MTV Arabia gets the green light

Music and entertainment network MTV will launch a dedicated channel for the Middle East, Campaign can reveal.

Bhavneet Singh, MTV's deputy general manager for emerging markets, said the network would make an announcement on the launch date of the channel, which will be called MTV Arabia, in the next six months.

The international music network also wants to tap into the region's growing fascination with mobile and online technologies by offering streamed content to phones and launching a dedicated Arabic language MTV website.

"The Middle East is a very, very vibrant part of the world where we don't have a localised MTV," he said.

"It's important that at some stage, when the time is right, we will want to have a localised MTV Arabia.

"I would say that we'll know in the next six months or so as to when we would want to launch."

MTV's Europe and India channels are currently available through the Showtime pay TV platform, but Singh said that because the region's subscription market was still underdeveloped, any standalone channel would be broadcast free-to-air across the Middle East.

"The challenge is going to be how do we keep ourselves unique and relevant to the local population while there are already 12 or so channels already present in this market?" he said.

"How do we get a huge host of MTV programmes, which have been successful across the world, to be locally relevant and compelling enough that we not only attract the audience and the eyeballs, but also that the advertisers start to follow it and it becomes a sustainable model?

"We need to do the research and find out what people want and where there are gaps in the kind of entertainment that people are looking for."

Singh added that once the first MTV channel was up and running the plan would be to cater for local tastes by setting up operations in specific markets. "Initially we'll start as a pan-Arab offering, but at some point down the line as markets go digital and new platforms start to open up, we'd definitely want to have localised offerings for markets like Egypt, the UAE and Kuwait," Singh said.

"I think what's unique about the region is to be able to cater it to each market because they have their unique traditions and music."

MTV has been lured to the Middle East not only by the potentially lucrative advertising opportunities, but also by increasing internet penetration rates and the popularity of mobile phones.

Singh said that MTV products such as MTV Overdrive, which delivers video to viewers at broadband speed, and MTV Flux, where online users can create their own TV channel, had generated interest from the region's internet service providers.

"There are 37 million mobile subscribers in the wider Middle East, which is phenomenal and the average revenue per user is comparable to Western Europe. We believe that's where the future is - the ability to watch content wherever and however you want.

We want to provide Middle East youth with the opportunity to watch MTV on mobile, on broadband and on television. We're in discussions with mobile operators in the UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, to look at how to distribute MTV content. There's been a huge amount of interest in that."

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