MTV Arabia faces musical minefield

Network aims to be major player in Middle East

BEIRUT — The execs behind soon-to-be launched MTV Arabia are probably quite enthused by the Arab world’s passion for imported Western entertainment, especially U.S. television shows and movies, which are on air constantly across the region. Yet music, as MTV’s Canadian counterpart found out earlier this year, is a far trickier business.

This summer, high hopes for MuchMusic’s “Arab-yeah” quickly evaporated when the regional version of the Toronto-based network collapsed only a few months after it hit the airwaves. Its bankroller, Dubai’s Takhayel Entertainment, said investors had simply made a “strategic decision” to drop media assets in favor of more profitable industries.

Much touted the station as fail-proof, but looking back at its launch, the net seemed doomed from the start. The channel offered dubbed MTV-style programs and a mix of Arabic and Western music videos. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” Takhayel CEO Youssef Deeb said in February.

But if the idea was to treat the region as a greenfield, in fact the Arab music-television market is anything but untapped.

Music programming is perhaps the most popular TVgenre in the Middle East. It is the foundation of nearly all Arab talent shows, reality shows and talk shows. At the same time, dozens of musicvideo channels occupy the airwaves. Major players include Rotana, Melody and Mazzika, all multi-channel networks that double as massive recording houses.

Rotana, which is owned by billionaire media tycoon Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, boasts six television channels and a roster that includes a significant, and exclusive, share of the region’s Arabic pop stars.

MTV’s decision to devote significant portions of its sked to Western music, on the other hand, is being met by Egypt-based Melody’s latest offering, “Melody Tunes” which, in a humorous new ad campaign, we are told will offer “All English, All Za Time.”

MTV Arabia also faces an uphill battle if it intends to compete in the reality segment. Most best-selling formats, including a version of “Pimp My Ride,” have already been purchased and produced by major Arab networks like Dubai-based, Saudi-owned MBC.

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