Brand new content

Pan-Arab broadcaster MBC is revamping its website to include more rich media and user interaction, its group director says.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  October 7, 2007

All over the world, media providers are grappling with the challenge - and enormous opportunity - offered by the internet.

While broadcasters in Europe and the US have been biting their nails over illegal downloads and copyright issues, Middle East broadcasters can afford to be more pragmatic.

If I invest all this money, do all this work on the TV side for so many years – and then the website is not up to standard, it means we’re messing up the brand.

Regional giant MBC is currently in the process of a long-term redevelopment of its website, the broadcaster's main online portal for its TV programming. This involves increasing the amount of rich content - including video - on the site, and offering more scope for user interaction and e-commerce.

The reasons behind the redevelopment are clear for the broadcaster, according to Dr Ammar Bakkar, group director of new media at MBC. He sees the site as a key tool in reaching MBC's audience, and also for leveraging additional opportunities for the firm.

"We look at RoI from two points of view: first, you have the idea of preaching to your audience, promoting your programmes, showing them everything they need to know about the channels, connecting them with the characters and the personalities on the channel - giving extended service to them," explains Bakkar.

"This is our audience - they like us, they spend a lot of time watching our channels. We like them - we love them - and we want to give them more. It's the kind of free stuff you give to your customers - a promotion you offer to your audience," he adds.

This manifests itself in a number of initiatives - currently the site is offering a video-on-demand service for its Ramadan programming. Bakkar and his team are also working on and rolling out additional opportunities for site visitors to interact with MBC and each other, including offering the ability to upload user-generated content and comments.

"Even if everybody else does it, it becomes standard - if you're selling me a car, it comes with maintenance; if you're giving me a programme on TV, it comes with different services on the web and different platforms," explains Bakkar.

The other side to MBC's RoI proposal is more directly financial - Bakkar sees the growth of e-commerce and online advertising as potentially lucrative areas for the site. But, as he admits, this is entirely dependent on having a successful and popular website.

"If you have a large amount of traffic, if you're in the top five sites for traffic - which is our ambition for next year, among Arab websites - you are going to get part of the cake. The advertising industry has grown in a very exciting way - so we think there's going to be a good return on the web investment," Bakkar says.

MBC kicked off its redevelopment strategy in 2005, when the company decided to revamp its online presence. After an extensive planning and consultation phase, MBC signed a deal with Vignette for a content management system, and in 2007 the broadcaster began hiring programmers and working on the sites in earnest.

Once MBC had complete the outline of its core strategy, the next key area to address was the choice of CMS, according to Bakkar.

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