Arts & Culture The Ramadan Issue

Are we witnessing the last days of Ramadan TV?

Ramadan is like a US Super Bowl Sunday that stretches for an entire month.
Ramadan is like a US Super Bowl Sunday that stretches for an entire month. Courtesy.

Ican’t remember the last time my family and I sat around to watch a Ramadan series or show. Ramadan series and shows are productions made specifically for the holy month.

In fact, Ramadan is like a US Super Bowl Sunday that stretches for an entire month- a prime time for advertisers and producers in the Arab world. The best TV slots are the ones right after the breaking of the fast, and right before it. It’s typically when people gather around in their living rooms, trying to pass the last hours of the day, before they can finally munch on their first meal. Telecom operators also produce the catchiest advertisements for the month. I personally wait for those produced by Zain, the Kuwaiti telecommunication operator. They always revolve around a Ramadan theme and have a memorable song.

Ramadan series and shows rose in popularity in the 1970s, after the discovery of oil and with the development of the Arabian Gulf states, as more budgets became allocated to television and production. People discussed the shows and series over the course of the month, and sometimes couldn’t even decide on which shows to watch as different television stations have competed to air their best shows at prime times.

For the past five years or so, I thought I was the only one who wasn’t watching Ramadan series anymore. But I soon discovered that most of my friends and acquaintances had stopped watching Ramadan TV too. Different reasons were attributed to that, including: long periods of advertisements that constantly interrupted the show, the absence of creative storylines, as well as the lack of time to sit down and watch TV while constantly being on the go. While they did admit that watching the shows on the TV channels’ dedicated websites and YouTube channels was more convenient, they still weren’t interested enough.

We dug deeper and asked our readers, the majority of whom are millennials, if they watch Ramadan series on TV.  55 per cent of them voted that they don’t.

So, if there were more people like me who don’t watch TV during Ramadan, how do they spend the long fasting hours? Two words: YouTube and Netflix.

The social media platform is widely popular in Arabia, with users from Saudi Arabia ranked as the top YouTube users in the world. In addition, many millennials such as Saudi Fahad Sal and Bahraini Omar Farooq, are garnering millions of YouTube views for their unique content on the platform, as well as over a million subscribers.

In fact, many popular social media influencers from the Arabian Gulf produced content specifically for Ramadan last year. Influencers like Kuwaiti Ascia Al Faraj shared a daily Ramadan vlog, while Emirati influencer Taim Al Falasi produced a Ramadan talk show in which she hosted other regional influencers for interviews and on air challenges. Her most popular episode received 2 million views.

Launched approximately two and a half years ago, Netflix MENA has also been gaining the attention of the region’s youth, with the wide range of on-demand, commercial-free titles on offer. In addition to making suggestions of shows to watch during Ramadan, such as popular Turkish shows ‘1001 Nights’ and ‘Magnificent Century’, as well as millennial classics like ‘Full House’, the American entertainment company has also added several Arabic shows and films to its library, and has recently launched its first Arabic original show, ‘Adel Karam: Live from Beirut’.

Despite their novelty, Netflix MENA and Ramadan content-creating YouTubers and influencers are already winning over millennials. Does this mean that Ramadan TV series and shows will die? Perhaps they will in their current form, until they jump the digital content production wagon more, and cater content to the liking of millennials and those under the age of 30, who comprise more than 50 per cent of the Arabian Gulf Region’s population.

Manar Alhinai is the Storyteller-in-Chief at Sekka.