New Moves for
By Monal Zeidan
Nelson, Showtime's senior vice president - marketing with the logos of the new
"time shift convenience" channels.
Showtime-one of the Arab
world's main Pay TV packagers of English-language Western entertainment for an
overwhelmingly Arab audience-has staked a claim in recent months to be regarded
as the premium network for Arabic movies with the introduction of its own Arabic
movie channel-Al Shasha.
Much of Showtime's Arab cinema content may seem similar to that of ART's movie
channel "Aflam" and Orbit's "Al Oula." In fact, audiences will (or so Showtime
is hoping) discern a difference. Showtime's product will consist of uncensored
director's cuts never before seen anywhere in the Arab world-be it movie theater,
TV, or home video, coupled with professional packaging and uninterrupted viewing
(without even any breaks for in-house promos.) This was the same formula that,
according to Showtime, turned its Pay-Per-View "Home Cinema" from a rather unexciting
vehicle for exclusively Western movies that then took off with uncut Arabic movies
broadcast for the first time ever on television and in their original uncut form
shortly after their theatrical release in Gulf cinemas.
Al Shasha draws on the
extensive film library of Founoon, the region's leading film producer, and will
premiere many recent Arabic movie blockbusters like Yaeh Fi Amrika and Amir Al
Zalam, which will be broadcast for the first time ever on Al Shasha in its original
uncut version soon after its theatre release in Gulf cinemas.
Meanwhile Showtime has
decided to consolidate the diverse aspects of its operation in one purpose-built
headquarters building in Dubai Media City (DMC). Initially, Showtime will relocate
both its play-out and up-linking operations from Cairo, Egypt and its sales and
marketing activities currently operating in Dubai but outside of the DMC, to a
50,000 square foot headquarters. Subsequently, further technical and production
operations will transfer from London to the DMC headquarters, which ultimately
will accommodate over 400 staff. .
|Peter Einstein and Ahmad
Bin Byat of Dubai Media City.
When Ahmad Bin Byat, director
general of the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone Authority, recently announced
that Showtime was moving to DMC, he noted that "Showtime is the first satellite
bouquet operator to choose DMC as its base. Its decision is strategically important
because it confirms DMC has successfully established itself as an international
media hub. "
As the leading pay-TV
broadcaster in the Middle East and North Africa, the Showtime network has developed
a reputation for innovative programming and entertainment, technical excellence,
and superior customer service.
"It has ambitious growth
targets and I am confident that DMC will provide the infrastructure and world-class
working environment to realize those plans."
The Showtime facility
will feature a multi-million dollar state-of-the-art broadcast and transmission
centre to be operational in early 2004, together with an advanced call centre
and online customer service functions.
DMC will provide up-link
services for Showtime's channels to two transponders on the NileSat 102 satellite,
with services to a third transponder being added in the future.
Peter Einstein, Showtime
President and Chief Executive, commented, "We have watched the phenomenal pace
of development at DMC
as it has progressively established a dominant position as a global media hub.
"In a short period of
time, DMC has created an unrivalled opportunity for broadcasters, publishers,
and other creative producers to excel in the region and beyond.
"The move brings us in
to the heartland of the creative community that is growing rapidly within DMC.
We look forward to contributing a major element to the creative edge that DMC
is giving Dubai and the region."
Showtime has also expanded
its Pay- Per-View services beyond Home Cinema into sports. Last summer, Showtime
made its first foray into sports PPV by covering the Tyson/Lewis fight. Even though
the fight took place during working hours in the Middle East, the buy rates were
considerably higher than expected.
According to Peter Einstein,
Showtime "recorded a buy rate of 2.4 percent for that event, surpassing the 2.1
buy rate recorded in the U.S. Timing for the live event was not ideal - it took
place at breakfast on a Sunday. Not only was this the wrong time but it also conflicted
with the first week of the Football World Cup, which made the result even more
A key factor for the high
buy rate appears to have been the ability of subscribers to order through the
Interactive Voice Response system by simply calling the dedicated Home Cinema
order line and punching in their small smart card number through the telephone
handset. Showtime has further upgraded its customer service facilities, launching
what it calls "the most advanced online customer service site in the global entertainment
Another new development
from Showtime is the launch of four new television channels. The channels are
in fact "time-shifts" of plus two hours for Paramount and TV Land and plus one
hour for The Movie Channel and Discovery. They are free to subscribers who currently
watch the non-time-shifted channels in their existing packages.
Additionally, the popular
factual documentary channel Discovery Civilization and the children's entertainment
Nickelodeon have been boosted to 24 hours a day. Previously each channel aired
for 12 hours a day.
The advantage of the time-shift
is that viewers will no longer have to make a choice between watching their favorite
programs broadcasting at the same time.
Showtime's move to DMC
is viewed by industry commentators as another move towards maintaining its leading
position among Pay-TV operators in the Middle East. TBS
Monal Zeidan is general
manager of the specialized public relations company Matrix, and TBS Gulf