Bollywood war breaks out over Middle Eastern skies

MUMBAI: Very soon, Hindi film fans in the Middle East are going to be spoilt for choice. Here’s how.

After launching Zee Aflam in 2008, Zee Entertainment Enterprises yesterday premiered the Dubai-based Zee Film Hindi, which boasts a repertoire of over 500 movie titles and up to 1,500 hours of entertainment every year. Zee Film Hindi has an operational office in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and can be accessed through the Arabsat Badr-4 satellite on frequency 12111. What’s more, mid-October will see the Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) launch MBC Bollywood, a free-to-air channel available via Nilesat and catering to the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, with a portfolio of over 300 Hindi films - dubbed in Arabic or sub-titled.

While this promises a visual feast for Bollywood fans, what cannot be ruled out is the severe competition it will spark.

About Zee Film Hindi, Zee Entertainment president - Middle East, North Africa, Turkey & Pakistan Mukund Cairae says: "Since its inception, Zee has worked towards widening the reach of Indian cinema to audiences across the world. We started Zee Aflam five years ago to re-introduce Bollywood to the Arab world. The acceptance from the viewers has led to a huge growth of the genre itself. The launch of 'Film Hindi' is a testament to our efforts to continue to bridge and unify audiences in the Middle East, by building on the similarities with the Indian Subcontinent.”

Cairae points out that  between Zee Aflam and Film Hindi, Zee plans to offer a variety of movies straddling Bollywood and Indie cinema.

About MBC Bollywood, which is expected to give other Bollywood channels a run for their TRPs, a Dubai-based source says: "With the MBC group already capturing 80 per cent of the advertising market in the Middle East, the new entrant may impact the fortunes of  even Zee Aflam and B4U Aflam."

The latest addition to MBC's existing bouquet of 10 channels, MBC Bollywood, promises to cater to the huge demand for Bollywood movies in the Middle East.

“Zee Aflam is presently the number one bollywood movie channel in the Middle East, with an estimated $ 9 million per annum  advertising revenue. This will surely get impacted with MBC Bollywood,” the source said. And if reports are to be believed, MBC Bollywood may be one of the reasons why  UTV Movies Arabia could be going off-air by the end of this month.

A trip down MBC lane

Historically speaking, the satellite transmission for MBC first started from London in September 1991, making it the first-ever, independent Arabic satellite TV station, and a market leader - delivering news and quality, family entertainment programming to over 130 million Arabic speaking people around the world.

The channel recently moved its headquarters to Dubai Media City, bringing production closer to its Arab viewers.

The group's channel bouquet reach out to nearly 300 million Arabs across the Middle East, Europe, Africa and South America.

Among these figure: MBC1 (general family entertainment), MBC2 and MBC MAX (24-hour movies), MBC3 (children’s entertainment), MBC4 (entertainment for new Arab women), MBC Action (action series and movies), MBC Persia (24-hour movie channel dubbed in Persian), Al Arabiya (the 24-hour Arabic language news channel), Wanasah (24-hour Arabic music channel) and MBC Drama (Arabic drama).

The group also has two radio stations: MBC FM (Gulf music), and Panorama FM (contemporary Arabic hit music) and O3 Productions (a specialised documentary production unit).

For all purposes, it is the Goliath of the middle east. Can the Davids measure up?

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