Director Amr Koura (L) and Egyptian Actress Yousra (R) - Photo by CAT
CAIRO- 3 May 2017: Acclaimed producer and director Amr Koura ventures into talent representation and management to promote Egyptian artists abroad.
Egypt’s broadcast entertainment industry is in a state of flux: in recent years it has seen the meteoric rise of TV channels that have gone on only to collapse or be bought out. Most of the A-List Egyptian film stars have migrated to Ramadan TV, leaving the arena to small-budget productions that are needed to keep the cinemas rolling. Though the times are challenging, there are a handful of pioneers with creative ideas and practices who are ushering in a new era of entertainment with their dynamic business approaches. Amr Koura and his Creative Arab Talent (CAT) is one of those few.
Having graduated as an architect, Koura decided to pursue a different kind of career in media and advertising. “During my architecture studies, I also studied photography to execute my university projects,” recalls Koura. Experimenting with the idea of capturing a unique moment in time, in 1983 he became a professional photographer, quickly becoming recognized as one of the top portrait photographers of the time. (He even realized a cover or more for Egypt Today back when it was called Cairo Today.) After working with homegrown advertising legend Tarek Nour as resident photographer, Koura opened his own advertising agency, Image, which was later acquired by TMI Advertising, later to be bought by the global agency JWT.
In 1998, Koura secured a contract to produce 130 episodes of Alam Simsim, the Egyptian version of the world-famed kiddie show Sesame Street. He founded Alkarma, Egypt’s leading edutainment company, which eventually produced 10 seasons of the program.
Koura is an advocate of using media to deliver educational and inspiring content to promote social change. In 2010 Koura produced and directed Al-Jami’a (The University), the first-ever teen drama targeting young Arab audiences. That same year he directed the horror drama series Abwab Al-Khouf (Doors of Fear) starring the internationally recognized Amr Waked in a narrative reminiscent of paranormal US 1970s series Kolchak: The Night Stalker and its 1990s counterpart The X-Files.
In January 2011 Koura switched to the other side of the business and joined Adline Media Network, the second-largest media representation and buying agency in the Middle East. “It was very cutthroat, a ruthless and merciless aspect of our business which is quite different from its creative side,” he says of his experience as CEO of the network’s Egypt operations department where he was responsible for the representation of high-profile media vehicles such as Al Mehwar TV, Dream TV as well as Egypt’s premier independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm. Koura later joined Al Nahar TV network, which is co-owned by the group, as chairman of the board.
The idea of media representation took Koura’s fancy. “I began reading and researching about venturing into talent representation and management to promote Egyptian artists abroad,” Koura says. “It is basically the most powerful job to hold in Hollywood and elsewhere. This power comes from the agent’s talent,” adds Koura, who in April 2015 established CAT, the first creative talent representation and management agency of its kind in the Arab world, with a casting arm responsible for discovering new creative talent.
“What I love about this job is that I can use all my accumulative experience of the past decades. Here, the challenge in Egypt comes when a producer is negotiating with a talent to take on a project and there is no agency like ours in between to close the deal,” Koura says.
Today, CAT has an A-list roster of clients, from actors Hesham Selim and Youssra to acclaimed screenwriters like Mariam Naoum. “Sometimes, Egyptian producers hand me their scripts in order to look for unconventional ways to produce them,” says Koura. “One of these new ways is Netflix which is currently seeking, commissioning and producing new content worldwide. Right now, I finally have a script they are interested in producing because it has an international appeal while also meeting their criteria. In other words, working as an agent is a job that opens doors that were closed for producers.”
The broadcast entrepreneur identifies big changes happening in the broadcast market since the late 1990s when satellite channels became popular in Middle Eastern homes. “The business became more money-led than creative-led,” explains Koura. “In other words, the tendencies changed from having a great TV writer like the late Osama Anwar Okasha to seeking a leading man or woman to secure sales. Few cared about the script and its quality because they focused on raking in profits from the sales of the broadcasting rights. The same applies to cinema when comparing content to distribution. Now, the challenge exists for advertisers who must choose where they to put their ads among this big number of TV channels. Big companies are now rethinking their advertising strategies.”
Koura believes that 30-second commercials will eventually disappear because online streaming ads are becoming alternatives either on YouTube or private company sites but that advertisers and agencies are refusing a complete migration to digital. “Most TV channels will ultimately go off air. The channels that are still making profits are the broadcasters of exclusive live sports events,” he says. “Hence, the future is open for video-on-demand and digital content. This is what Europe, Asia and the Americas realized a few years ago. As for regional channels owners, they are still in denial because some of them are not quite fit to run this business. They lose a lot of money in return for a certain image in media. The only network aware of these changes is MBC, which is gradually shifting its audience from broadcast to stream.”
Ahead of the curve, Koura is looking for greener pastures abroad and seeking international production for his clients. CAT’s challenge, he says, is to cast their rising number of talents in foreign production by promoting these artists at glamorous film festivals like Dubai or Marrakesh. “We see ourselves as an agency during that is very needed in this time of change. The core of this business is that talents will be always needed.”
By Sherif Awad