The July 9 launch of the 24-hour, free-to-air satellite movie channel marks an audacious attempt by MBC’s Saudi founder and chairman, Sheik Waleed al-Ibrahim, to tap into Persian auds in both Iran and the Arab world, particularly across the Gulf.
The channel’s primetime grid will be skedded to maximize its exposure to Iranian viewers. While satellite dishes are officially illegal in Iran, many residents in Tehran surreptitiously install the equipment away from the eyes of authorities, giving them access to programming from across the world.
The new channel will not be available to the large Iranian population in the U.S., however, due to rights issues. The acquisitions-based channel comprises Western films, for which MBC owns only Middle Eastern rights.
The sensitivities of political relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have meant that MBC execs have avoided tubthumping the new channel in the Arabic press, preferring instead only to trail MBC Persia on its own largely English-language MBC2 and MBC4 channels.
“Targeting the Farsi speaking community also reflects our strategic policy to launch specialized and customized channels that cater for specific audience demographics, preferences and needs with the objective to further improve viewers’ overall TV entertainment experience,” says Mazen Hayek, MBC Group’s director of marketing, PR and commercial.
Further foreign-language services are planned by MBC Group — which already boasts six channels including flagship channel MBC1, 24-hour English language MBC2, kids’ channel MBC3, femme-oriented MBC4, genre channel MBC Action and news satcaster Al-Arabiya.
The net has already scored unexpectedly high ratings this year by acquiring Turkish skeins and dubbing them into the Syrian dialect for Arab auds. A move into Turkey would be a logical next step for MBC’s expansion given the country’s proximity to the Arab world, its similar social and cultural values as well as the promising economic growth the Turkish economy is enjoying.