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Lebanon's Cineklik Guides Moviegoers in the Arab World
“I like movies, but I don’t have time to go to them,” says Nagi Salloum, founder of regional cinema show-time online database Cineklik. “I became more of a TV series guy because you can watch them whenever you want.”
This attitude, however surprising it might be for someone who hopes to someday make his fortune based on others’ love for the movie-going experience, is perhaps indicative of a classic entrepreneurial spirit. Salloum isolated a niche in the regional marketplace, and adapted an existing idea in an attempt to fill it. Judging from the steady increase in pageviews since Cineklik’s launch (around 3,000 per month in 2006 to about 150,000 per month this year) and the modest revenues Cineklik is generating, it seems his idea has found something of a foothold.
From the way Salloum explains the impetus behind Cineklik, it seems as though its innovation filled a void in his professional life as well. Having taken a lucrative marketing job at Procter & Gamble in 2005. Salloum felt somewhat adrift, having “lost the space to innovate” at his new job hawking personal care products and needing “an outlet” for his creativity.
Frustrated one day while trying to plan an evening out, creativity came to him: inspired by websites in America that compile city-wide movie show-times in one space, he decided to launch a similar site in Lebanon. Cineklik was born with Salloum manually entering cinema show-times and movie information he personally collected from cinema websites or phone operators.
Data from cinemas is still manually entered, and he takes pride in the fact that the site has been updated consistently every week since its 2006 launch.
This has not always been easy given the unstable political situation in Lebanon (traffic decreased considerably during and after the July War in 2006), and has become more difficult still with the site’s expansion last December to other countries in the region, namely Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE. Salloum now employs 6 full-time and 2 part-time employees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Seattle, in the U.S., who still manually enter data into the site, having compiled raw data from cinemas around the region, ensuring Cineklik always has fresh information.
Relaunching and Going Mobile
Having handed Cineklik's reins over to his brother in 2009 when a new job at Google left him with insufficient “bandwidth” to run the site himself, Salloum resumed control over the site in 2012 to prepare for the international launch.
Citing the layout and user experience profile at the time as having been “outdated,” he oversaw a complete revamp of the site. Beyond just overhauling the layout, he incorporated a new ‘Collections’ section to the site, with “fun and attractive” Buzzfeed-style lists like ‘7 Celebrities with Unexpected Hobbies’ (now featured on Cineklik’s homepage) he hopes will attract more non-movie-goers to the site, and foster a more “interactive” user experience. A mobile version of the site, with affiliated apps, is also in the works.
But while the big cinema chains of Lebanon and the Arab world that show bombastic Hollywood blockbusters– like ABC’s Grand Cinemas, Cinemacity, and Empire– have been on board from the beginning, Salloum and his team have struggled maintaining their relationships with the often quirky proprietors of smaller independent movie houses like the Beirut gem Metropolis, and the myriad small cinemas in Tripoli, Lebanon that are enjoying something of a resurgence. All business, Salloum says that it is always “easier to work with a Grand Cinemas than a Metropolis.”
But if the cinephile among us might sniff at the exclusion of independent films from Cineklik’s database, it seems that Cineklik’s core clientele isn’t bothered by the lack of more subtle films on the roster. Salloum’s main demographic, university students and those between the ages of 15 and 25, are the groups most likely to go to the cinema for fun, rather than to see a specific film. They’re also usually unapologetic fans of the blockbuster movies that Cineklik is most likely to feature on its homepage.
Competitors abound in each market, and yet none- ammancinemas.com, bahraincinema.com, and qatarhappening.com among them- seem to have significant traffic. Whether the market is niche in general, or these sites simply haven't cornered it, Salloum remains confident that it's a profitable market, and that his studio advertisers like Sony and Warner Bros. will sign on for larger contracts as the site grows. An Arabic interface might help as well.
In the meantime, Salloum hopes that the new Cineklik will satisfy not only people trying to plan a night out, but “general entertainment fans” as well. Perhaps it's a small step towards, as he says on Twitter, “trying to change the world.”
Stephanie d'Arc Taylor lives in Beirut and works as an editor for NOW Lebanon. She holds a B.A in Anthropology from the University of Southern California, an M.A. in Historical Studies from the New School for Social Research, and is currently studying for a dual Ph.D. in Historical Studies and Politics at the same institution. She blogs at Refugee Yoga.
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