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People in Film: Karim Safieddine

Dec 20, 2011

Karim Safieddine’s first job was at Miramax Films in New York in international sales. What drew him back to his native Lebanon two years later was an exciting project for the entrepreneur, who has studied law, management and film business across two degrees. Making the most of more than seven years experience in entertainment and media, he moved back to Beirut to launch, a premium video on demand (VOD) platform for and from the Arab World.

The site showcases and promotes features, documentaries and short films from the region, anywhere, anytime and for free.

Safieddine, who is French-Lebanese, serves as the company’s chief and Head of Content Acquisitions.

He has come a long way since his first venture, a programme and viral video house he set up during his law degree at Sorbonne. 2012 may well be his banner year.

DFI: You founded Cinemoz this year, a site which has been called the Middle East’s Hulu in the press on more than one occasion. What is Cinemoz?
Karim: Cinemoz is a premium online VOD platform.
Having launched at Dubai International Film Festival this year, and currently in private Beta, Cinemoz showcases entertainment from and for the Arab World. Audiences are able to stream high definition feature films and TV series anytime, anywhere, for free, while engaging in a cutting edge interactive experience.

DFI: The site definitely has a catchy title. What’s the concept behind Cinemoz and what are you bringing to the region?
Karim: The concept is for viewers in the Pan-Arab region to find and enjoy their favourite Arabic movies and series. By creating a high-quality online experience, viewers get both the pleasure of watching beautiful films that are relevant to them with the convenience that the internet provides.

DFI: So, how different is it from the Hulu model and who is your target audience?
Karim: Cinemoz targets the Arab world and provides only quality Arab content. This implies not just a strict content curation process, but also building the entire website and user experience with Arabic-speaking users in mind. This creates a genuine, authentic experience that is culturally relevant for this region and that locals can relate to.

DFI: There must be such a large amount of content to choose from. How do you collect films?
Karim: It’s been quite roller coaster process. We acquire content from package deals with major networks, to one-on-one agreements with directors. It’s locating the gems and hidden beautiful films that has been the tough task. Then again, it’s part of the quality standard we’re aiming for.

DFI: It’s easy to see how enjoyable this service will be to users. How is it beneficial for filmmakers?
Karim: For filmmakers, Cinemoz is a new distribution channel with incredible potential for providing exposure and revenue. Provided that the content is approved, a film or series can quickly get on the platform, where they can be found extremely easily. Content owners receive a portion of the advertising revenue that the Cinemoz platform generates through in-movie ad placements.

Cinemoz has built innovative ways for viewers to share their experience with friends. By closely integrating with Facebook and creating new ways to share – you can instantly share a movie scene you’re watching with all your friends. The system is intrinsically designed for content to spread virally.

DFI: Arab audiences are used to a certain genres when it comes to film. How do you plan on promoting independent films?
Karim: It’s well known that a few hit films garner the most views, whether in theatres, on DVD or online. That being said, it has been proven that there are more than enough people looking for lesser-known and more eclectic films. Cinemoz has been built to both showcase the mainstream while allowing indie films to be discovered, viewed and shared virally. We’ll be acting as an equaliser in the sense that small productions get the same extended reach and exposure as bigger ones, and at low cost.

DFI: What is your biggest challenge?
Karim: The biggest challenge is the local and regional culture. One example is that it’s challenging to find and keep highly qualified and talented people, especially in Lebanon, where the brain drain has taken its toll. People tend to have lower risk appetite than in Silicon Valley.
Another challenge is to convince stakeholders in the film industry that there is an appetite for streaming online quality content. That has worked in the West and will also work in the region.

DFI: Is that the idea that brought you back to the Middle East?
Karim: Having worked in the movie industry in the US and seen the incredible success of online VOD platforms such as Hulu, I felt a strong desire to tackle the challenge of going back home and building a company that would cater to the region. My father’s cooking was the nail in the coffin.

DFI: How do you see Cinemoz growing in the future?
Karim: The dual focus is on increasing our content library and providing the best user experience possible. We’re in talks with investors and potential partners as we prepare for a new round of funding that will allow us to reach our ambitious goals, which include no less than changing the entire industry.

DFI: It can’t have been easy launching an ambitious project like this. What inspires you the most? And what advice would you have for entrepreneurs in the film industry?
Karim: Being an entrepreneur is hard, and more sweat than glamour. Starting a company in this region is even harder. However nothing beats the satisfaction of building something from scratch that people love and that makes a difference in their lives. I’ve always thought of entrepreneurship being tightly linked to film production: An idea being the script, then finding talent to hop on board such as a film director, cast and crew and tie the whole thing together while keeping everybody happy, which is a producer’s job in its essence.

I couldn’t do all of that without music. I genuinely think attaching a soundtrack to your day-to-day life can get you through pretty much anything; I recommend a lot of Henri Mancini to everyone.

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