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Abu Dhabi TV launches big

Network picks up Endemol Middle East shows

LONDON When production giant Endemol opened a dedicated Middle East office in Dubai last November, the first deal it inked was for a 13- episode of run of gamer “Ton of Cash,” slated to bow in October on Abu Dhabi TV.

The skein’s name was fitting.

Since that first deal, Abu Dhabi TV has picked up two more shows from Endemol Middle East, including a 12-episode series of “Top of the Flops” to bow in October and gameshow format “Divided,” making its international market debut at Mip TV this week. The 26-episode skein will air on Abu Dhabi TV in May.

The acquisitions are just the latest in a series of moves Abu Dhabi officials hope will transform the satcaster into a pan-Arab contender.

A number of behind-the-scenes appointments include Abu Dhabi TV earlier this year tapping Lebanese satcaster LBC’s deputy head Karim Sarkis as its exec director. Former Disney Intl. exec veep Ed Borgerding was hired as chief exec of the Abu Dhabi Media Co., the multimedia shingle that includes Abu Dhabi TV as well as the emirate’s radio stations and print publications. The Abu Dhabi Media Co. also has appointed Ricky Ghai, previously senior VP of programming for TV3 Sweden and exec veep of programming for Saudi-owned pan-Arab paybox Orbit, as exec director of digital media.

The results are showing already, with the twin successes of skeins “The Million’s Poet” and “The Prince of Poets,” an ersatz “Poet Idol” for contestants from around the Gulf and the Arab world, which has been drawing big auds.

“The popularity of the second season of ‘The Million’s Poet’ (has helped) draw viewers to the revamped grid of Abu Dhabi TV, which has leapfrogged several channels in viewership over the past three months,” Sarkis says.

In only the past few months, Abu Dhabi TV has jumped from being ranked about 20th among Arab satellite channels to being ranked seventh or eighth in the region, adds Endemol Middle East topper Ziad Kebbe. “There has been a decision to revamp the entire channel and strategically put in place new management. There is no strategic partnership between us, but they’ve looked at our catalog, found the shows they’re interested in and gone immediately to commission. They have an appetite for new product.”

The expansion of Abu Dhabi TV fits ambitions to position the emirate as a cultural hub. Leading that charge will be the Abu Dhabi Media Co., previously dubbed Emirates Media Inc. The change in moniker is indicative of a desire to focus attention more on Abu Dhabi itself as the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The launch of an English-language newspaper later this year under the auspices of the Abu Dhabi Media Co. will also help give the company greater regional and international outreach.

“We’re a vertically integrated media group,” Borgerding says. “We’re investing a lot in the assets and organization to modernize it and relaunch it so the company will be well positioned to join the region as it grows.”

That said, Abu Dhabi TV execs face a formidable challenge if they are to consistently challenge the likes of leading pan-Arab satcaster MBC. It is no accident that Endemol Middle East execs have also inked a number of deals with other channels across the region, including MBC, which has commissioned 12 episodes of entertainment format “M/F,” to bow this October.

Dubai TV also has acquired a 13-episode skein of “The Kids Are Alright” set to bow in May, while Rotana has picked up reality show “The Manager,” the first Endemol format to be made specifically for Middle East auds, which will air in November.

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