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Egypt: Sawiris' OTV Channel looking good one year on

The launch of OTV earlier on this year, a new free to air satellite television channel owned by one of Egypt's most successful businessmen, demonstrated the increasing liberalisation and profitability of televised media in Egypt.

In recent years, there has been a surge in the Middle Eastern satellite television market as more countries allow private ownership of television stations. As a result, the number of Arabic channels has grown and the price of the service has fallen. According to a recent report by the Arab American Institute, there was only one Arabic Satellite channel in 1990. Yet, as of October 2006, 263 free channels were broadcasting on Arabsat and Nilesat.

However, in comparison with Lebanon, a country with a population of under 4 million with over 30 channels, the Egyptian television market remains relatively underdeveloped. As of the end of 2006, there were only three privately owned channels on Egyptian satellite - Dream 1, Dream 2 and Mehwar.

It is this gap in the market that Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris is seeking to fill with OTV. Launched on the final day of January this year and broadcast on Nilesat, the channel has a capital of over $17m.

Since OTV targets Egyptian youth, American programmes have dominated its schedule in the first three months. In a recent assessment of the channel, Sarwiris told OBG, "We are pleased with the public's response to our channel, it is young, aggressive, elegant and innovative".

As one of the most outspoken figures in Egyptian society, it is clear that Sawiris is keen to make a strong impression and OTV has already caused a stir with its satirical programmes and its airing of uncut American films. Sawiris said he was particularly proud of "You Must Be in Egypt", a programme which lampoons the bad habits of Egyptians such as litter dropping, poor driving and noisiness.

"OTV aims to take a critical look at our society. I want Egyptians to see how our lives are, how life could be better and how we can improve our country," he said. He openly acknowledged that the channel has a vague political agenda, to counter what he considers as the negative impact of "religious extremism" and to "build bridges between Egypt and the West, including America."

This is one of the reasons behind the high proportion of US content of OTV, although Sawiris confirmed that more Egyptian programmes would soon hit the airwaves. Although OTV does not broadcast to the more affluent Gulf markets, Sawiris is confident that the channel can bring in significant advertising revenue. The focus on the 15 plus age group, especially those from wealthy backgrounds, offers strong potential.

Sawiris explained, "Our channel will attract advertising agencies who sell youth orientated products such as sport items, soft drinks, consumer goods, mobile phones and ipods." The channel will not limit itself to adolescents, however. "We also have new movies and series every night which appeal to an adult audience and there is a morning show for housewives. Such shows offer an excellent opportunity for high end advertisers such as real estate companies to show their products to a class A audience."

Wael Nazeem, group account director at Saatchi & Saatchi in Egypt, agreed that satellite television has become an important media for advertising. He told OBG, "Because of availability of satellite TV in the region, even the lowest income groups are able to watch satellite and able to move completely away from local television".

Nilesat was launched in 1998 and it is now estimated that over 75% of the population have access to satellite television. The expansion of free-to-air services is set to continue. OTV became the first channel to broadcast news in colloquial Arabic and Sawiris told OBG that an OTV news channel and music channel were likely to follow.

Oxford Business Group, 18 May 2007

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