x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Online hunt on for Arab world’s stars of the future

The man who discovered Bassem Youssef is on the hunt for the Arab world’s new generation of stars via YouTube.

Tarek Elkazzaz is the founder and chief executive of Qsoft, the company that launched and produces Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef's TV show Albarnameg. Christopher Pike / The National
Tarek Elkazzaz is the founder and chief executive of Qsoft, the company that launched and produces Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef's TV show Albarnameg. Christopher Pike / The National

The man who discovered Bassem Youssef, the host of a popular Egyptian satirical show, is on the hunt for the Arab world’s new generation of stars via YouTube.

Tarek Elkazzaz, the founder and chief executive of Qsoft, the company that launched and produces Youssef’s Albarnameg [The Programme] is seeking new talent via Tubestar Network, a website that has garnered some 4,000 subscribers already.

Youssef is expected to play a key role in the process as content director and will help new talent with creative writing. Albarnameg is currently off air after contravening the Egyptian channel CBC’s editorial policies.

“First thing, the show is not cancelled. It is put on hold. We are in negotiations with the channel [CBC] and will announce the results as we soon as we’re ready to do so. It is not going to affect [Tubestar Network] and Bassem will focus more on the promotion of Tubestar Network,” said Mr Elkazzaz.

Budding stars are encouraged to submit a short clip to the website where users vote for their favourites. Using an algorithm that monitors the number of views, likes, shares and watch time, Qsoft picks the top 10 and produces a five-minute TV pilot for them.

“Qsoft is all about finding talent on the internet,” said Mr Elkazzaz. “Bassem was a prototype to tell people we can discover talent and commercialise and upgrade and maintain that talent. This is what Qsoft is about, discovering and developing talent and helping it trend globally.”

A large part of his work involves convincing people that they can achieve the same fame and following as Youssef, while he also works with television networks to support new talent. The company is close to establishing a presence within Abu Dhabi’s twofour54, keen supporters of Qsoft.

“What we want to do is to give a clear cut path for discovery. We are raising a lot of investment to build this infrastructure and make sure everyone is involved,” said Mr Elkazzaz. “At the moment we don’t think the playground is level. We need to establish this infrastructure and make sure every multi-channel network and big channel work together and instil inspiration and aspiration in people to showcase and generate talent online.”

Qsoft also provides stars with information and education about the legalities of production and intellectual property rights. It also provides training to those who make it through to the next stages in pitching processes and designing business models for their idea.

Qsoft is YouTube’s biggest partner across the Middle East and North Africa and the number of video views managed by the company exceeds 4.5 billion, with more than 1.5 million video assets claimed, managed and monetised by the company across more than 500 channels. Qsoft is looking to double the number of views by 2015.

The company’s most successful show is Albarnameg. Youssef’s channel is now the largest YouTube channel in the region. At its peak the show would attract 30 million television viewers every weekend. The American Idol finale episode by comparison managed only 22 million viewers.

“Bassem is a lifelong friend. I knew he had something. He is very interesting on a personal level, and the internet is an intimate experience. If he was interesting in person, he would be in front of the camera too,” said Mr Elkazzaz.

Youssef’s show began in the form of five to seven-minute videos on YouTube. It then developed into a 26-minute television show, before graduating into a full hour in the second season.

When they uploaded the first video, Mr Elkazzaz and his team anticipated getting about 10,000 views in one week. The video received five million views in two months, far exceeding their expectations. The video received only one dislike on YouTube.

Youssef recently left Cairo after CBC, the television network that aired his show, pulled the plug.

“I can’t believe it. I really loved his show and I wait for his episodes every week. CBC should say we are not airing the show because of this or that, but they haven’t and they left the people with only one idea which is the military stopped it,” said Asma Haggag, a fan based in Cairo.

thamid@thenational.ae