25 years later, MBC is the ‘last man standing’

MBC aggressively went after all formats which it deemed suitable and popular with its audience

Faisal J. Abbas

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I was only ten years old when MBC began broadcasting via satellite from London in 1991. To me, that was a moment in history equivalent to the 1984 launch of the Apple Mac computer. It changed everything – not just for me but for a whole generation who was suffering from the mind-numbing effect of Arab state-owned media outlets.

MBC came in with a very unique proposition. Unlike most other Arab satellite channels, which popped up at the time, it wasn’t a flag-carrier of a particular nation; rather it took a much a regional pan-Arab positioning. Furthermore, it blended Arab and Western/international content in a way that resonated with a whole generation of highly globalized young Middle Easterners.

Indeed, the channel gave us the best of both worlds. We were able to watch Egyptian TV “Mousalsalat” (series) as well as dubbed versions of top Mexican Telenovelas (Turkish and Korean drama followed suit later on). MBC also invested heavily in its own production. For decades it was renowned for its nightly news presented by top-notch anchors such as Nicole Tannouri, Motaz Dimirdash and Antoine Aoun.

On the entertainment front, Razan Maghrabi did the Arab version of “Top of the Pops” and our Hollywood reporter, Raya Abi Rached, interviewed some of the biggest names in international show businesses.

It was through MBC that Arabs worldwide rallied together to support causes that unified them. From standing up to Israeli aggressions in Palestine and Lebanon to creating and cheering pan-Arab moments, such as British boxing sensation “Prince” Naseem Hamed in the 90s, and Palestinian “Arab Idol” star Mohammad Assaf more recently.

Continuing with the “best of both worlds” theme, MBC aggressively went after all formats which it deemed suitable and popular with its audience. The group – which is now based in Dubai and consists of over a dozen different channels – is also home to the Arab versions of The Voice, Project Runway, Top Chef and Got Talent.

Yet, the Arab world has hardly been only about fun and games. Sadly, it is mostly doom and gloom that comes out of the region and, at the turn of the century, there was a growing concern that no credible, dedicated and professional newscaster was filling the vacuum. This concern was intensified following 9/11 and the Iraq war as it became clear that some Gulf news channels were airing extremist views and propagating al-Qaeda ideology.

As such, Al Arabiya – which this English website is part of – was born in 2003. In conjunction with the MBC group, the new 24-hour news channel sought to be a calm, liberal, rational and informed voice in a region plagued by shouting, conspiracy theories and extremist ideologies.

Financial burdens on the side, Al Arabiya paid a hefty price for its professionalism as it mourned a large number of reporters killed on duty over the years. However, it also reaped the rewards when it was chosen as the first TV channel to interview US President Barack Obama, upon inauguration in 2009, and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in 2016.

As a person who followed the MBC story from day one – first as a mere consumer of its great content and currently as one of those who oversees its production of this content – I can’t but say on the occasion of its 25th anniversary that I am certainly proud to have had the chance to be part of its success over the past four years.

Being an insider meant that I got to experience many of the serious challenges – ranging from tough financial decisions to dealing with security threats – that our senior management deals with on a daily basis.

It was through MBC that Arabs worldwide rallied together to support causes that unified them. From standing up to Israeli aggression in Palestine and Lebanon to creating and cheering pan-Arab moments.

Faisal J. Abbas

All I can say is managing a group of this size and impact is no easy task. However, looking back at what happened to almost all our competitors over the past two and a half decades, it is inspiring that MBC today is indeed the ‘last man standing’.

This could have only been achieved by a clear and ambitious vision and the willingness to take the plunge...and these are the two attributes, which define MBC’s chairman and founding father, Sheikh Waleed al-Ibrahim.

I personally have learned so much from my four years working as the English Editor-in-Chief with this group. If I were to summarize it, I would say that MBC teaches you that life will always throw obstacles and challenges at you. Yet, one must succeed and stay on top. This can only be achieved if we continue to believe in our slogan and always seek to “see hope everywhere”.

So, on behalf of all of us here... Thank you and happy 25th anniversary, Sheikh Waleed!
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, and is a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.