Albatros: Meeting with Zaven Kouyoumdjian: The future of Television

May 2017

Camille Brunel: The saga of the man who has changed the history of Lebanese television since the 1990’s and who remains an indisputable celebrity of the small screen, can only be told through the successive events the country has gone through the past 25 years. Born in 1970, he made his debut at Télé-Liban at age 22.

As a result of the Lebanese war, he embraces the more serious subjects without taboos. So in 1996, while filming the massacre of Cana, orchestrated by the Israelis during operation "Grapes of Wrath" and overwhelmed by his own emotion, Zaven Kouyoumdjian becomes one of the leader correspondents of war and main TV events. Decorated and awarded many prizes throughout his career “certificate of honor of the order of the Lebanese press, the UN sustainability program, the Arab Media award from the UK International College in London, the best Talk Show award of the Media Festival of the UL, the best social talk show award at the 3rd Arab Youth Media Forum 2010 in Amman and many more”… he was ranked among the top 5 of the best Lebanese talk shows by the National audiovisual Council, classified as the second best talk show in the Middle East, ranked among the 43 most influential people of the Arab world by The International Magazine, etc.

ZAVEN left Télé-Liban for the Future TV in 1999. His talk show "Sire Wenfatahit", deals frankly with social issues on drugs, sexuality, poverty or AIDS, allowing many personalities to speak out freely. He marks an important milestone in the evolution of television in the year 2000. The birth of satellite TV gives an international exposure to Zaven’s talk show, which becomes the most viewed in the Arab world and particularly in Saudi Arabia that would franchise him sustainably.

September 11, 2001 while all eyes are on the Near East, Zaven chocks the Western audience with bravely modern and progressive shows.

He is notably the first in the region to connect the small screen with the emerging Internet by creating a YouTube Channel and distributing cameras to people so that they can film themselves live.

ZAVEN constantly renews himself, surprises and creates, always confronts the establishment in affirming his positions and defending the causes. It is also what he has accomplished through the publication of several books on television that have been translated into several languages and reissued many times. The latest publication "Lebanon on screen" (edited by Alba and Hachette Antoine) celebrates the great moments of the history of the Lebanese TV from the 60s to date.

It is from this book that Zaven, a teacher of Alba’s TV students, develops a course intended primarily to make the students reconcile with TV history, its roots and its reason for being, to deepen their knowledge.

How do you watch TV when you are 20 years old in 2017 while being perpetually glued to your smart-phone and create your own show with available tools while disregarding the rules and the legacy of a medium that has developed over time? Zaven proposed to relearn how to watch TV to a generation born with the Internet and with a multitude of screens within reach. For him, the Lebanese never build on the ruins of the past. They perpetually start from scratch in their creations thus not allowing culture to truly evolve. Influenced by his Armenian origins, he believes in roots, history and legacy. Therefore, his mission is to create a common ground between generations of viewers. One of the final exercises given to his students will be to watch TV with their parents and simply have a talk. By the yardstick of his constant questioning and his concern to adapt to the changing world, Zaven Kouyoumdjian seeks a way to imagine the future of television and hopes to be a part of it.