YouTube indexes Arab cinema through new channel ‘Aflam’

Many of the films users can find through Aflam are from the “golden age” of Arab cinema

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With a filmmaking industry spanning eight decades since the 1940s until now, the Middle East has been the source of thousands of movies serving as a visual documentation of the region’s cultural evolution.

The industry is one of the oldest in the region, with the 50s and 60s generally regarded as the golden age of Arab cinema.

“These productions are a visual method that archives the development that happened in the Middle East,” Najeeb Jarrar, consumer marketing manager at Google, told Al Arabiya News.

“So you’re able to see, for example [the change in] production technology, transitioning from black and white, to Technicolor, to full color, to high definition…

“Even during the 90s. You’re capable of getting a look at what was the zeitgeist because these were the topics that were being addressed in the movies,” he said, speaking Google’s Dubai office.

YouTube has paired with four partners - and more are expected to join Aflam - who have the digital and distribution rights to these films.

Aflam does not serve as a movie library for these titles, Jarrar said, but rather a group of “curated” playlists that would take users back to the original channel or partner that has already uploaded the film.

One aim he said is to “drive the traffic to our partner’s channel.”

“Aflam is more of a spring point,” he explained. “You come to it and it actually pushes you to our partner, so [another] aim is that users get introduced to high quality movies.

Another reason behind launching Aflam was a spike in Middle Eastern users turning to the internet for entertainment.
“Although we tend to believe that everybody has access to satellite television, the reality is that a lot of users in the Middle East don’t,” he said.

“Within the previous couple of years, internet spiked in terms of usage. The influx of mobile devices that are coming into the region are becoming cheaper and cheaper,” and at the same time “rates of internet on mobile connectivity have become much cheaper compared to previous years.”

These trends “made the internet the perfect medium for users to go on and actually watch entertainment.”

Google noticed that usage on YouTube increased drastically.

“We’ve seen that users are thirsty, they actually want to use the internet because it is a perfect medium for them. You can go in and watch thing on your own time,” Jarrar said.

Reminiscing about happier times

Many of the films users can find through Aflam are from the “golden age” of Arab cinema which spans the 40s, 50s and 60s. The movies are not as widespread as their modern successors, so a platform that archives them made a lot of people happy.

“We’ve seen a lot of excitement from normal users as well as from artists, performers, people within the movie industry,” Jarrar said, adding that the channel not only brought this content to users but also highlighted “the archive of Arabic movies given that we have a lot of black and white old movies.”

“Those movies are usually forgotten, they’re not as famous as they used to be,” he said.

Through Aflam, users can easily find them.

“Digital is a great place, because it preserves this history.”

One message that Najeeb recounted reading from a user told the story of a father in Germany who said he was happy now that he was “able to tell my kids who were born in Germany about my culture, the language.”

More partners who have the rights to many of the films Google hopes to link to through Aflam are expected to join the initiative.

In a time and region where there are many copyright violations, the users knowing that they can reach a high-quality version of the film they want to watch will likely minimize pirating the movies.

“If I own the rights to that movie I am uploading the best copy of it. So rather than the user seeing a crappy pirated [version], or a copy that has issues in it, or a lot of ads in the middle, or just download it from an illegal place, they go and watch the best possible version of the film,” Jarrar explained.

Additionally, making content available without infringing any copyright laws raises awareness on the importance of intellectual property.

“We bring more awareness to the users: Hey, you don’t have to go through the illegal way you can just go to the partner channel, they have more movies in there, that’s the idea.”

Aflam now links to more than 1,000 films that are categorized by date of release, actors, and directors.

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