Multimedia group makes grab for Persian auds

DUBAI — MBC, the Arab world’s most popular TV net, is launching Farsi-language channel MBC Persia in what marks another step in the multimedia group’s expansion into multiple-language offerings.

The 24-hour, free-to-air satellite movie channel, which will begin broadcasting on July 9, marks an audacious attempt by MBC’s founder and chairman Saudi Sheik Waleed al-Ibrahim to tap into Persian auds in both Iran and the Arab world, particularly across the Gulf.

Channel’s primetime grid will be skedded to maximize its exposure with Iranian viewers. While satellite dishes are officially illegal in Iran, many Tehran residents surreptitiously install the equipment away from the eyes of authorities, giving them access to programming from across the world.

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 to promote MBC Persia solely 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,” commented 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 net MBC1, 24-hour English-language web MBC2, kids’ channel MBC3, femme-oriented MBC4, genre net 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.

“Turkish drama has been our big story this year. It’s doing great,” Sheik Waleed told Variety. “It has a lot to do with the cultures, which are similar. When you dub in to the Syrian dialect, it’s a perfect formula. Turkey and Syria are very similar in culture and even the landscape. You have many Turks who live in the borders with Syria who speak Syrian and vice versa. People here thought at first that it was a Syrian production.”

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