Leading Middle East broadcaster MBC expects growth next year to be boosted by the launch of its new dedicated channel for Egypt, MBC Masr, according to Mazen Hayek, official spokesman and group director for PR and commercial.
The region’s leading commercial broadcast group, MBC, has experienced modest growth year-on-year and has exceeded its initial budgets, said Masr. MBC has grown on the strength of content including local versions of three international talent show formats – Arab Idol, Arabs Got Talent and The Voice – as well as through ongoing investment during the slowdown, said Hayek. In addition, some Gulf economies have turned in state budget surpluses and consumer confidence has risen by comparison with 2011, he said.
The group expects growth in 2013 to be boosted by the launch of MBC Masr, the broadcaster’s new dedicated channel for Egypt, next month. This will be a general entertainment channel on the model of the existing MBC 1 brand, but with a stronger local flavour. Responsibility for the channel will be split between teams in Cairo Media City and Dubai. Hayek said the channel will be available across the region alongside MBC’s existing 11 channels. “It’s sharply targeted to cater to local tastes – if audiences [from other territories] want to watch they can but it’s targeting the Egyptian market,” he said.
Hayek said MBC Masr will compete with the five serious private sector players that have emerged in Egypt. “We think competition is healthy for the market,” he says. “When we announced Masr we saw an immediate reaction from key players in the private sector wanting to improve their offerings and produce more.”
The launch of Masr represents a shift in emphasis for MBC, which has previously expanded its portfolio of services by launching genre-based channels. “We moved from launching genre channels to targeted channels by geography,” said Hayek. He says MBC does not “exclude the possibility of launching other local channels” but is focusing on the Egyptian launch for now.
Hayek said MBC’s launch a year ago of its portfolio of HD channels, using receivers supplied by Technosat, has progressed well. While the broadcaster’s MBC Drama channel is a pay TV offering that airs on OSN’s platform, offering first runs of premium drama series, this is seen as an exception. “We are a free to air satcaster. We pride ourselves on being able to provide the same premium quality content as pay TV,” he said. While shying away from any serious move into pay TV, MBC is trying to diversify its sources of revenue, 85-90% of which currently come from advertising, by expanding things such as product placement, SMS and interactive revenues as well as output deals with third parties.
As well as developing local versions of international formats the latter has made significant moves to develop local productions. This year has seen one of the most significant to date in the form of historical drama series Omar, telling the story of the second Islamic Caliph, Omar ibn Al-Khattab. The series aired on MBC 1 during Ramadan and has been sold internationally outside the Arab world to broadcasters including Turkey’s ATV and Indonesia’s MNC TV Network. According to Hayek, the exercise is one the broadcaster will seek to repeat. “The challenge is to be able to produce content that caters to [international] tastes and brings production values that can be exported. We can easily do it with other mega-productions,” he said.
MBC will also invest in “two big new shows” based on international format for 2013, said Hayek, complementing its existing talent show line-up, as well as further investing in local Arabic series, Turkish soaps and other content popular across the region.