December 11, 2023

Nadav Palti is about to mark his 20th year as CEO of Dori Media, the prolific Israeli production and distribution firm headquartered in Tel Aviv. Earlier this month, Palti and Dori executives from Argentina, Mexico, Switzerland, Spain, Singapore and other locations were busy preparing to bring the company’s largest-ever slate of TV shows and movies to pitch to global buyers.

Everything changed on Oct. 7. That day marked outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas after the start of a Hamas-led terror campaign in Gaza that has left more than 1,400 Israelis dead. The world has been horrified by the brutality and senseless violence aimed at Israel.

Palti has a 34-year-old son in the Israel Defense Forces reserves. Palti himself served in the IDF from 1977 to 1982, rising to the rank of commander. The elder Palti, who was named Dori Media CEO in 2004, wrestled with the decision on whether his company should drop out of the annual Mipcom conference and market held this week in Cannes to focus on the crisis unfolding at home. In the end, Palti made the trip along with his younger son, budding producer Dar Palti.

In the conversation below, Nadav Palti explains why he felt it was vital in this incendiary moment to keep Dori Media’s business plans on track as much as possible. Founded in 1996, Dori Media is devoted to storytelling, and storytelling is key to reaching hearts and minds. The banner was behind the 2021 film “Let It Be Morning,” a gentle comedy about an Arab village put on lockdown by the IDF that was written and directed by top Israeli helmer Eran Kolirin from the book of the same name by renowned Arab-Israeli author Sayed Kashua.

Palti points to that film and the Dori Media series “Shtisel” as examples of how TV shows and movies can help build the cultural bridges that are needed now more than ever. With few exceptions, Palti emphasizes, “different people from all around the world get along very fast together because the values and the principles are the same for everybody.”

Let me start by expressing my deepest sympathy to you, your family and your country for the horror that Israel is enduring. The emotional costs of this violence cannot be quantified. From a business perspective, what do you think the Hamas war will mean for Israel’s media sector? Dori Media’s success is an example of how the industry has grown significantly over the past few decades.

First we have to say that it’s really one of the saddest, toughest periods in the history of Israel. Everybody in Israel is as you described, sad and worried. No one in Israel even thinks or knows how it’s going to end or what’s going to happen and how it’s going to develop. But I want to say that I saw what I saw in Israel. We’ve had a huge debate before, like 10 months before, a lot of demonstrations. Very not together. This was very sad also. Now, in one second, all Israelis get united. And everybody’s volunteering. People who can go to the army go to the army, volunteers who cannot are doing the best they can to support all the people around. It’s a very problematic time for Israel. Now with what’s happened — it’s undescribable, unspeakable. But it’s been a long period that we are not in very good shape in Israel, and maybe this will somehow rebuild our society in our country again.

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Business-wise, the short term is very tough. Mid-term and long term, I think we will recover. Unfortunately, we’ve had situations in the past — not like this — but we have had situations from time to time. And we are very organized about what to do and how to recover. Also, Dori Media is a global company. So we produce in Mexico and Argentina and we have a team from all around the world that came to Mipcom, from Buenos Aires, from Madrid and from Singapore. Unfortunately, the Israeli team canceled but I have to come because I have to support all the team here. Our people from Madrid are very sensitive and concerned. So to speak with him, I have to encourage them. If we let our enemy dictate our life or dictate what we are doing — they win. We’ll not let them win. Winning is not only on the battlefield, it’s a 360-degree operation. We have to continue. If not, they will win. So one of my toughest decisions [whether] is to come here. My son is in the army now – he’s in the reserve in Gaza and unfortunately as we get into this, he will be in there.

How has your business been affected by the war so far?

We have six TV channels, they continue 24/7 and they will continue to operate. We came here with the biggest slate ever — some of them are now in post-production and editing, others are in a production or we wanted to start shooting few months and others are in development. So we have a lot of work we cannot do now. Shooting you cannot do now [in Israel]. But all the rest you can do. So we work. Our offices in Israel are not closed because the regulations are that if you have a shelter in the office, you can continue to work. But we also allow employees to work from home with no problem and we are actually we are very organized for this because during the coronavirus virus pandemic we worked from home. We are used to doing it very efficiently. So actually our operation is not really hurt. Yes, people are very emotional. A lot of our employees involved and some of them went to the army. Some of them have kids in the in the army, some of them have neighbors or friends or cousins [hurt by the terror attacks]. So everybody is involved. Israel is a very small country. And I think we will be stronger and more united. I want to try to be optimistic because it’s a very sad time.

When you mention that Dori Media operates in Buenos Aires and Mexico and other places around the world – it strikes me that the media and entertainment business is more globally intertwined than ever but at the same time we’re seeing the rise of violence and extremism across Europe, the U.S. and many other places. What explains that disconnect?

