×

Arab network reaches out to next generation

Al Jazeera Children's Channel emphasizes education

Hunting wabbits isn’t as foreign a concept to kids in say, Saudi Arabia, as you might think.

Four years ago, 90% of children’s television in the Arab world consisted mostly of fare like “Bugs Bunny” and “Tom & Jerry” dubbed in Arabic. That changed with the 2005 launch of Al-Jazeera Children’s Channel (JCC) based in Doha, Qatar.

The brainchild of Qatar first lady Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, it offers edutainment programming in formats like game, talk, magazine and animation — all in classical Arabic. It has special programming for Ramadan. And it’s altering the face of kids’ TV in the pan-Arab world.

“We try to bring our viewers — mainly children, but also their families — something that entertains but also educates and informs them on their lives, rights, education, health, environment and the world,” says Mahmoud Bouneb, JCC executive general manager and the closing keynote speaker at the upcoming Mip Junior in Cannes.

He adds: “Our competitors in the Arab world do not produce as much as we do. They buy programs, dub them and show them.”

JCC is so busy expanding programming that in January, it split into two channels to provide more airtime for different age groups. The new channel, Baraem, is for preschoolers, while the original JCC focuses on ages 6-15.

The edutainment mission of the channels — which reach 45 million to 50 million households in all of Europe and the Arab world via satellite — has invigorated the way children’s programming for the pan-Arab world is created.

“On JCC, we produce 60% of what we broadcast,” Bouneb says.

At headquarters in Education City outside Doha, the channels have three fully staffed production studios in use 80% of the time. They also commission and co-produce on all five populated continents. “The Baaas,” a show about a sheep family, was co-produced with Welsh public television station S4C and airs on Baraem in Arabic, and on the BBC in Welsh and English.

“The Baaas” is just one Baraem show that focuses on love of family, learning and the arts. Bouneb expresses disappointment that so much children’s programming on other channels has promoted materialism and viewed kids as mini-consumers. JCC and Baraem are not commercial. Funding comes mostly from the Qatar Foundation with a budget of about $100 million for the two channels.

The channels also are creating parallel programming online for classroom use and will soon launch an educational platform created by Arab teachers with the help of Microsoft.

At the same time, Bouneb says, “We are not a school — we would be a very boring channel.” One of the most popular JCC shows, “Addarb,” or “The Road” (as in “the road to knowledge”), is educational but in a fast-moving, competitive-game format.

“It’s physical and mental challenges, where the yellow team and red team face each other to reach the first prize, which is usually a computer or something like that,” Bouneb says.

The prizes Al-Jazeera is aiming for: creating a higher percentage of original programming and increasing reach. Just two of the shows premiering in 2010 are the animated “Rosie,” co-produced for Baraem with British company VGI Entertainment, and “Tell Me What You Eat,” a humorous magazine format for JCC promoting nutrition. The channels hope to expand to North America, where licensing issues have prevented them from broadcasting.

“We are among the top three channels for children covering the Arab world. We are doing our best to be No. 1 at least for preschoolers,” Bouneb says.

“We do not tell viewers, ‘Don’t watch “Bugs Bunny.” ‘ We tell them we have another (offering) that will help you understand yourself, your society and your world better.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • The Mentalist

    #NotWorthLess: 'I Was Great and Deserve to Be Paid the Same'

    Women writers, producers and assistants across Twitter turned the hashtag #NotWorthLess into a trend Wednesday, shining a light on issues of pay inequality in the entertainment business. Sparked by screenwriter Adele Lim’s recent decision to walk away from the “Crazy Rich Asians” sequel in protest of being paid less than her male co-writer, dozens of [...]

  • does self-described "family brands" business Hasbro

    With Hasbro Acquisition, Is eOne Planning to Offload Family-Unfriendly Properties?

    Hasbro’s $4 billion acquisition of eOne in August instantly put the Canadian toy giant in the league of major entertainment and content companies thanks to eOne’s arsenal of IP assets in music, television and film. But does the self-described “family brands” business that’s home to The Game of Life and My Little Pony align with [...]

  • Mariah Carey Tracee Ellis Ross

    Mariah Carey, Tracee Ellis Ross Celebrate Biracial Heritage at “Mixed-ish” Premiere

    Mariah Carey and Tracee Ellis Ross embraced their “ish” at Tuesday night’s series premiere event for ABC’s “Mixed-ish” by reflecting on how their biracial identity makes working on the new show even more personal. “I’m just so thankful that this show exists,” Carey told the assembled crowd during a Q&A with series creator Kenya Barris. [...]

  • THE BACHELORETTE - "The Bachelorette: Season

    'The Bachelor': ABC Reality Boss Talks Ratings Success, Diversity Backlash

    Last night, Peter Weber was unveiled, perhaps unsurprisingly, as the next Bachelor during the season finale of “Bachelor in Paradise.” Weber’s selection coincided with a season-high rating for “Paradise,” and caps a solid ratings summer for the “Bachelor” franchise. As ratings have been in decline across the board this summer, “The Bachelorette” and “Bachelor in [...]

  • Raising Dion

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Releases 'Raising Dion' Trailer

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix releases “Raising Dion’s” trailer and announces a number of premiere dates for its original series. DATES Netflix announced the premiere dates for several of its new and returning original series: Season 2 of “Carmen Sandiego” will launch Oct. 1; Deon Cole’s standup special “Deon Cole: Cole Hearted” will launch [...]

  • Jim Parrack

    '9-1-1: Lone Star' Adds 'True Blood' Alum Jim Parrack

    Fox’s “9-1-1: Lone Star” continues to round out its main cast. Jim Parrack has joined the upcoming drama in a series regular role. He joins previously announced series leads Rob Lowe and Liv Tyler. In the series, Lowe stars as Capt. Owen Strand, a sophisticated New York fireman who, along with his adult son, re-locates [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content