, such as contact details, and runs foul of EU law if companies do not make an effort to prevent that through technical and legal means.”

In recent years, Meta has cracked down on scraping practices and pursued legal action against companies that carry out scraping-for-hire services on its platform.

Earlier in January, Meta filed a claim against surveillance company Voyage Lab, claiming it allegedly created more than 38,000 accounts to collect data from over 600,000 Facebook users.

Bright Data CEO Or Lenchner said the two companies had a “long-lasting successful partnership,” adding that Meta “has long been a valued client of our proxy and scraping services for six years.”

The Israeli data collection company decided to file a countersuit, claiming that it followed EU and US regulations, and acquired only public information that was not password-protected.