Films remain a major form of entertainment in the Middle East, but the way people watch them is changing. Television continues to be the most common medium for film distribution, with nine in 10 people watching films on TV. However, only six in 10 Qataris say they watch films on TV, down from eight in 10 in 2014. Qataris are turning to other methods for their film viewing; they are now as likely to watch films online as on TV (62% each), and more Qataris watch films at the cinema in 2016 compared to 2014 (56% in 2016 vs. 43% in 2014).
Cinema attendance is highest, and increasing, in the UAE. More than seven in 10 Emiratis attend the cinema, up five percentage points from 2014 (72% in 2016 vs. 67% 2014). This is perhaps not surprising given the comparatively large number of cinemas per capita in the UAE. In comparison, only a quarter of Tunisians attend the cinema, which might be considered high given Tunisia has fewer than 10 cinemas in the country. Cinema attendance remains steady at three in 10 in Egypt (30% in 2016 vs. 28% in 2014), despite a relatively small number of cinemas per capita. Lebanon is the only country that saw a decline in cinema attendance (39% in 2016 vs. 46% in 2014). Men in the region are more likely than women to attend the cinema (40% vs. 33%)—this gender gap is most pronounced in Lebanon and Egypt.
While film viewing overall remained relatively stable since 2014, the frequency with which people watch films declined in some countries. Fewer Egyptians, Lebanese, and Saudis watch films online on a weekly basis, with steep declines in Egypt and Saudi Arabia between 2014 and 2016 (Egypt: 51% vs. 42%, Saudi Arabia: 63% vs. 37%). Overall, fewer nationals are watching films on TV on a weekly basis compared to 2014 (70% in 2016 vs. 76% in 2014). This decline is driven by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia; watching films on TV remains steady in Egypt, Lebanon, and the UAE. On the other hand, Qataris and Emiratis are far more likely to watch films online in 2016 compared to 2014 (Qatar: 31% vs. 50%, UAE: 20% vs. 38%).
Films play a larger role in the entertainment of young adults. The 18 to 24 year-old age group is most likely to watch films on all platforms, including TV, online, and in the cinema. Most notably, half of 18 to 24 year-olds watch films online on a weekly basis, more than any other age group (39% of 25 to 34 year-olds, 30% of 35 to 44 year-olds, 17% of those 45 years and older). This pattern is observed in all countries.
Nationals in the Gulf States are more likely to watch films online than those in Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia, which may have more to do with greater bandwidth speeds than with interest levels.
Similar patterns emerge among nationals watching film as emerge among nationals for accessing TV, music, and news content. For example, young adults are more likely to go online for all forms of entertainment, including films. Six in 10 18 to 24 year-olds watch films online, compared with half of 25 to 34 year-olds, one-third of 35 to 44 year-olds, and only 14% of those 45 years and older. This pattern is observed in all countries. Young adults also watch films at the cinema more frequently. People with higher levels of education are more likely to use the internet to access all forms of entertainment, including film. More than half of university-educated nationals who watch films do so online compared to less than one-tenth of those with a primary school education or less (57% vs. 7%).
While many nationals turn to the internet for entertainment, relatively few are willing to pay for online content. Only 26% of nationals would be willing to pay for any online content, and just 17% of internet users have paid for any kind of online content in the past year. Even fewer, only 8%, would be willing to pay for films online and just 5% of internet users paid to watch a film online in the past year. Emiratis are an outlier since one in five paid to watch films online and one in five would also be willing to do so. Overall, however, those who say they watch films online are not paying for films and are unlikely to pay for them (6% have paid, 12% willing to pay).
Films are also not being discussed online as much as other types of content. Only 12% of nationals report sending, sharing, or posting about films in the past month. This contrasts with three-fourths of internet users sending, sharing, or posting content about news or entertainment overall online in the past month. Films are also discussed less online than videos, news, music, sports, advertising, and TV programs (43% videos, 30% news, 25% music, 18% sports, 17% advertising, 16% TV programs).
Some cultural views are associated with consuming entertainment online. Watching films online is more common among those agreeing with the benefits of watching international content than those who do not agree (44% agree vs. 36% do not agree). Similarly, self-described cultural progressives are significantly more likely than conservatives to access films online (51% vs. 35%). This wide disparity is common across all countries for both perceived benefits of international content and cultural leanings.
Young people ages 18 to 24 years-old are more likely to watch American films than do people over 45 years-old (47% vs. 18%), but this does not appear to be a cultural trade-off. Young people are just as, or slightly more likely, to watch Arab films compared the oldest adults (45+) (56% vs. 50%).
