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24 April 2024

Showing what UAE can offer

By Primrose Skelton


The lack of original English-language TV shows produced in the UAE is about to change, says Showtime CEO Marc-Antoine d’Halluin. The Dubai-based subscription network wants 2008 to be the year when homegrown content is made popular in the country and programmes such as a reality comedy contest are already in the pipeline.

Although both Dubai One and City 7 produce local news and a handful of lifestyle programmes, this will be the first English-language reality TV show produced in the UAE. 

In an interview with Emirates Business, d’Halluin – who has been at the helm of the company for 14 months – outlines his plans for a range of new content. He says: “We are really pushing to produce local programming. This will make us and our product even more relevant to the audience and bring us closer to our customers.

“We want to bring locally produced television up to international standards, that is the future of Showtime.”

In August an Arabic series was aired in which 10 people competed for the chance to commentate on live football matches. The two winners are now working on premiership football games alongside professionals.

But the new show will allow English-speaking entries and will be produced in the emirate. The 41-year-old believes it will be a huge success. “We are currently showing some of the best TV programmes ever produced, but these are from the US and Europe. What we have to do now is something different and that means going local.

“Developing local comedy is our main priority and we are currently looking into making a reality show to find a stand-up comedian.

Reality TV around the world is a hugely successful formula, look at Pop Idol, The X-Factor, Star Academy, but at the end of the day we know our market and know what we can produce for our audience. We don’t want to just copy what has been done in the rest of the world. This is why we are going to produce something special to the region.

“Many people in the region speak both Arabic and English languages and we will actively encourage participants from all nationalities,” says the Frenchman. D’Halluin, who has been in the programming industry for 15 years, says when it comes to making a company a success “original concepts are what puts one above the rest”.

In the summer, Showtime won the rights to broadcast the English premiership – a coup for the network and d’Halluin – himself an Arsenal fan. “The coach is a fantastic guy, beyond being just French,” he jokes.

“We have spent a lot of time and money developing the international sports coverage, which I believe makes us what we are today – the biggest supplier of paid-for-television in the region.”

At the state-of the art studios at the Dubai Media City, d’Halluin talks with pride about the football show that is aired every Saturday and Sunday with celebrity pundits and a professional team of sports journalists. “Many countries in the world watch the English premiership above their own league. Football is very important for us as a company and getting the rights in the summer was great for us. A huge number of players from around the world play in the premiership and that is why so many people want to watch them.

“In China, Hong Kong, Africa and Latin America it is the most watched league. People here can see more live football than they can in the United Kingdom,” says d’Halluin, who was recently voted 22 out of the 50 most powerful people in Middle East TV – an accolade he takes in his stride.

“It’s a good feeling, especially as I am not from the region. The ranking is an interesting achievement and not one I thought I would ever get. It shows that the changes we have made in the past 12 months have paid off. It is a collective well done to everyone involved but there is room for improvement.”

That improvement, he says, will come from expanding existing TV rights and getting the latest series of all the big hitters, such as Ugly Betty, Lost and Greys Anatomy. But also making programmes more relevant to local viewers. Before joining the company, d’Halluin was the chief executive of a European Pay-TV company and held executive positions at both Fox Kids and Sony Pictures.

As the head of Showtime, he has been tasked with further enhancing the company’s premium mix of entertainment and ensuring that the network stays one step ahead of the competition – a prospect he relishes. “More than 80 per cent of our clients are Arabs, they have access to hundreds of free-to-air channels every day. My aim is to look at all the different entertainment options available to people and try to capture a high percentage of the TV audience, which at the moment is high but we can do better,” he says.

Despite working long hours, the married father-of-three says he does have time to watch his own network and enjoys the premier league, Desperate Housewives, Heroes and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart “definitely the funniest way to keep in touch with the US elections”, he says.

Because of the time he spends away from home, either in the office or abroad on business, d’Halluin is a regular user of the Showbox – a product he is proud of. During a demonstration at the Showtime reception, he explains: “It has more than 80 hours of recording time. You get to watch what you want and when you want. We also choose 15 movies to record a week, so it’s like having a DVD player. We are trying to change the way people watch TV and research shows that more and more customers want to be in control of what they watch and when,” he adds.

As a hands-on CEO he is not afraid to say what stays and what goes on air. “When we recently re-launched I was very involved in the programming side of things.

“We have to cater for every member of the family and we have to provide a bit of something for everybody – it’s how we stay one step ahead of the competition.”

In numbers

  - 80%: The percentage share of Showtime viewers who are Arabic 

  - 40:The number of channels currently airing on the Dubai-based

  - 11: The number of years Showtime has been running

  - 1,500: The hours of live football aired on showtime every year

Homegrown shows

  - Hip Hop Na and Al 7elm: While the region’s hottest new music
    channel, MTV Arabia, features several locally produced shows, our
    favourites are Hip Hop Na and Al 7elm.

  - Axis of Evil: Showtime went behind the scenes to film and produce
    the Middle East Axis of Evil comedy tour. Now showing every Friday
    at 11pm on Showcomedy.

  - Face to Face: City 7 TV’s hard-hitting talk show provides an
    insightful journey into the lives of prominent personalities who
    have shaped the UAE.

  - Out and About and Her Say: Dubai One’s lifestyle shows are very
    popular with the city’s residents. While Out and About with Punam
    Verma packs all the happenings and entertainment in the emirate,
    Her Say
is Dubai’s version of The View.

  - Star Chef: Dubai-based Fatafeat TV recently launched its very own
    reality cooking show, Star Chef. Takhayal Entertainment, which
    runs the channel, has plans to produce many more shows on their
    food channel in the coming months. (Bindu Rai)