Going bananas

ast night, Gemmayze’s Coop d’Etat donned a humorous décor. Bunches of bananas bedecked the walls of the trendy rooftop bar where members of Lebanon’s entertainment, media, and internet industries celebrated the brand launch of a new online entertainment platform. Cinemoz, a fusion of the words “cinema” and “moz” (Arabic for bananas), aims to bring Arab film and television content to people throughout the Middle East.

Cinemoz’s creators describe their project as an Arab version of Hulu, a US-based online video service that provides access to popular television shows and films.

“It all started two years ago, while I was working at Miramax in New York,” said founder Karim Safieddine, a 27-year-old Lebanese-French graduate in business and film management. “I was on a plane on my way to the Istanbul film festival when I came across an article about two Indian guys who started to put Bollywood films online […] I thought to myself: ‘this doesn’t exist in the Arab world.’ I started obsessing over the idea.”

Convinced of the project’s potential, Safieddine jotted it down on a post-it, which, a few months later, evolved into a full-fledged business plan. The young entrepreneur resigned from Miramax and dedicated himself to Cinemoz. Six months into the project, he was still scrambling to find funding. A number of other entrepreneurs had already tried to launch similar projects without success. Then he met Samer Karam from Seeqnce, a startup catalyst for the Arab world that supports new enterprises.

Karam helped Safieddine secure a $200,000 loan from Kafalat, a local company that provides small and medium sized startups with the financial support necessary to take off. Next, Safieddine began to search for collaborators. Assembling a strong team of talented people from both the entertainment and online fields was essential to Cinemoz’s success.

New challenges have emerged now that the project is underway. Maroun Najm, Cinemoz’s chief Technology Officer, feels that the project will be successful in the region at large, but expressed skepticism with regards to Lebanon “simply because of our internet.” Though Cinemoz was conceived as a pan-Arab endeavor, it is more likely to thrive in Egypt and GCC countries than in Lebanon, a country infamous for its archaic internet.

“Our target is purely media and access based,” confirmed Saefeddine, “but in the long run we really are trying to create a Pan-Arab platform, hoping that at some point we’ll have access to proper internet [throughout the region].”

As for censorship, one of the media and entertainment industries’ most salient concerns in the region, Cinemoz’s creators have got it all figured out. “Fortunately the technology allows us to specify the content provided to each country,” noted Seeqnce’s Karam, “so no one will be viewing any illicit material in any given state.”

He also stressed Cinemoz’s importance as the first for-profit enterprise to use an entertainment portal for exclusively regional content.
Approximately 150 attendees seemed to enjoy the launch party. “I think there is a great atmosphere that brings together members of the industry and the audience,” said Joanna Fayad, one member of the crowd. 2
When asked whether she felt that Arab cinema (as opposed to mainstream Hollywood fare) would attract enough viewers, Fayad replied that although she hadn’t watched much Arab media in the past, Cinemoz may very well pique her interest.

Cinemoz is set to launch before the end of the summer season. For more information, please visit [http://www.cinemoz.com/]