Saturday, October 30, 2004

New TV Channel for Arab World

Zen TV Logo

An interesting new TV channel for the Arab world was launched on Friday night, October 29th. It is aimed at viewers between 13 and 35, and is a US$ 20 million joint venture between Lebanon's richest TV network (Future TV) and the region's fastest growing media metropolis - Dubai Media City.

Since more than 65% of the Arab region is under 25, and the competition is mainly music-only channels, this network marks an interesting move. In fact, its mix of news, discussion, travel, games, fashion, music and Hollywood films/series - a mix that you might have expected from the US rather than the Middle East.

Zen, which is pronounced “zein” and means good or beautiful in Arabic, has started broadcasts from Future Television’s studios in Lebanon until its own facilities are completed in Dubai. “This isn’t a Lebanese channel,” insisted Future TV’s general director, Ali Jaber at the opening. “It’s an Arabic channel done the Lebanese way.”

Until the civil war, Lebanon was the home to very western-style film and music production. Now that the war is over, and satellite TV has become a dominant medium, Beirut based networks are competing for audiences abroad. Because many of the media students in Lebanon were trained in the US and Canada, rather than France like their parents, the style of TV production is heavily influenced by UK & US networks. Jaber admitted that the station “adapts from but doesn’t imitate” existing stations like MTV and City TV in Toronto. “The West invented television, not us,” he said.

Future Television commissioned the UAE-based Pan Arab Research Center and Merlin, a London-based research company, to conduct an in-depth study of the likes, dislikes and attitudes of young people in the region. The studies revealed that Arabs, under 25, have a very different political outlook from their parents.

The station’s in-house productions make up 60 percent of their programs, with 30 percent each recorded in Dubai and Lebanon. Hollywood productions, including sitcoms like Friends and LA Doctors, make up the remaining 40 percent of Zen’s shows.

Thus far Jaber’s favorite is Dardashat (which means “chit-chat” in Arabic), a two-hour show featuring hip and attractive presenters chatting casually about all manner of subjects from cars to premarital sex. This daily show, like all the shows shot in Beirut, is broadcast from Future TV’s 800-square-meter premises in Kantari, where programme sets are open, allowing noise and activity from different shows to interfere with each other.

Zen TV may have started on air, but the website is still a single page on Future TV's website.

It will be interesting to see how this channel competes with other networks aimed at the youth - like MTV and even the US government's Radio Sawa, especially since all use US sourced material.

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