Viacom International Media Networks is making a major move into the Middle East by launching three new 24-hour branded channels, two of which, Nickelodeon HD and Nick Jr. in dual language, English and Arabic, on Dubai-based OSN, the region’s leading pay-TV player. Besides prominent linear play, the channels will also get multi platform digital distribution in an area with a particularly high density of digital-savvy consumers.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is also an area where Viacom has considerable room for growth.

“We have a very broad geographic reach, however in the MENA region and the Middle East in particular we were relatively underrepresented,” said Viacom International Media Networks CEO and President Robert Bakish.

“If you look at the MENA region, with 113 million TV homes and pay-TV penetration at 15 percent, now up from around 5 percent in the year 2000, it’s a very young population; certainly among the youngest in the world,” Bakish noted. “These factors make it an important market and certainly over the next decade it is without question going to become a very important media market,” he added.

While Viacom previously had branded blocks playing on free-TV in MENA, these channels mark the start of a prominent presence of 24-hour branded channels.

The launch of two kids and family channels, Nickelodeon HD and Nick Jr., and international music channel, MTV Live HD, is a good fit, likely to appeal to key age demographics in the Gulf region. It also opens up significant inroads for Viacom in the lucrative consumer products, entertainment theme parks, and live music events sectors in the Middle East.

The channels will be rolled out in January and the kids’ ones become available in dual language starting in February 2015. Going forward they will also comprise local content, opening up opportunities for producers in the Arab world.

Nickelodeon HD combines globally popular toons and live action shows for kids 7-14 years old, including “SpongeBob,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Breadwinners,” “Henry Danger” and “Sanjay & Craig.” Nick Jr. instead is dedicated to preschoolers 3-6 years old and features top shows in that segment such as “Dora and Friends,” “Paw Patrol” and “Blaze and the Monster Machines.” MTV Live HD offers a wide range of branded live shows and festivals including Isle of MTV and Roskilde and, of course, the MTV Video Music Awards and MTV Europe Music Awards.

There are now a total of four Viacom channels playing on the OSN platform which was already airing its VH1 music station.

“This is a region where 23 percent of the population are a young population under 16, compared with 16 percent in Europe or 19 percent in the U.S,” Viacom’s Executive Vice-President for South Europe and MENA region, Raffele Annechino pointed out.

“By entering directly in a very congenial market with brands like MTV and Nickelodeon we can now develop other recreational activities such as theme parks and bolster our consumer products potential,” he added. Earlier this year, the world’s second Nickeloedeon Store opened in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

In May Annechino oversaw the opening of a large Nickelodeon Land section within Madrid’s main theme park, Parque de Atracciones, featuring Dora the Explorer, Sponge Bob, Rugrats, Ninja Turtles and other characters on rides geared toward children from three to 13. He has similar plans in early stages for the Middle East.

For OSN, which is the top pay-TV player in a region – where, according to Viacom, pay-TV penetration will reach 19 percent of the population by 2019 – the agreement will boost entertainment and educational content offering toward a key demographic and significantly enhance its digital strategy.

“In a few months we will be launching a complementary website as well as an app with Nickelodeon, both in English and in Arabic,” said OSN Senior VP Business Development and Digital Emad Marcos.

“This supports how we are evolving in terms of our proposition to our subscribers, not just a linear proposition but also through a digital proposition as well.”