Fatafeat is mouth-watering channel

British chef Jamie Oliver appears on TV channel Fatafeat.

Fatafeat, an upstart television channel with mouthfuls to offer food lovers, is raking in fans, thanks to founder Youssef El Deeb. The half-Egyptian, half-Lebanese Canadian national and broadcast veteran operating from Dubai and Cairo struck a responsive chord with viewers sick of politics by pleasing their palates.

"We've been receiving many e-mails from viewers in the region who say 'thank you for showing something normal for a change'," said El Deeb, noting that people had developed battle fatigue and were more than glad to find lighter alternatives.

The channel translates into "tidbits" or "crumbs" in Arabic and aims to attract viewers through simplicity, bi-lingual programming and some of the most charming graphics and visuals. Its programmes hit the airways in December 2006 but Lebanese cable TV started offering Fatafeat as part of their bouquet in late 2007.

According to the 53-year-old El Deeb, the channel is the Arabic associate of America's Food Network that includes Home and Garden TV, which he plans to introduce as another entertainment brand.

Theme channels were previously frowned upon in the Arab world, a symptom of limited choices in the state-controlled, pre-satellite era. But the whiplash speed with which satellite TV is growing in the region has created niches for every taste, similar to those in the West, notably where food is a national pastime.

The grid is a mix of shows featuring the likes of the UAE cook Samar Badri, Lebanon's Dania El Khatib, Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, Britain's Naked Chef Jamie Oliver and Jacques Torres.

The assortment of culinary delights is guaranteed to please every manner of professional and amateur cook.

Fatafeat's 35 staffers are divided between Dubai and Cairo, with the latter location being used to produce feature films. Its viewers are increasing, according to ratings conducted by Ipsos-Stat, a leader in the region. New figures are expected in early next month.

El Deeb said that according to quantitative and qualitative research, the way to go was making the channel simple and fun.

"I wanted to show that food is never serious and is the only way for families to bond, around the dinner table," he said with typical Mediterranean relish.

El Deeb began managing Saudi-owned MBC1 TV and spent many years producing food commercials – an incentive that seems to have veered him towards an all-food channel.

Through his network of contacts, he managed to attract Arab investors to start up what promises to be a very successful network but he remains cagey about what capital was required to create the financial base.

In a far-sighted move aimed at cooks who will undoubtedly be extra busy preparing for the Muslim month of Ramadan in September, El Deeb is planning to precede the Muslim fasting season with an August line-up of Ramadan-related programming.

"We also have a show coming up called Sukkar Mazboot aimed at diabetics in the Gulf and geared to healthy eating habits," he said referring to the high incidence of diabetes in the Arab Gulf countries.

Sukkar Mazboot means the right dose of sugar and is used to denote moderate sweetness in the traditional thick and strong Turkish coffee consumed in most of the countries in the region.
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