x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

MBC's new chief wants talent

Faced with the threat posed by web services, Ali Jaber wants the network to focus on creating "premium" shows.

Ali Jaber, the incoming group TV director of MBC, intends to continue in his role as a judge in the second season of MBC's talent show - Arabs Got Talent. Satish Kumar / The National
Ali Jaber, the incoming group TV director of MBC, intends to continue in his role as a judge in the second season of MBC's talent show - Arabs Got Talent. Satish Kumar / The National

Creating "premium" shows such as Arabs Got Talent will be a key focus for MBC's incoming TV director.

Ali Jaber, a media consultant based in Dubai, is set to replace Tim Riordan as group TV director of the Arab world's largest satellite broadcaster.

Production of premium shows will be one of Mr Jaber's priorities upon joining MBC later this year, he says.

"MBC will have to be considered as a premium content developer and producer," Mr Jaber said. "I think this is the future. In my opinion, this is where MBC should be heading."

Mr Jaber said MBC already produced several high-quality shows, and that promoting this further would be popular with advertisers.

"Premium works," he said.

"It does cost money, but it works. In order to make money, you have to spend money.

"And you spend it intelligently, and wisely, on quality, on stepping up with your production to the premium level."

Mr Jaber said he would quit his current post as consultant to Dubai Media Incorporated before joining MBC.

As a judge on the first series of MBC's Arabs Got Talent, which aired this year, Mr Jaber is a familiar figure in the region.

He intends to make an appearance in the second season of the talent show franchise, despite having taken up the management position in the company that produces it.

"Arabs Got Talent is a benchmark that the rest of the productions should follow across the television [industry] in the Arab world," he said. "And this is also a means of growing the ad market, by providing really premium products." MBC, based in Dubai, attracts the lion's share of regional advertising revenue. Its nine entertainment channels and the Al Arabiya news station have 106 million viewers each day.

Despite its dominance, commentators say Mr Jaber will eventually face challenges from new online television services.

"What Ali is walking into is a completely new world," said Nick Grande, the managing director of ChannelSculptor, a television consultancy in Dubai.

"What we're seeing in developed television markets is a shift towards new platforms."

In the US, a study by the marketing consultancy Ideas & Solutions found that 60 per cent of people aged 18-29 were considering cancelling their pay TV subscriptions. That was attributed to the threat posed by web services such as Hulu and Netflix. While MBC is a free-to-air operator and is funded by advertising, the challenge of new TV platforms is looming, Mr Grande said.

"There is an inevitability that conventional satellite television is going to cede some of its ground to other forms of delivery," he said. "MBC needs to remain relevant in this new world that is on the horizon."

Mr Jaber said MBC would have to consider new platforms.

"I think MBC will have to engage in this conversation," he said. "Like everybody, MBC should consider all options and really be present on all platforms. Because nobody knows which one will materialise. "And I think they have been doing that."

Mr Jaber officially starts at MBC on December 4, after a handover period with Mr Riordan, who is due to retire in October.

He will be responsible for overseeing the operations of MBC's nine entertainment channels. It is not yet clear whether he will also be involved in advising MBC's Al Arabiya news station.

"This is the first time that I come in to a functioning, successful, well-oiled operation," Mr Jaber said.

"Filling Tim Riordan's shoes is going to be a huge endeavour."

bflanagan@thenational.ae