Two Emirati brothers are pioneering the use of Twitter in a new type of television show called social TV, which will put viewers firmly in the driving seat.
Emirati brothers pioneer social TV
DUBAI // It's hardly unusual for the denizens of the internet to tell television makers, often in less than respectful terms, where to go. Now, though, two Emirati brothers are taking that advice more literally.
This week Mohamed and Peyman Parham Al Awadhi began shooting Peeta Planet, a pioneering television travel show that will take its cues on where to go and what to see from the two men's followers on Twitter.
The brothers say the series - the first to be made by their production company, Qabeela New Media - is the UAE's first example of a new genre called social TV.
Having already used social media to help build a following for their Wild Peeta chain of shawarma restaurants - discussing menus and decor with their online fans - the brothers are no strangers to utilising social media for business purposes, but they say Peeta Planet will take the concept far further.
This week, guided by social media suggestions, they have been filming at various locations around the UAE. The brothers are executive producers and on-screen hosts, and the show is being shot by an award-winning documentary film crew.
The Dh437,000, hour-long pilot will also feature material to be shot in Japan at the end of the month.
Four further 45-minute episodes will be made between March and May in Australia, the UK, the US and Brazil. There will be versions in Arabic and English.
"It's a reality show driven by social media," says Mohamed, 38. "We thought, wouldn't it be cool to create this show which is about two Emiratis who started this shawarma concept and met all these amazing people on social media because of it, and what if we travel around the world and meet other social media communities?
"And what if social media communities tell us where to go, who to meet, what to eat, what adventures to have? With social TV, from day one, from the time of idea conception, you're on Twitter and Facebook talking about it."
The inspiration for the show came when, exhausted after the launch of their first restaurant at Dubai Healthcare City in 2009, the brothers urgently needed a holiday but were unsure where to go.
They turned to their social-media contacts for ideas and, when someone suggested Sri Lanka, they decided to go there. Once in Colombo they asked for more ideas and their followers quickly nominated places to stay and sights to see, even helping them hire a car and driver.
"We stopped at the most amazing villages, we passed through so many terrains, rice fields and jungles and seaside places, and we ate the most amazing food," he adds. "And it wasn't anything out of Lonely Planet, it was real people telling us where to go.
"We posted pictures, and when we came back everybody who followed us said, 'Thank you so much for doing that, because we felt that we took this mini-vacation'.
"So that gave us the idea, what if we create this show that is highly social, that's not like any other travel show anyone has ever seen? We think the future of TV is social, and we're at the edge of this new frontier of television."
Though the brothers will appear on screen, Mohamed insists the real stars will be the people they meet on their travels. They plan to make other programmes, but will maintain the distinctive social network style.
"When we created the company we said we wanted to create socially conscious, highly social media-savvy shows, so that's what we're going to do going forward.
"I think it makes for relevant programming, content that people are actually interested in, that means something to them."
Jonathan Ali Khan, the managing director of Ras Al Khaimah-based Wild Planet Productions, believes the brothers' approach will appeal to viewers.
"It's high time the TV industry realised that new media is something that people are turning more and more towards, and social media is a hugely important component of that new media," he says. "People like to interact and participate and become more involved in programmes.
"Innovators like these two gentlemen have obviously seen an opportunity to capitalise on the viewers' interests, and that's an important sign of the times. The viewer is going to become much more significant in the equation."