Viacom's Paramount Channel to Launch in Middle East

Courtesy of Photofest
'Forrest Gump'

Viacom International Media Networks' fastest-growing brand, coming to the U.S. next year, is already available in a dozen countries and reaches more than 94 million households.

Viacom's Paramount Channel is coming to the Middle East and North Africa in April.

The company's Viacom International Media Networks unit will launch what it says is its fastest-growing brand on April 15 in partnership with pay TV giant OSN. The channel will be available in English and with Arabic subtitles.

Among the Paramount Channel content lined up for right after the launch are the likes of GhostForrest Gump, Pulp Fiction and Mean Girls in an "I Love That Movie" primetime slot, as well as Whitney Houston TV biopic Whitney and BBC miniseries Our Zoo.

The new channel's first "Thursday Focus" feature will be about Robert De Niro and include his films Everybody's Fine, Jackie Brown and The Untouchables.

Under an exclusive agreement, the companies will also launch a Nick Toons linear channel and a Teen Nick SVOD channel, meaning that a total of nine Viacom brands will now have exclusive OSN distribution in the region. Viacom International Media Networks is now also the largest provider of international content for OSN.

"The new additions further consolidate VIMN’s position as the No. 1 provider of international branded services on OSN’s platforms," the company said. In addition, VIMN has a growing recreational and consumer product business in the Mideast with the Nickelodeon flagship store in the Dubai Mall and a planned Nickelodeon Land, set to open inside the IMG Worlds family entertainment center in Dubai.

Said OSN chief content officer Emad Morcos: "The three new channels, in addition to the offering already available, give our viewers access to the very best entertainment from around the world.”

The Paramount Channel has been a big success for VIMN, which used to be run by Viacom CEO Bob Bakish. The first Paramount Channel launched in Spain five years ago. Now there are a dozen Paramount Channels that reach more than 94 million households in 100 countries.

"Internationally, we've been very successful in capitalizing on the marquee Paramount brand to offer general entertainment channels that feature high-quality programming, movies and documentaries," said Bakish on a recent earnings conference call. "In fact, the Paramount channel is already the largest ad supported movie channel in the world."

In the U.S., Viacom plans to rebrand Spike TV as the Paramount Channel in 2018 after recently unveiling a focus on its six core brands — MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Comedy Central, BET and Paramount.

"The Paramount Channel in MENA is the next step forward in this rapid expansion and a very important launch," said Raffaele Annecchino, president and managing director, VIMN South and Western Europe, Middle East and Africa. After all, VIMN has in recent years continuously expanded its presence and business in the Middle East.

"The Middle East is a great example of the growth of the Viacom international business," says the executive. "The Paramount Channel's mission is to become the destination for those looking for quality stories — films, series and behind-the-scenes content. So curation is important to fulfill this unique proposition."

He promises content using the brand filter "Stories Worth Telling" with a focus on 24-49 year olds and films from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, both from the Paramount Pictures library and additional fare licensed from other studios, series and movie-related content. 

Annecchino emphasizes that content on the network will be "totally in line with and totally respectful of" the local culture. "We are really careful to respect local culture," he tells THR. "We always do that in every market, as sensibilities are different everywhere. We have never had any problems in the Middle East. And we have local people in our office in Dubai allowing Viacom to have a much better understanding of the local culture."

The Paramount Channel is already available in Spain (where it launched in 2012), France (2013), Sweden (2014), Hungary, Romania, Russia (2014) Latin America (2014), Poland (2015), Italy (2016), Thailand (2016) and Vietnam (2017).

In Spain, more than 28 million viewers watch the free-to-air version of the Paramount Channel every month. In France, a pay version is the most widely distributed pay TV channel with more than 14 million households, as well as the No. 1 movie-related channel in terms of reach with 5.5 million viewers age 4 and older, plus the top network in the adults 25-59 target demographic with 3.2 million viewers per month. And in Italy, its year-old free-to-air version is one of the top five thematic channels for the 25-54 demo.

"We have no intention of taking our foot off the gas," says Michael Armstrong, executive vp and general manager, revenue and emerging brands at Viacom International Media Networks, about the future rollout of the Paramount Channel worldwide. "There are a lot of households around the globe that are really seeking great storytelling. We think we have got a great solution for that, and where the economics make sense for us, we will continue to roll it out."

With so many channels and other forms of entertainment available these days, Armstrong explains that the network needs to be worth people's time. "We are going after the precious time that consumers have today as they battle figuring out how to spend and balance their time," he says. "So we want them to feel like that they can rely on us to curate the best stories, whether they put them back in the place where they saw that content or they remind them of something very personal in their lives." With the network now having critical reach across various parts of the world, it's become easier to "share ideas and build off each other's ideas for movie marathons, promotions and other things to enhance that consumer experience," adds Armstrong.

Asked about the appeal of the network to marketers, he says: "If you think about advertisers who want to reach a really engaged audience that wants great storytelling, whether you are a movie studio promoting the global launch of a film or an organization launching consumer packaged goods, we are open for business with them."

Content on the Paramount channels globally will continue to depend on the Paramount titles available in specific markets and other programming that can be licensed. "With Paramount, we have got the benefit of content from a 100-plus year library that has been curated through that Paramount mountain and stars filter, which we love," says Armstrong. But the network also has added select licensed content from other companies. In Latin America, for example, the channel recently launched House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. "These are high-quality series that Sony and Lionsgate, respectively, made available in that market, and they really fit our 'Stories Worth Telling' brand filter," says the executive.

The same goes for local content, which the new Mideast channel is also expected to feature over time. "At some point, as we do in many markets, Paramount Channel plans to include some local movies that have proven a success, and we will work more with the movie community in MENA," Annecchino tells THR. "Our strategy is always a glocal one, combining global and local content and focus."

What about original fare? The Paramount Channel in various countries already features original behind-the-scenes content and film stars or story tellers opining on their careers or movies. But original series or films could also be on the horizon in the near to medium term "as we scale the business," says Armstrong. "We are absolutely having those conversations."

Why will the Paramount Channel find appeal in the Middle East and North Africa? "We know that people in the region love watching movies," Annecchino tells THR. "With quality Hollywood movies, the channel will be relevant in most of the countries of the region — from the Emirates and Qatar to Lebanon."

He adds: "We do a lot of research. Our recent Movie Moments study confirmed that movies continue to have universal appeal across all demographics."

Worldwide, 83 percent of adults 16-45 love watching movies, while in the Middle East that is even higher at 89 percent, he says. By far, the most popular way of watching films in the Middle East is television, with 92 percent of people saying they do so, according to additional research. And Viacom says that research shows that movies lead digital video viewing across the Middle East and North Africa region. Comedy, followed by action/adventure and drama, is the favorite genre of film, according to Viacom. 

Armstrong is looking forward to more launches ahead, saying: "We're excited about the Paramount and Paramount Channel brand and our momentum."