It took us a half hour to drive from Sheikh Zayed Road in the center of Dubai to the Al-Quoz Industrial Area where you’ll find the headquarters of Arab Media Group or AMG. Their three-letter acronym will soon have a very familiar three-letter brand running right along side it, MTV.
A great deal has been said already ahead of the launch, but let me boil it down into three headlines:
MTV is ready to enter a market of 50 music channels in the region. Their lead music channel will be built around Hip Hop and two-thirds of the population in the Arab World is under the age of 25, so there is room to grow.
What is equally important but often overlooked in the excitement about edgy programming and the rush for advertising dollars, or in this case dirhams, is what I call the third ‘D’, dialogue.
MTV sees itself as something much more than music television. It is a platform for debate to discuss drugs, health issues and can be a great vehicle to exchange cultures, music and ideas. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair jumped into MTV town hall meetings for the same reason advertisers choose this platform, to reach youth in their space.Bill Roedy, MTV’s global ambassador since 1989, not only gets excited about rap music emerging out of Saudi Arabia, but the potential to break down barriers. “I think often there are stereotypical views about the Middle East,” Roedy says, “And this will give us a chance to reflect this great culture and what I think is going to be a great product.”
His counter-part in the venture, Abdullatif al-Sayegh the 30-something CEO of AMG, did the interview with me in the traditional Arab tobb, against the MTV graffiti studio backdrop. He talks about listening to the Arab youth and engaging them through entertainment.
“Just go with the language they understand, with the language that they believe in, with the way that they can understand you better. I am sure we can fill a lot of gaps between the West and the Arab World if we do this.”
Sounds worthy, but possible. How about the backlash against the message coming from what is clearly a western brand? Not a problem. The Virgin Music Store we went into was filled with a mix of Arab and western expatriate youth, thumbing through the latest offerings and perusing New York Yankee baseball caps. Downstairs in the shopping mall, teenagers and their parents lined up at Starbucks to get their iced lattes and blended fruit drinks.
So the lesson we may all learn out of the latest launch of MTV, is that many on the streets of the Middle East may not agree with US policies in the region, but they do trust American brands and what they stand for — openness, edginess, and can we say it? Being hip.
John Defterios is the host of “CNN Marketplace Middle East,” a new weekly business program dedicated to the latest financial news and figures from across the Middle Eastern region.