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Egypt’s new Ramadan series-streaming app scrutinised by critics3 minutes read

Egypt’s Watch iT aims to snatch audiences away from the free video-sharing giants.

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watch iT
Image credit: Ramadan Media

Egypt’s first video-streaming app, Watch iT, launched this month just in time for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The religious season is also the high season for the television industry, but the app’s debut has been panned by critics for high prices and technical failures.

Chilling thrillers, sentimental dramas and classic comedies – Egypt’s famed Ramadan TV series have long united millions of families from the breaking of the fast in the evening until dawn.

In recent years, many have taken to streaming episodes of their favourite shows on YouTube after they first broadcast on television.

Egypt’s Watch iT, which launched on May 1, aims to grab hold of this trend and snatch audiences away from the free video-sharing giant.

The platform is owned by the Egyptian Media Group and offers 15 exclusive series produced in Egypt especially for Ramadan, for a monthly fee of 99 pounds ($5.80).

“It’s way too expensive,” said Youssef Ahmed, a 48-year-old father shopping in Cairo during the first days of the fast.

Half-year subscriptions go for 555 pounds, with a year costing 999 pounds — a tall order in a country where the average monthly salary is around $220.

“Anyway, it’s better to watch the series on television as a family,” Ahmed commented.

Watch iT facing challenges

Google’s Play Store service has logged more than 10,000 downloads of the app since its launch – far below the projected figures.

Those who have forked out the money for the platform have run up against technical difficulties, sparking a wave of criticism.

Local media said the site was the victim of “hacking” and the Egyptian Media Group did not respond to questions.

CEO Tamer Mursi boasted shortly after the app launched that his media group had played a “modernising” role in Egypt’s television industry and furthered “the protection of (intellectual property) rights”.

His company owns several television channels, prominent newspapers and production companies, drawing accusations from critics that it runs a monopoly.

Surviving competition

In the age of international streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon, the moment is right for such a switch in Egypt, but critics say the Ramadan series industry is not up to the challenge.

“When such a company launches such a service, it is supposed to test it well before it enters the market,” said Ahmed Hamdi, a journalist with the business newspaper Al Mal.

Hit by general disorganisation in recent years, the industry’s latest products have been characterised by rushed filming and sloppy scripts.

“Watch iT is a new experience in the Egyptian market and fully justified in terms of both its functional and financial aspects, but it faces many challenges,” said Ahmed Adel, a telecoms research manager at Beltone Financial.

One of the biggest difficulties, he said, is that it cannot compete with international platforms.

Netflix from the United States and Wavo out of the United Arab Emirates are both technically superior and offer dozens of Western, Arab and Turkish series and films at a lower price.

Watch iT will also have to jostle for screen time with the pirated content widely available across the Arab world, Adel added.

Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous country and more than 40 percent of its 100 million residents have internet access.

Nearly three-quarters connect with their mobile phones, according to the latest figures from the telecommunications ministry.

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2Baba releases new album “Warriors”

The album is a key offering in the celebration of 2Baba’s 20 Years A King project.

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Award-winning Afropop icon 2Baba has released his new album titled “Warriors” earlier today, February 28. This album is released as part of his 20 Years a King (#20YearAKing) celebration, commemorating the two decades he has spent in the Nigerian music industry.

This new album contains just 13 tracks including previously released singles like ‘Important’, ‘Oyi’ and the Peruzzi-assisted smash hit, ‘Amaka’. The LP also boasts big-name collaborations like Burna Boy, Wizkid, Olamide, Tiwa Savage and Peruzzi. It also features appearances from AJ Natives, Symeca and his daughter HI Idibia.

The production of the album is handled by a galaxy of PBanks, Spelz, Blaq Jeerzy, Bolji Beatz, Speroach Beatz, Richie, Ploops and his longtime collaborator, Jay Sleek.

Interestingly, this is the first 2Baba album that comes with a title track, which also serves as the opener of the full-length project.

On Tuesday, February 25, the celebrated singer held a well-attended listening party for the album at the Artisan Lounge bar, Lagos.

His seventh studio album, “Warriors” is the long-overdue follow up to “The Ascension” which was met with mixed reviews upon its release in 2014.

Formerly known as 2face Idibia, 2baba is one Africa’s most successful artists, winning local, continental and international awards like BET and MTV Europe Music Awards.

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Exporting African sounds into Italy

Nigerian migrants are introducing Afrobeat to one of Italy’s most popular cities

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Nigerians are slowly stamping their authority in Italy's music space. Photo credit: Quartz Africa

Migrating from Africa to Europe is a particularly tricky business. It is usually very difficult to obtain visas, and consequently, many people opt for the long, tortuous route that runs through the Sahara Desert and extends into the Mediterranean Sea. It is a risky journey in many ways, as desperate migrants get robbed, swindled, enslaved or worse still, meet their end in the hot sands and high seas.

There is also the small matter of reputation when it comes to successful migrants. There are those who believe that men and women who manage to avoid death or slavery, and ultimately cross the borders into Italy and Spain, are either involved in drug peddling, prostitution or unsavoury menial jobs like washing up corpses.

There is a small group of people, however, who are slowly changing the narrative. These ones are not only showing that there is more that African migrants can do in Europe, but they are also exporting Nigerian music in all its exotic nature and rich flavour into one of Italy’s major cities.

Palermo, the capital city of the Sicilian province, is slowly becoming the Southern European capital for the world-conquering Afrobeats scene. Social media has given a platform to musicians who can reach a wide audience without institutional support. There are more than a few cities in Italy that are not exactly kind to migrants, but Palermo has gradually become a haven for a number of young Nigerian musicians to hone their craft and attempt to carve a niche for themselves on European shores.

The influx of these musicians has had a significant effect on the city, too. For instance, Ballaro, a small neighbourhood in Palermo, was once known as one of the most dangerous places in Italy, no thanks to the activities of the Mafia. But with the arrival of African and Asian immigrants, the neighbourhood is now revitalised and less prone to crime.

Artists like RayJeezy, Brenex Baba and Thug Money make a living from performing at night clubs across the city. They hope that their hustle ultimately pays off and that they gain worldwide recognition, but for now, they are contributing to the transformation of a city’s music and culture. Things are looking up for the African migrant population in Palermo, and it’s not hard to tell that there will be more where the music came from.

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Netflix Announces First Original Nigerian Series

This comes just after the U.S-based streaming giant launched Netflix Naija.

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Popular media-services provider Netflix has announced the production of its first original African series to be headlined by Nollywood director, Akin Omotoso.

This would be a six-part series that features an all-star Nollywood cast of Kate Henshaw, Ade Laoye, Richard Mofe Damijo, Joke Silva, Fabian Adeoye Lojede, Kehinde Bankole and many others. 

Directed by a team of Akin Omotosho, Daniel Oriahi and CJ Obasi, the series tells the story of a reincarnated goddess who seeks to avenge her sister’s death.

This announcement comes just after the U.S-based streaming platform unveiled Netflix Naija on Tuesday, February 25, 2020.

In a statement with Premium Times, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos revealed that “movies like King of Boys, Merry Men and The Bling Lagosians have shown how much our members love Nigerian movies. 

“So, we’re incredibly excited to be investing in Made in Nigeria stories – bringing them to audiences all around the world.”

Over the past year, Netflix has featured a number of Nollywood movies on its streaming platform. Among such movies include the culturally and commercially successful King of Boys, October 1, The Figurine, Mokalik, and Merry Men. 

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