"The best dramas and entertainment shows premiere at this time of the year," said Amir Hegazi. "About 70 percent of a network's budget is spent during Ramadan. TV channels compete for viewers."
Premiering in time for Ramadan, Talfazat is a combination of live and on-demand internet TV. It features programming from 35 Arabic channels and hundreds of hours of on-demand video for a subscription fee of $25 a month.
Mr. Hegazi, general manager of Talfazat, said that as recently as 2005 there was a dearth of Arabic programming in the U.S. "The Arabic market is underserved by cable channels," he said. Currently there are five channels on DirecTV and about a dozen channels on Dish Network. "There is potentially a big demand, but a limited supply."
Talfazat is only one of the international channels offered by JumpTV.
A publicly owned Canadian firm, JumpTV is an internet protocol television (IPTV) company. Its revenue comes from subscriber-based content, ad-supported free content and web-based services. In the U.S., they are probably best known for the live streaming of college, professional and international sports. Last year, JumpTV streamed more than 15,000 sporting events to over 40 countries.
Bill Stephen, senior VP of global ad sales at JumpTV, said most of Talfazat's viewers hit the sweet spot of advertising: the 18- to 45-year-old male who watches sports and news. Mr. Stephen says the subscription-based model allows for a longer engagement time of 45 to 85 minutes per visit.
While the potential IPTV viewership is worldwide, 45 percent of Talfazat's viewers are U.S.-based, 12 percent from Canada, and the rest are mostly from the U.K. and France. U.S. advertisers can reach the North American market or drill down to a specific community in Dearborn, Mich. Talfazat's content may be international, but the U.S. domestic consumption patterns are the same. "They buy insurance, cars and fast food just like everybody else," Mr. Stephen said.
Advertising on Talfazat is currently limited to pre- and post-rolls of 10 to 30 seconds, banner ads on the site and an occasional ticker overlay. The goal is engagement, with as little interruption as possible. Methods of inserting commercials into sporting event halftimes are in development.
In October, JumpTV will complete its merger with NeuLion. The company will bring its set-top-box technology to JumpTV, enabling IPTV to be watched on television sets. The combined company is also adding a mobile TV platform, so the shows will be available on smart phones. "We are going to be fully functioning across all platforms by 2009," said G. Scott Paterson, chairman of JumpTV.
Dubbing on to-do list
Nearly all of Talfazat's programming is in Arabic. Mr. Hegazi said that one of their longer-range plans is to dub American television into Arabic, particularly cartoons. "Most of the cartoons watched in Arab countries are in English," he said. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Arabic is the sixth most common language spoken by U.S. children, ages 5 to 17.
In addition to Talfazat, the combined JumpTV and NeuLion companies also offer KyLinTV, a Chinese-based channel. TV Desi is scheduled to launch 75 South Asian channels, both live and on demand, in time for the Diwali holiday in late October. JumpLineTV (a tentative name) is set to be the biggest aggregator of international content in the world, with over 170 international channels from 40 countries.