Sunday, November 18, 2007

"MTV Looks to Conquer Middle East Market"


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — MTV is hoping Hip-Hop and reality television tailored and sanitized for a more conservative Middle East will draw young Arabs away from dozens of locally produced music video channels that already dominate the market.

MTV Arabia, which launched over the weekend, will feature 60 percent international music and 40 percent Arabic music, along with local adaptations of the channel's popular non-music shows.

But MTV, which is known for airing provocative videos featuring scantily clad women, says the Arab version of the Pop-culture channel will show less bare skin and profanity.

"When we come to people's homes, we want to earn their respect," said Abdullatif al-Sayegh, chief executive of Arab Media Group, which along with Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks International owns MTV Arabia. He explained that there will be "culturally sensitive editors going through content of the programming."

The station launched at midnight Saturday, airing a pre-taped show featuring Grammy award-winning rapper and actor Ludacris, Senegalese-born soul superstar Akon, Lebanese rapper Karl Wolf and the Emirates underground hip-hop band Desert Heat.

By emphasizing local music talent and programs addressing the concerns of Arab youth, MTV Arabia hopes to set itself apart from the other satellite music channels that saturate the Mideast market.

"We are not only a music channel, we are an entertainment channel where young Arabs will get a voice," program director Patrick Samaha told The Associated Press.

Unlike its past forays into Europe and India, MTV is not entering a virgin music video territory. Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of satellite channels in the region that feature soulful male crooners from the Gulf and female singers from Lebanon and Syria.

MTV officials say this is why their channel is focusing on hip-hop and R&B, two music genres that are underserved despite being popular throughout the region.

But to please a more conservative audience, MTV Arabia will tailor some of its programming and keep provocative hip-hop videos featuring barely dressed women and alcohol to a minimum.

"We hope to provide a platform for Arab youth to break boundaries without disrespecting their tradition and culture," said Bhavneet Singh, managing director of the Emerging Markets Group, part of MTV Networks International.

MTV Arabia's flagship tailor-made show "Hip HopNa," which means "Our Hip Hop" in English, features Saudi Arabian rapper Qusai Khidr, who will audition the best local hip-hop acts in seven different Middle Eastern cities.

The winner from each city will have the chance to record a track for a compilation CD produced by Fred Wreck, a producer who has worked rap stars like 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg.

MTV expects "Hip HopNa" to be picked up by its other channels in the coming year.

MTV Arabia also will broadcast an Arabic version of the popular car makeover show "Pimp My Ride," as well as "Al Helm" ("The Dream"), which is based on the show "Made," in which MTV transforms awkward teenagers into the successful models or rap stars of their dreams.

Shows in Arabic will be subtitled in English for foreign viewers in the region, channel officials said.

"We have a possibility to copy, paste and cut programs," al-Sayegh said. "What we are saying to young people is it's OK to have fun, it's OK to be naughty as long as you don't lose yourself."

Associated Press Writer Paul Schemm in Cairo, Egypt, contributed to this report.

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