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PROGRAMMING: MTVN Launches MTV Arabia

As part of a significant expansion in the Middle East, MTVNetworks International launched a free-to-air Arabic language service MTV Arabia on November 17.

The move follows the launch earlier this month of MTV Israel as on demand broadband service in Israel and plans in 2008 to launch a Nickelodeon Arabia channel, noted Bhavneet Singh, managing director and senior vice president, emerging markets, at MTV Networks International (MTVNI) in an interview.

Both MTV Arabia and the upcoming Nickelodeon Arabia service are being done as part of licensing deal with Arab Media Group. Additional channels, including Arabic-language versions of Comedy Central, are also under consideration for Middle Eastern launches.

MTV Israel is a partnership with Ananey Communications, a major TV and digital media company in Israel.

Singh admits that political instability remains an issue in the region but notes that improved regulatory climate, a vibrant satellite TV business, healthy multichannel advertising and the region’s demographic profile offer huge opportunities for MTV’s younger skewing brands.

“Sixty percent of the population is below the age of 25, which means you have 120 million in our core demo,” he notes. “On top of that three of the top 10 advertising markets are now in the Middle East and the regulatory framework has become stable enough for us get into the market.”

The Middle Eastern satellite programming business is already extremely competitive, with over 300 free-to-air channels competing for ad dollars. There are also several dozen music satellite channels available in the region.

While most of the music channels depend heavily on premium phone voting revenues, Singh notes, however, that MTV Arabia is pursuing a very different strategy.

“We are a youth channel, not a music service,” with extensive localized long form programming, he explains, with most of its revenues coming from advertising.

Mobile is, however, an important part of MTVNI’s regional plans. The company already has three mobile services in Israel—MTV Music, MTV Shorts and Nickelodeon Israel—and it is in DVB-H mobile TV trials in the UAE.

“My ambition is to have a MTV Arabia on the mobile in 12 to 13 months,” he says.

The channel will feature such imported fare as Pimp My Ride, but will be extensively localized, featuring several Arabic language series and reality shows as well as local versions of some popular MTV shows.

Arabic Hip Hop artists are also a major programming focus. A flagship Hip HopNa talent search show will feature presenters traveling through the region to find new local rappers.

MTV Arabia is available free-to-air on Arabsat and Nilesat across the Middle East, reaching about 36 million TV homes and is being complemented by a Arabic and English language web site, www.MTVa.com