Nearly all nationals watching films watch in Arabic (96%). Two-fifths watch films in English, a slight decline from 2014 (42% in 2016 vs. 46% in 2014). Watching English-language films declined in all countries, except for Egypt, which experienced a significant increase (4% in 2014 vs. 27% in 2016). Even with that jump, people in Egypt, still the most prolific film production hub in the region, are less likely to watch films in English than other nationals in the region. Viewing English-language films remains most popular in the UAE despite a modest decline (74% in 2016 vs. 80% in 2014).
Men, young adults, and university-educated nationals are more likely to be watching English-language films than their respective counterparts. Watching films in English is also more common among nationals who watch films online and among those who attend the cinema. Nationals who believe people benefit from watching content from different parts of the world are more likely to watch films in English than those who do not see the benefits of international exposure (48% agree vs. 34% do not agree).
Egypt is the top producer of mainstream film content in the region, and Egyptian theatres show a much higher proportion of domestic films. Ninety-five percent of Egyptians watch domestically-produced films, and that number climbs to 99% among Egyptians who watch films online. Only in Egypt and Lebanon do more people say they watch films from their own country than films from the Arab world in general.
Domestic films also generate the majority of box office revenues in Lebanon, where 78% of film watchers watch Lebanese films. In the UAE, on the other hand, Emirati films comprise a much smaller proportion of titles screened at the box office. Emirati nationals watch Arab-region and U.S. films more than Emirati films (83% Arab, 55% U.S., 48% Emirati).
Across the region, two-fifths of nationals watch films from the United States, down from 2014 (40% in 2016 vs. 46% 2014), but the trend varies by country. The proportion of nationals watching U.S. films decreased in Lebanon, Tunisia, and the UAE. Men are more likely than women to watch U.S. and European films, while more women than men watch Arab, Indian, and Turkish films.
A sizeable minority report that some of the films and TV programs they want to watch are not available in their country (43%), and it appears that nationals are turning to the internet to access films from around the world. Those who watch films online are far more likely than those who don’t to watch films from the U.S. (54% vs. 31%), India (42% vs. 28%), Europe (40% vs, 20%), and the Arab region (72% vs. 58%), but nationals who both do and do not watch films online watch domestically-produced films in similar proportions (63% vs. 67%).
The importance of portraying national culture in film is moderately less common than in 2014. Fifty-eight percent of nationals prefer watching films portraying their own culture, down from 65% in 2014. This decline is observed in all countries except Tunisia. Qataris and Emiratis are the most likely to prefer films about their own culture, but this preference declined (Qatar: 78% in 2014 vs. 72% in 2016; UAE: 81% in 2014 vs. 73% in 2016). Tunisia remains the only country where a minority express a preference for films about their own culture (46% in 2014 and in 2016).
Interest in entertainment based on national culture and history eroded some in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. However, interest in entertainment about one’s culture and history held quite steady in Tunisia and Qatar, and even increased in Egypt. Qataris are significantly more likely than nationals from any other country to be interested in more entertainment media based on national culture and history (80%). Interest in nationally particular content is also higher among those with a secondary or higher education (55% primary or less and 56% intermediate vs. 63% secondary and 61% university or higher).
Overall, half of nationals feel films are an important source of information about one’s own culture, similar to 2014 (50% in 2016 vs. 53% in 2014). Lebanese and Saudis are now less likely to agree that films provide information about culture than in 2014, while Qataris and Tunisians are more likely to agree. Cultural progressives are more likely than conservatives to feel films provide information about one’s culture (62% vs. 48%).
Media from within the country or within the Arab world in general are seen by far more nationals as “good for morality” than media from the U.S. or Europe. Half of nationals feel films and TV from their own country are “very” or “somewhat” good for morality and four in 10 feel the same about content from the Arab world in general. These sentiments starkly contrast the one in five nationals who feel content from the U.S. and Europe is good for morality. Progressives are more likely than conservatives to believe content from the U.S. and Europe are good for morality. Men and more educated nationals are more likely than their counterparts to believe content from Hollywood or the U.S. is good for morality.
Comedy continues to dominate as the favorite film genre, followed by action/adventure and drama (62% comedy, 51% action/adventure, 41% drama). This pattern is generally consistent across the region and reflects the same preferences as in 2014. The one exception is Qatar, where horror/thriller and romance films are preferred over dramas.
Strong gender differences persist in film preferences. While both genders enjoy comedy, more men are drawn to action/adventure and horror/thriller films, while more women prefer dramas, romance, and Arab classics. Nationals describing themselves as culturally conservative are also more drawn to Arab classics and to list it as a top-three favorite genre than their culturally progressive counterparts (31% vs. 20%).