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Brimming with buzz

A look at the Mideast, India and Russia

Variety correspondents Ali Jaafar, Shilpa Bharatan Iyer and Tom Birchenough report on three of the most intriguing global TV markets: the Mideast, India and Russia.

MIDEAST

Formats high on shopping list

LONDON — Recent events in the Mideast, with the conflicts in Lebanon, Gaza and the continued violence in Iraq, saw local auds glued to their tubes watching newscasters for much of the summer. In Lebanon, traditionally one of the leaders in pan-Arab satellite entertainment, LBCi and Future TV dedicated their skeds to wall-to-wall news coverage.

Elsewhere, however, programming is returning to normal. MBC, with its four satcasters, along with rival four-pronged platform Dubai Media (DMI), continue to lead the way across the region. Both satcasters are sending teams to Mipcom.

High on their shopping list will be formats fit for adapting to Mideast mores.

“We’re always on the lookout for what’s available,” says Michel Costandi, MBC’s business development director. MBC recently scored a big hit with “The Biggest Winner,” based on Fremantle’s “The Biggest Loser” format.

While MBC is amping up its homegrown fare, execs at the Saudi-owned satcaster are still keen on adding to their slate of Western formats.

“We are increasing local production but not at the expense of what is successful around the world. We’re still going to buy extensively from the Endemols and Fremantles,” adds Costandi.

DMI’s One TV, which fills its skeds with U.S. programming thanks to strategic partnerships with Warners and Disney, will also have a healthy acquisition budget as its team hit the Croisette.

“We’re looking for new formats for our Dubai channels. Even though we haven’t found any yet, we’re going to be aggressive,” says Najla Al-Awadhi, One TV’s deputy general manager.

Despite increasing resentment of U.S. foreign policy in the region, American programming remains popular with Mideast auds. Shows like “Friends,” “CSI” and “Gilmore Girls” on One TV, while MBC 4’s “Oprah” and “Dr. Phil” hit top ratings.

Another niche has opened up recently with the rise of religious broadcasting. Earlier this year Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal launched moderate Islamic satcaster Al-Resalah (The Message). Tele-Islamists, such as Amr Khaled and Youssef Al-Karadawi, also continue to attract sizable auds, though it’s not indicative of a general trend across the region.

— Ali Jaafa

INDIA

‘Idol’ fixation reaches shores

MUMBAI — Broadcast on News Corp.’s Star Plus, the first two seasons of Indian “Millionaire” spinoff “Kaun Banega Crorepati,” coupled with Sony Entertainment TV’s two seasons of “Indian Idol,” stand out as the most popular imports to debut on the local satellite TV scene.

“The ‘KBC’ season two advertising campaign played on the audience’s aspiration to achieve something beyond expectation. The accent was never on the 20 million rupees ($400,000) that we had on offer,” says Satya Raghavan, VP of marketing at Star TV India.

“We used host Amitabh Bachchan sparingly in advertisements to prevent viewer fatigue even before the show began. It was a 360-degree ad campaign encompassing the whole gamut of media.”

While both seasons of “Indian Idol” followed a similar ad campaign across all media, the “Idol” phenomenon created a bigger buzz by reaching out to contestants around the country during the audition phase, explains N.P. Singh, chief operating officer at SET.

“Coupled with the credibility established after the first ‘Indian Idol’ recording contracts came through, the response from smaller cities was fantastic. Audiences realized that irrespective of socio-economic background, ‘Indian Idol’ provided a national level playing field to showcase your talent.”

The first season of “KBC” was an audience magnet, and building programming around it sent Star Plus to the top spot in the Monday-Thursday in the 9 p.m. timeslot.

— Shilpa Bharatan Iyer

RUSSIA

Local fare reigns supreme

MOSCOW — Russia’s TV market, and associated revenues, may be growing at an impressive rate, but primetime exposure for major international product continues to lag far behind local fare.

“In the place of quality television product, sooner or later you get detective serials from St. Petersburg and adapted sitcoms,” complains one local TV critic, Maia Stravinskaya, commenting on the results of this year’s Emmy Awards and whether its winners would ever reach Russian screens.

She was certainly right on the first point, as since 1998 Petersburg-set leader “Street of Broken Lamps” started, it spawned a whole school of policers (along with some memorable titles such as “Bandit Petersburg”). But that’s not hiding the wider picture, in which local melodrama and other genres have been come to dominate primetime slots.

That’s not to say that global product is out — although it’s definitely down, and results aren’t predictable, increasingly depending on how they are marketed. For local successes like “Lost,” there’s a host of underperformers, such as “The Sopranos,” which went out first on national channel NTV.

Youth-oriented web CTC has pitched a new season largely dominated by local series production. There’s a final series of Sony-acquired “My Great Nanny,” almost the only sitcom transfer to match stupendous ratings success over the last year of “Born Not Ugly” on CTC, which took primetime shares of as high as 30% in pre-summer closing episodes. It proved so successful that the station had to issue a warning in its second-quarter NASDAQ report that future income might drop after serial’s conclusion.

Such Latin American adapted fare looks set to grow, while top caster Channel One has dabbled with a local analog of “Golden Girls” as well, to middling success.

Meanwhile, strong focus continues on imported reality and other formats.

— Tom Birchenough

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