People are the same. People get along great, believe me. It’s the politicians and the leaders who somehow think they can separate people and this is how they can get power. Unfortunately, you can see it every place – the leader wants to separate people, wants to go fight wars. If you are sitting in any place around the world – in a restaurant, in a hotel, in a business meeting – different people from all around the world get along very fast together because the values and the principles are the same for everybody. I will give you an example. We have “Shtisel,” a great show that is on Netflix and by the way we are now selling different windows around the world. “Shtisel” is about a family that lives in one of the most orthodox neighborhoods in Israel, called Hundred Gates. And then we sold [remake rights] to a company in Turkey, OGM Pictures. Today, it win the ratings every Monday. It’s a great show. They’ll create more episodes [than the original Israeli series].

When the producers [from OGM] called me to say they want this show, I asked them, did you watch it? This is about the most orthodox neighborhood in Israel. his entire life. And he said you will not believe it but in Islam, the situation is the same. Same principle, same value, same family value. He said the relationship between the father and the son in this show is the same like in Turkey and in our Islamic culture. And when the son comes to the father and says “I met widow with kids and I want to marry her.” The father says, “What is happening, are you dumb? What’s wrong with you?” [The OGM producer] said I want to get into the head of this father. This is the same in our culture in Islam. So this is what I want to tell you. It’s not the people [creating division], it is the leaders, it’s the politicians. Judaism, Islam, Christian – it’s the same people, same value, same understanding.

It sounds trite at a time of war but it is true that storytelling can reach people in profound ways.

I believe the big OTTs [streaming platforms] and internet and social media opens the minds of people to listen to different language, to understand a different culture. I believe that you will see more [non-American] shows on air even in the U.S. or all around the world. And yes, it’s open and you have a lot of very good content from all around the world with a budget of course that is much less than for what you can produce in the U.S.. So it’s very beneficial because you can get a good show, high-end product but with much less budget. So hopefully we’ll see more and more good shows from all around the world on the big platforms.

Tell me about your experience with “Let It Be Morning.” Was that a conscious effort to bring together a project with a Palestinian author [Sayed Kashua] and an Israeli director [Eran Kolirin]?

“Let It Be Morning” is about what’s happened in Israel. It was in official competition here in Cannes for the Cannes Film Festival in 2021 and it was the candidate of Israel for the Oscar in the U.S. Unfortunately, we didn’t win the Oscar. It’s based on a book that [Kashua] worote and by the way, he did a past show for us that we produced for Keshet in Israel called “Arab Labor” which was a great show. So he’s a great author. And then Eran Kolirin is a great director. And so Kolirin wrote the script for the movie out of the book. Kolirin is one of the great directors and content people that we have in Israel and Sayed Kashua is one of the great writers that we have. Both of them are Israeli people. And we can work greatly together. This happened and we have a great movie called “Let It Be Morning.”

With all that has happened, how has business been for you at this market?

It’s been very active. A lot of meetings. We run out of time all the time. I believe that we will close a lot of deals [in the coming weeks]. We will announce our deals only after we signed them. Because originally we are a public company. We used to trade on the London Stock Exchange. We did the delisting years ago but we continue to act as a public company. So we are very careful about what we announce and when. But I believe that it’s going a very good market for us [despite] unfortunately the circumstances around us.

Dori Media produces a wide range of TV, from shiny floor game shows to feature films to action dramas. Two series projects that have generated buzz here are new dramas “Amia” and “Indal.” Both touch on contemporary social issues including discrimination in Israel against Black immigrants. What are your priorities right now when it comes to content development?

We do a mix but we concentrate much more on TV. The demand now is more for TV. Film is tougher to produce today. We concentrate on scripted, but we also like doing nonscripted. We have 7,500 hours in our library and more than 150 titles.

We did “Indal” in Israel — a great action show about the European community in Israel. This will transfer worldwide because this is a subject that can happen anywhere. It’s about a Black Jewish Israelis who come from Ethiopia, and they are abused especially by the police. So this story is about one of the policemen who was very violent and aggressive and he’s also corrupt policemen. “Amia” is about the events that happened between ‘92 and ’94 against the Jewish community in Argentina, after the Israeli embassy was bombed. Eighty-five people were killed and more than 300 people wounded. This was the biggest terrorist attack on civilians in the Americas before 9/11. The first season which is eight episodes is inspired by what happened between ‘92 and ‘94. If everything goes OK, we want to do second season that shows what happened between ’94 and 2015.

“Indal” sounds like a very timely project. Has it generated interest from streamers?

Not yet because we don’t even have episodes yet. It will go on [Israel cable channel] Hot and then we will start to sell it. I’m sure we will sell it to one of the biggest networks in the world. And “Amia” I believe will sell to a big company. It’s really high-end, fit for everyone, kind of like ‘Homeland’ [ the Showtime series adapted from Israel’s “Prisoner of War”]. But again, we don’t have episodes yet. We are now doing all the editing and post-production and hopefully by the beginning of next year we will start to present everything and sell it also.

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