Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins today (mabrouk to the Muslims all over the world). As every year, this is not only a time devoted to praying and fastening, but also a crowded battle field for Arab tv channels. Arab broadcasters invest a great amount of their annual budgets in producing tv shows especially tailored for this season which is the richest even in terms of ads spending. Every tv genre is touched by the “Ramadan effect”. Mtv Arabia, the latest born music channel in the Middle East, has promised to refrain from playing music video clips during the holy month, replacing this pretty secular tv genre with cultural news programmes and some reality shows believed to be more appropriate, like “Hogan Knows Best” which follows wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan in his lesser-known roles as husband and father.
Also mobile offers are influenced by the starting of Ramadan. Du, the UAE integrated telco service provider launched in 2007, has just announced a bunch of new services tailored for the holy month. To test customers’ knowledge of Ramadan, Du launches a Sms challenge which will give free credit to the winners. Customers can also subscribe to “hadeeth of the day”, a free service which sends to mobile screens Prophet Mohammed’s say for each day of the holy month. But there is also room for pay-per-view content: Du, in cooperation with MBC, one of the most watched Arab broadcasters, will offer ad hoc designed “mobisodes” of the tv drama “Rabeh wa Douktora” for the first time. Islamic tailored content, produced by religious channel Al Majd, will also be available on Du subscription Tv package.
But Ramadan tv hottest potato will be musalsalat as usual. After the huge success across the Arab region of the Turkish soap operas “Nour” and “Years of lost” dubbed into Syrian dialect, everybody is waiting for the next big thing. Meanwhile there are some “evergreen” of Arab tv to be back again: as Syrian drama “Bab al hara”, inspired by nostalgia for life of Old Damascus, already a huge success all across the Arab world.
As usual, Ramadan musalsalat are accompanied by huge polemics and “pros and cons” supporters inside and outside the Arab world. There is a big debate running every year over the topics of the musalsalat. Arab tv drama has been devoting itself in breaking lots of cultural and social taboos by tackling issues like polygamy, divorce, rape, even the struggle of a transexual, and politics of course. During the past few years lots of Ramadan “hot potatoes” have been prevented from broadcasting, like “Tariq ila Kabul”, a Qatari tv production dealing with the history of Afghanistan from the struggle against former Soviet Union till US occupation after 9/11.
This Ramadan 2008 lots of polemics have already been raised for ERTU, Egyptian public tv, preventing the broadcasting of “Nasser”, a musalsal based on life of the father of Panarabism and former Egyptian president directed by Syrian Bassel Al Khateeb. No explanation has been given yet for the decision, but many Egyptian government opposition papers, like Al Wafd, have already expressed their criticism for the government seems to allow series like last year big success “Malek Farouk” (directed by Syrian Hatem Ali) while doesn’t keep the same behaviour when it comes to a chapter of Egyptian history that the ruling party at power wants to forget.
In Ramadan tv hot race there is also a room for newcomers: many expectations have been put on “Matabb”, the first locally produced Palestinian drama believed to show daily life under occupation which should be on air by tonight.
While in Lebanon, still the less conservative and more “osé” country in Arab tv panorama, Al Lubnania – a new born channel- announces a tv grid made up by cosmetic surgery programmes, like liposuction and facelifts. A typical “Lebanese (and provocative) way” to be added to this Ramadan tv offer for all audiences flavours.