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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Fox Network Group’s Sanjay Raina on the new eLife channels coming to the UAE

Fox Network Group’s vice president Sanjay Raina talks to us about the rationale behind launching three new television channels in the UAE, and what viewers can expect

Sanjay Raina. Courtesy Fox
Sanjay Raina. Courtesy Fox

Fox Networks Group (FNG) officially launched three new channels in the UAE last Thursday, available on Etisalat’s eLife – Fox Life, Fox Crime and Fox Rewayat.

Fox Life features travel, wellness, interiors and food, with presenters including celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson.

The channel also marks FNG’s foray into local content, in the form of The Open Road, a series which follows two women riding their motorcycles across the UAE, Jordan and Lebanon. Fox Crime is the only entertainment channel in the region dedicated to investigative shows and will feature fiction and non-fiction series, plus award-winning thrillers and documentaries. Arabic channel Fox Rewayat will broadcast dramas and hit series from all over the world, all dubbed in Arabic.

Chantal Asaad and Catherine Hector in The Open Road
Chantal Asaad and Catherine Hector in The Open Road

Given how easy it is to access content on digital platforms these days, I ask Sanjay Raina, general manager and senior vice-president of FNG Middle East, whether he thinks traditional television channels can hope to compete. He responds with an emphatic “Absolutely.” Raina says: “This is because the quality of the content will always come before convenience. Good content finds its way across all mediums. The digital versus linear model is mainly in people’s minds. The normal consumer just wants to consume good content and interesting stories, whether this is on linear or non-linear platforms.

“The three new Fox channels are linear television channels, but they are also what we call OTT-ready, which means if you have an eLife app, these channels will be available to stream through it.”

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Raina says despite having a strong presence in the region – Fox now airs 15 channels in the UAE – the decision to launch these three was based on the bigger picture when it comes to “pay TV”. “In this part of the world, we are still under-served as far as international content is concerned. It’s all in the numbers.

“In the Middle East and North Africa, if we have 60 million TV households, pay TV goes to only six million, which is a tiny fraction. So if the penetration is so low, naturally the availability of quality content will also be low because the two work in tandem. So we are not only thinking about Fox, but also about the pay TV universe in general. If that goes big, we go big.”

Lifestyle channel Fox Life will air a range of food and cooking shows with a twist, including: Quick and Easy, in which Jamie Oliver aims to get everyone cooking by using only five elements per recipe; The Taste, in which amateur and professional cooks, including Lawson, will compete against each other and which starts with blind auditions to guess the ingredients of a particular dish; Good Chef, Bad Chef, where two chefs will try to persuade you to sample alternating indulgent or healthy meal options; and Jamie & Jimmy’s Food Fight Club, where Oliver and fellow British chef Jimmy Doherty try to one-up the signature dishes of various European countries.

The channel will also air Home Free, an American reality TV contest series hosted by Mike Holmes, featuring couples who are competing to win their dream home; The Home Team, a DIY interior decoration series; the home makeover show Ready, Set, Reno; and Ultimate Homes, “The lifestyle arena and viewer sensibilities have changed. As an example, holidaying is no longer about going to one part of the world and seeing museums. From deep-sea-diving and mountain-climbing to golfing holidays, people’s travel formats and lifestyle requirements have changed,” says Raina.

“Fox Life wants to tap into this evolved mindset. We are not going to have those cook-this-food-with-a-pinch-of-salt format shows. We want to help shape our viewers’ aspirations, whether by introducing them to a horse-riding holiday across Mongolia or, as in The Open Road, showing two emancipated women riding across the Middle East on motorbikes. And these are shows that aim to suit a range of generations, because aspirations have no age bar.”

Raina says the Fox team is in tune with cultural sensibilities and sensitivities. “We are mindful of the things we may need to edit, be that in terms of dress, language, etc, based on the place where we are operating.

“Having said that, I have not seen a greater woman-force than in this part of the world – from some amazing Saudi Arabian entrepreneurs to the most articulate Emirati women, who were a pleasure to meet and converse with. So the mindset is evolving, and the region allows us to be intelligent. We want to make use of that without taking advantage of it.”