Abu Dhabi takes Endemol’s ‘Cash’

Dubai unit inks first commission

A new gamer called “Tons of Cash” is the first program to be licensed by Dutch production giant Endemol as part of its new Middle East operation.

Licensed to Abu Dhabi Television, the show will air in 2008, according to Ziad Kebbi, managing director of Endemol Middle East, which announced its establishment in Dubai last week.

“We will be the first Endemol company in the world to get a commission for this format, which is still a paper format,” Kebbi said of the new program.

One of several shows the company plans to produce next year, “Tons of Cash” pits two teams against one another in a race for a substantial money prize. “It’s a reality-meets-adventure game show,” added Kebbi.

Endemol has been a major player in Arab TV since the late 1990s, licensing “Deal or No Deal,” “Worlds Apart” and “Star Academy,” one of the region’s most popular shows, now entering its fifth season.

But instead of Arab stations producing, which had been the case in the past, Endemol Middle East will license and produce all programs itself. It may also create new formats tailored to local audiences.

“The region is growing at a very fast pace and there is more money to be made in production apart from licensing fees,” said creative director Dany Karam.

Endemol Middle East expects to produce six to eight shows in 2008. This includes an undisclosed project with Lebanon’s LBC, which airs “Star Academy” and “Deal or No Deal.”

In addition to its base in the UAE, the new company will also have a Beirut office, employing some 10-15 full timers and “a huge number” of freelancers, according to Kebbi. It will be 95% owned by Endemol and 5% owned by “investors from the Middle East,” he said, without disclosing details.

But the regional division will probably not attempt to re-produce flagship program “Big Brother,” which was abruptly pulled off the air in 2004 after street protesters and religious figures in Bahrain criticized the show for being too liberal.

Although the production market has “grown exponentially” since, Kebbi said little had changed in terms of cultural acceptance.

“I don’t think we will be producing a ‘Big Brother’ that is similar to the U.K. version because we have totally different cultural values,” he explained. “I can’t say if it’s going to evolve quickly or take some time, but the key is to be able to understand the cultural sensitivities and work around them to create great shows.”