Pay TV network plans to produce Arabic shows

Middle East TV network Showtime is working on a plan to create high quality Arabic programme content, Campaign can reveal.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  May 21, 2006

Middle East TV network Showtime is working on a plan to create high quality Arabic programme content, Campaign can reveal. The move would mark a major departure for the Dubai-based channel, which has built its subscriber base on the back of first-run showings of Western programming. Peter Einstein, the president and CEO of Showtime, told Campaign that he was interested in the path taken by the HBO network in the US. The subscription channel funded a series of high production value dramas like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under which later found a mainstream audience. Einstein said: “We are considering what is the next challenge. While we will continue to search for the best of international programming, one of the next things for us is made-for-pay-TV programming in Arabic.” Despite the fact that much of the material on Showtime’s current 50 channels is in English, the vast majority of the network’s estimated 200,000 or so consumers are Arab, so most programmes are shown with subtitles. Einstein said: “There is lots of Arabic programming available on free-to-air. HBO stood out by creating things like The Sopranos and Sex in the City. For us it could be in any genre and that is what we are exploring right now. “It would need to be unique and different.” He added: “I think we will start seeing things coming through the pipeline in the next 18 months.” Asked whether the station was already talking to production companies within the region, he said: “Yes — everybody. Even Hollywood studio partners are interested.” He said that potential production hubs could include the forthcoming Dubai Studio City, along with Beirut. He added: “You can also do things very nicely in Cairo, but what will be available in Studio City is very sophisticated.” Showtime is jointly owned by Kuwaiti investment firm Kipco and the US media giant Viacom. Its main pay TV competitors are ART and Orbit. According to market analysts Booz Allen, the biggest pay TV market in the region is Egypt, where there are 480,000 subscribers, 85% of them to ART. Showtime’s biggest numbers of subscribers come from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Einstein was speaking after taking part in one of the most opulent press launches of the year. Showtime, which last month moved its PR brief to Impact Porter Novelli, flew in more than 30 journalists from around the region and transferred them by helicopter to a press conference at the Burj Al Arab, in order to showcase a new subscriber package.

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