x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Viacom to invest in Arabic content and production

The American media giant behind MTV and Nickelodeon plans to invest in Arabic content as it looks to grow its presence in the Middle East.

The American media giant behind MTV and Nickelodeon plans to invest in Arabic content as it looks to grow its presence in the Middle East.

Viacom, which is listed on the Nasdaq exchange, says local productions and events centered around its brands in this region are both in the pipeline.

"We're looking over time to have a more substantial position in the Middle East, like we do in most other parts of the world," said Robert Bakish, the chief executive of Viacom International Media Networks.

"It is about building an entity that can produce more original programming for the region and events for the region. Investment will be part of it," he added. "From a consumer demographic perspective, there is great potential here."

Viacom currently runs a feed of the music station MTV Arabia in this region, and its children's station Nickelodeon is available locally.

But Mr Bakish said Viacom was looking to increase local productions, which could include Arabic versions of popular MTV formats such as Cribs.

"We're not where we want to be in the Middle East … We're not at a place where we operate a bouquet of services, where we have a substantial revenue stream, where we're able to create critical mass of localised programming, which is very much where we want to get to. And over time, we're confident that we will get there."

The Arab Media Group, based in Dubai, previously ran the stations MTV Arabia and Nickelodeon Arabia in the region. Mr Bakish said these brands had now been taken back under the control of Viacom.

"That's something that the [global finanical] crisis hit particularly hard. So we took the brands back, and we operate at 24-hour feed that we own," he said.

This could also include the launch of other stations in the region. "We don't have a feed of Comedy Central in the Middle East. It's fair to say that we aspire to do that," said Mr Bakish.

This year, MTV India launched in the Middle East, where it is now being beamed to more than 150,000 homes. That station is run by IndiaCast, a joint venture between TV18 and Viacom18, which is linked to Viacom.

Viacom also disclosed findings of a survey on the "millennial" youth generation in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It was the first time Middle Eastern countries had been included in the report.

bflanagan@thenational.ae