LONDON — Dubai TV has laid down a marker to its rivals by unveiling its line-up for the Muslims’ sweeps.
The pan-Arab satcaster is going heavy on local Gulf productions and laffers in its attempts to rule the lucrative Ramadan roost.
Headlining its sked is “Al Masrawiya,” an ambitious skein from Egyptian helmer Ismail Abdul Hafiz and scribe Osama Anwar Okasha that retells a century of Egyptian history through the fortunes of one town. Skein’s makers built a mini-town for the 30-episode musalsal, the name commonly given to Ramadan serials.
The month of fasting, which runs Sept. 13-Oct. 12 this year, has become the key season for Arab satcasters, akin to the sweeps in the U.S.
During Ramadan, channels can take in as much as 20% of their annual ad revenue as families gather around the set after breaking their fast.
In addition to another Egyptian drama, “Qadiyyat Rai Aam,” starring Egyptian actress Yousra, the satcaster has a number of skeins from the Gulf.”Ghamshamsham,” an Emirati laffer, returns for its second season.
Dubai TV bows Emirati comedy, “Jaber Naghmosh,” as well as Gulf drama “Al Magareed,” starring thesps Jamal Salim and Abdul Aziz Jassim.
Kuwaiti skein “Shaheen,” created by and starring Rashid Al-Jowdary, and “Al Kharraz,” starring Kuwaiti actress Hayat Al-Fahd will preem.
“We’re seeing Gulf production really establish itself, with increasing production values. This idea of the pan-Gulf production wasn’t around three-four years ago,” says Dubai TV managing editor Ali Jaber.
Lensing in Dubai, Kuwait and Bahrain, Gulf productions are steadily emerging as a rival force to the existing TV production powerhouses in Egypt and Syria.
The Gulf projects are also very popular with TV execs looking to grab a slice of the hugely lucrative Gulf advertising market, particularly in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi-owned satcaster MBC, for example, can reputedly earn upward of $10 million on the back of its mega-successful Saudi laffer “Tash Ma Tash.”
The show is traditionally the top-rated skein in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan and remains the satcaster’s most valuable cash cow.
While Gulf productions may have some way to go to reach the history, reputation and pan-Arab appeal of their Egyptian and Syrian counterparts, the sheer number of productions on offer is fueling the intense competition between pan-Arab satcasters during Ramadan.
“A show that we would have paid $17,000 an episode for exclusive rights to four years ago is now costing us $80,000 an episode,” says Jaber.
Dubai TV execs have already inked sponsorship deals for all their top shows during Ramadan that will bring in millions of dollars in revenue before a single second of material has been aired.
While in the past satcasters would embark on bidding wars once they’d seen the finished product, Arab TV execs can no longer afford to wait that long. Dubai TV bought the big-budget “Al Masrawiya” on the spot after a pitch from Okasha.
The cutthroat competition is also forcing TV execs to look for new ways to grab the attention of local auds. Recent years have seen a preponderance of period dramas imbued with often ponderous political allegory.
“I think this trend is over. You have a new generation of young Arabs for whom history started with the first Gulf War in 1991,” says Jaber. “Anything before that doesn’t mean anything to them. That’s why we’re pushing comedies. When the political situation is what it is and all around you is going up in flames, comedy is like an oasis. People are very hungry for laughs.”