DUBAI // The international preschool television channel, JimJam, is looking to expand its platform in the Middle East and distinguish itself in the increasingly competitive market for children's entertainment. The channel, which airs shows dubbed in Arabic, was launched across the region in April on the pay-TV network, Showtime Arabia. It is a joint venture between the UK-based HIT Entertainment - the producer of the popular TV shows Barney and Bob the Builder - and Chellomedia, a global media company that operates 26 channels including the Extreme Sports Channel.
"What we're setting out to do with Showtime is to grow appreciation, awareness of the channel, have a relationship with the consumer, have competitions... so that JimJam becomes a viewer experience as opposed to just another commodity that you subscribe to," said Wayne Dunsford, JimJam's general manager. Mr Dunsford acknowledged, however, that JimJam was a latecomer in an "incredibly crowded and very competitive" market with some high-quality programming.
In the past few months, several children's entertainment channels have hit the airwaves, including Boomerang, a cartoon channel for children aged four to eight that is available to subscribers of the ART, Pehla and FirstNet pay-TV networks. Nickelodeon Arabia, an Arabic-language version of the American children's entertainment channel, will start broadcasting free-to-air tomorrow on Nilesat and Arabsat.
In addition to stations available on other networks, JimJam is also competing for young hearts and minds with channels offered by its own Showtime distributor, such as Showmovies Kids, a 24-hour family-friendly movie channel, as well as the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and KidsCo. "There's lots of very well established channels here," Mr Dunsford said. "JimJam has a dedicated preschool proposition... so we have something that is different- sufficiently different - to not be perceived as just another kids channel."
Mr Dunsford said that he did not have viewership figures for the region, but feedback he had received suggested that JimJam was off to a good start. The business model for the channel, which was originally launched in Italy in late 2006 and debuted across Europe eight months ago, is based entirely on subscription revenues. Mr Dunsford said that choosing to broadcast on pay TV, rather than airing for free and relying on advertising revenue, was a more viable business model for a start-up channel "because there's a certain element of certainty to it".
Although the channel does not carry advertising, Mr Dunsford did not rule out doing so in the future. "What you need in order to drive ad sales is volume of distribution, and then most importantly of course, viewership," he said. "One of the reasons that I'm here is to sit down with the marketing guys at Showtime and say: 'OK, we've launched the channel, we've launched it very quickly, there's been some good anecdotal evidence, now what do we do to really get JimJam to stand out from the crowd - to ensure that people are aware of it, that people are watching it, and people become loyal to it?'"
But the revenue model extends beyond JimJam's television offerings. Earlier this year, HIT Entertainment sealed a deal with Dubailand to develop new family entertainment projects in Global Village. The themed rides and play centres will be branded with HIT's popular children's characters, including Barney and Bob the Builder. Mr Dunsford said that one of the reasons that Hit Entertainment wanted to join the venture with Chellomedia and launch a channel was to expand HIT's well established merchandising business.
"JimJam is a trigger for driving consumer products, their merchandise business around their brands, and for driving home entertainment like DVDs," he said. "Having their programming on a channel that they have certain control over is going to be very important for them in terms of driving all aspects of their business."