DUBAI // The region's first free-to-air Filipino television channel has begun broadcasting in the UAE. Based in Dubai, Pinoy Atin 'To TV (Filipino this is ours) started test broadcasting 16 programmes ealier this year, and is gearing up for its official launch in September or October. The current television schedule of current affairs, entertainment and news programmes will be expanded the official launch, said Mecky Decena, the chief operating officer at Filipino Media, the company behind the channel.
Until Pinoy Atin 'To, the only Filipino expatriate viewing options were two Philippine television networks, ABS-CBN and GMA-7, which are subscription-based. However not all Filipinos can afford to pay those subscription rates, said Ms Decena, who has been in the UAE for 10 years. Also, her channel will focus on expatriates. "I don't feature artists from the Philippines," she said. "We cater to the overseas Filipino workers here. If you have talent, this is your TV."
Viewers can watch the channel through the Arab Satellite Communications Organisation, or Arabsat, a communications satellite operator that is headquartered in Riyadh. The channel, much of it broadcast in a mix of Tagalog and English, offers cooking, comedy, travel, home TV shopping, and entertainment shows, as well as a soap opera, a home improvement show and reality game shows. "I'd like to let the viewers feel that they're not alone, that they're not alienated," Ms Decena said. "By next year, I envision this channel to be the best platform for individuals, organisations and advertisers. I want it to be associated with the Filipino community."
The station, which began broadcasting in January, has been operating on a skeleton staff of 20 writers, camera operators and directors and is recruiting personnel, including personalities, she said. She said it was already doing well outside the Emirates, particularly in Saudi Arabia where there are 1.3 million Filipinos. The frequency reaches 19 Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
The company gauges viewership by the number of e-mails and phone calls it receives and the daily hits on its website, www.filipinomediainc.com. "We've been swamped with 150 e-mails [per day] from Filipinos who were happy to watch the shows for free," Ms Decena said. The majority came from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. "I'm not too worried about the UAE market," she said. "We're having a grand launch in Dubai sometime in September or October and this would create some noise and generate a lot of viewership."
A number of shows will be added for the autumn launch. Ms Decena has already recorded two seasons of her show Mecky on Cam. The first season, which is screening now, is made up of 13 hour-long episodes based on her life experiences and those of Filipinos living in the Middle East. There is also a segment called Pinoy Bida (Filipino Heroes), featuring exceptional Filipinos. So far, 15 people have been featured. Juliet Solas, a nursing supervisor at Al Wasl Hospital, was one of them. She has been working in the country since 1984 and was given the Government Excellence Award under the Dubai Government Excellence Program in May 2007.