New media is set to change the way how many of the region’s residents view movies, as Miramax prepares to launch a new Facebook application that will allow users to watch movies online in Qatar. Amina Belgheti promotes Facebook to the Middle East market, and yesterday gave some insight into how Facebook, as a platform, can help all filmmakers and distributors promote their content at a panel discussion at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival. Speaking to the media, she explained: “In this case we’ve seen some interesting experiments by movie studios, small and large who are actually able to create applications … and what you’re able to do is rent (movies) using Facebook credits”, the virtual currency used on the website. These kinds of rental services are already available in other markets, and cost anywhere between $3-4 using a variety of possible payment methods. The advantage for filmmakers and distributors is that pretty much everything about the service is decided by the content owner, including price and where they want to release it, what the experience looks like, and whether it is on Facebook or iPad. Belgheti said that this kind of service has actually been available for some time now, but it takes time for film studios to actually decide that they want to try it, depending on the “number of users they’re seeing and the traction they think they can get”. So far mostly American or European studios have actually been creating these applications, but she says there is no reason why there won’t be film or TV content coming from the Middle East soon. The platform could allow independent filmmakers to distribute their own products online by creating their own applications, although it is also possible that a third party can produce an application that will distribute content without going through studios and distributors. Belgheti says that the advantage of the Facebook platform is the social aspect, as users can watch movies with their friends, share and comment on films, and possibly even share clips and quotes with each other. Online distribution is an attractive possibility for independent filmmakers struggling to find a wider audience for their movies. Egyptian filmmaker Ahmad Alaa is considering launching his short film 18 Days, about the Tahrir Square revolution, online in order give the movie greater exposure. All of the panellists agreed that TV will not be replaced by online video content anytime soon, especially as illegal downloading, or content piracy, makes it difficult for the monetisation of video-on-demand to be effective. MBC has started providing online content from their website allowing viewers to catch up on episodes they’ve missed or would like to see again. A panellist representing MBC said that online content will only help to promote and complement TV content, as TV remains the medium of choice in the Middle East and elsewhere. He believes, however, that online distribution will help promote quality content created by independent filmmakers without access to studios, unburdened by the need for commercial success and corporate backing.