Saudis have devoured technology since the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). From films to TV shows, to anime and TV channels, the list is endless.
With families all together during the lockdown, one side effect of the virus has been to raise TV viewership to new levels. Saudis are now spending more time in front of their screens — television, phone or computer — than ever before. TV and streaming platforms are doing more than just filling up the gap; they are providing viewers with a huge variety of content to choose from.
OSN (Orbit Showtime Network) a direct broadcast satellite provider in the MENA region, France and UK, along with Netflix, Arabsat, Apple TV, Starzplay Arabia and MBC’s Shahid, are just some of the streaming services that are available in the region, and the amount of content available is limitless.
Many people who have subscriptions to streaming services say they prefer Western content to local. This could be due to quality, quantity and availability. Though a number of regional TV channels have focused their content on old black and white Egyptian films, there are not many other preferred local options for viewers to turn to other than old Arab films.
Sulafa Kurdi, an event photographer and a “Disneyholic,” told Arab News that she has been catching up on a number of movies every night as she bakes or organizes her photo portfolios.
“I now have more time on my hands to watch movies than ever before. I’m catching up to movies that I’ve missed out on when they were released, such as the Lord of the Rings series (which I’m very much resisting) and checking out the top hits of the 1980s and 1990s. I have to say that some were quite good while others were flops.”
All set with her comfort foods and a comfy sofa, Sulafa has quite a few things to catch up on the Disney front too. “While many are tuning into Netflix to watch movies, I download them or turn to my set of Disney DVDs and watch bonus materials or the making of the movies. They’re good background noise sometimes when I’m organizing my studio,” she said.
With so much available online, one wonders where to begin. There are documentaries aplenty, YouTube and Instagram live concerts, cooking classes and so much more.
For TV show fans, there has been a lot of talk about revisiting classics such as Seinfeld, Friends and more as many find comfort in reminiscing about these shows with their friends.
Nahar Al-Hamrani, a creative director at the Crew KSA, said the lockdown has put him in a nostalgic mood as he revisits some of his favorite shows and films, such as Forrest Gump, which has brought joy to fans everywhere.
“I’m currently watching The Office, the US version, documentaries that I’ve watched such as Michael Moore’s Columbine, and gone back to watching Jim Carrey’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Forest Gump and others. Though I am a big fan of films generally, this lockdown has been about revisiting old favorites,” he said.
For Al-Hamrani, content creating is not simply a job, it is his passion and he finds a means of escape through film and getting ideas and concepts from great works, as he gravitates to old movies.
“I’m not really into the new shows that have been released, I am more in the nostalgia feel these days, and I go back and forth between real deep thought movies and mockumentary comedy or docucomedy (a type of movie or TV show depicting fictional events but presented as a documentary) such as The Office. When you binge on something so much, you feel like you’re living it vicariously through it.”
Not everyone is turning to films and TV shows. Lamees Al-Alawi, a former ESL director who is staying with her parents during this trying time, said that she has been consuming news more than ever before.
“I’ve been watching the news with my dad nonstop, whether it is a local news channel or a Western one because I find it vital to keep up with the news at all times.
“I do so because I have plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the UK and I’d like to constantly be in the know, keeping up to date with the current situation at home and abroad and how they’re dealing with the coronavirus outbreak,” she said. “What affects them affects us in return. We’re not alone in this situation and personally, it brings me comfort to know more about it all.”
As for local content, the Saudi Broadcasting Authority (SBA) is bringing families together during the coronavirus lockdown as classic TV shows and programs are brought back to screens. Thikrayat — which means “memories” in Arabic — was launched as an entertainment initiative by the SBA to encourage people to stay at home. With over 460,000 titles, it ensures round the clock entertainment for all ages.
From old Arabic dubbed anime and interviews with musical greats such as Talal Maddah and Dr. Abdulrab Idrees, to exclusive interviews with the likes of King Salman when he was governor of Riyadh, and Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Saudi, Arab and Muslim astronaut, Thikrayat has something for everyone.