We’ve heard a lot in recent months about how online content is an ever-growing source of work, inspiration and revenue for producers both locally and all over the world.
Whether it’s local production or animation houses sidestepping the traditional broadcasters, big budget shows such as the US House of Cards remake choosing to broadcast exclusively via Netflix, or the news that YouTube is officially now the world’s biggest broadcaster.
There’s no denying that what was once a dumping ground for cat videos and kids falling off their bikes is rapidly becoming a serious player in both the content production and delivery sectors.
It should probably come as no surprise, then, to learn that when of the world’s best known confectionary brands decided to launch a new campaign to connect with its customers in the region, online content was at the forefront of its thinking, and thus was born Kit Kat Comedy Breaks.
The reality-come talent show received online entries from over 100 aspiring would-be Arab comedians, whittling them down with the help of the established comics who acted as judges to just nine.
The successful nine were then whisked off to a luxury villa on The Palm Dubai where they would spend the next nine weeks under the constant scrutiny of cameras, honing their techniques.
Hopefuls were progressively eliminated, with the best of the week’s action condensed into a 15 minute show on YouTube, until the 30-minute finale saw the winner crowned from the last three remaining contestants.
Joseph Sindaha, head of digital for Kit Kat parent Nestlé Middle East, explains the background to the show: “We started out looking at how best to reach our customers and our research found that Kit Kat’s key demographic was between 18 and 26 years old.
A lot of our activity then focused on what sort of content best reached that audience, and we concluded that online video consumption was very high in that group, especially in Saudi.
We looked at what they were consuming and comedy was huge. That worked really well with our branding of ‘Putting a Smile in Your Break,’ and the idea of a comedy reality show worked on two levels – it worked for the brand and also worked as a way of helping the local comedy scene. There are small pockets of comedy clubs, but it’s a tiny scene, there are no funds or training and we thought we could own that platform and help young comedians.
“We’d like to become a big player in developing the local comedy scene. It goes well with the Kit Kat branding of giving people a break. Plus we’re also keen to get involved with increasing Arabic content generally.”
Anthony Giordano, account director for Nestlé MENA at media agency MEC continues: “So we decided to go with online content. It created the perfect opportunity to reach our target audience. Of course, there was also the matter of driving people to the content – it doesn’t just go viral by itself.
Kit Kat had a Facebook page, but no Twitter or YouTube presence in the region, so we started by addressing that. Twitter worked really hard for us in terms of getting people to to the YouTube channel as well as the Kit Kat Comedy Breaks site itself, and Facebook too. We used a lot of online places to drive traffic to the YouTube channel.”
Over 100 contestants from all across the MENA region submitted their entries to the Comedy Breaks site in the form of uploaded short clips, where their efforts were judged by representatives of all the concerned parties as well as the judges themselves.
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The team quickly learnt some vital lessons about interacting with the public online. File size of entries, for example, which the team had thought would be intuitive, turned out to perhaps be less so for those not in the industry, so everything had to be kept as simple as possible, and this eventually led to the whittling down of the hopeful pack to just nine successful candidates, and production could begin in earnest: “The first stage of production had actually already taken place before then, for the recruitment videos,” explains Amin Soltani, head of production at Y&R Advertising. “We featured the judges telling us about their lives and how they went into comedy and their history, just to try and encourage and inspire people to enter.
“Once we were into the house, between three and five camera crews followed the contestants round, there was a separate interview area where contestants could address the audience directly and we also set challenges, some in the villa and some on location. We shot on a boat, in theatres, we had trainers come into the house to help the contestants with technique.
“We also had one hidden camera, but just the one. It wasn’t like Big Brother that is on 24-hrs a day for weeks. The crews were there the whole time to capture the general conversations and so that the contestants got used to them. There was a real feeling and the closeness of the contestants through those little personal clips.
“The judges were often there with the contestants too and we wanted them to interact with the contestants as well as judge them. They were all local comedians who have come through the local scene, so their start was similar to the contestants.
Comedy is still not widely accepted in Arab culture – Fahad Albutairi was saying one day that his father hadn’t known what a comedian was until he saw Fahad on MBC. Some of our contestants probably faced a similar lack of understanding.”
With a camera crew of around 15 from Blue Cactus Productions shooting on 5D, and a wealth of support staff, plus all the post taking place at Dubai’s renowned Optix post house, the show had all the makings of a big TV shoot, but Soltani is keen to note that there is a massive difference between shooting for TV and shooting for YouTube: “It’s a totally different style to TV,” he explains.
“We do a lot of work on TVCs, and it’s been similar in terms of the quality required – you certainly can’t get away with second rate production values online anymore - but for YouTube you have to shoot in a way that will draw audiences in.
You need bubbles or interactivity or subscribe options and you have to shoot to allow these elements to speak too. You have to be thinking ahead about how you place the camera with that in mind. Every one really understood that and we were also able to bring in loads of elements like behind the scenes stuff, which you can’t usually do on TV.”
The editing and post was an interesting experience too – with so much footage to get through for each weekly show, how did the crew cope? “We were capturing eight hours of footage every day on five cameras, so 40 hours a day,” says Soltani.
There was a lot to cut down for each episode which made it interesting. Everyone on the project from the client down was involved with the brainstorming and editing process. It wasn’t a situation where you could just make the show and take the finished product to the client.
We had seven or eight people working together to decide what went in. We started work on a new episode each Sunday, and delivered it the following Sunday. It was a shame there was only one episode a week as we had so much great footage.”
The episodes are still available to watch on Kit Kat’s YouTube channel, but by way of a spoiler, Bahraini comedian Waddah Swar was crowned Kit kat’s funniest Arab at the end of the competition.
Remy Ejel, business executive manager at Nestle MENA, congratulated him by saying: “Our judges provided the finalists with invaluable coaching and guidance and witnessing our finalists’ journey to become more accomplished comedians has been a pleasure.
We have been overwhelmed by the public’s response across the region and internally as they watched our amateur comedians battle it out against each other. The audience’s participation and comments on social media made the judging process and performances even more interactive and fun.”
Swar, whose prize included $15,000 and the support slot with Fahad Al Butairi, added simply: “I am taking my wife and going to the Maldives with Nestlé’s money!”
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Meet the Judges
Tony Abou Jaoude: Lebanese comedian and impressionist Abou Jaoude is perhaps best known for his TV show Ya Leil Ya 3ein. Abou Jaoude traditionally deals with a lot of politics and social issues in his sets, although these subjects, along with sex and religion, were banned from the Kit Kat show.
Shaima Al Sayed: Shaima Al Sayed is the sister of Ali and a stand up in her own right too. She took part in the Rotana Comedy tour as part of Dubomedy’s Funny Girls - season II troupe and also opened for the infamous Lebanese stand-up Nemr Abou Nassar at the Abu Dhabi Comedy Festival, among other shows.
Ali Al Sayed: Emirati comedian Al Sayed is allegedly the holder of the title of Dubai’s first professional comedian. Al Sayed was named one of the most influential comedians in the world by Toastmasters International Magazine in 2011 and recently dubbed the King of Laughter by Rolling Stone ME. He is the co-director of Dubomedy Arts, the first and only comedy and urban arts school in the MENA region.
Fahad Albutairi: Albutairi holds the distinction of being the first Saudi stand up to perform both internationally and on Saudi stages. Although initially worried about how audiences in Saudi Arabia might receive stand-up, he participated in his first Saudi performance in Riyadh in 2009, which attracted over 1,200 audience members. In 2009, Albutairi won the “Be a Part of the Amman Stand-up Comedy Festival 2009” Contest.