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Why are Reality TV shows spreading in the Arab World?

27 September 2016

Reality TV has become quite popular in the Arab World from western television to Arab Television channels, in light of the fast-paced technological developments in media, specifically satellite technology. There is a need among both owners and entrepreneurs to provide round the clock programs and this is apparent from the networks ability to attract viewers and advertising companies. Reality TV shows have over the years proven to be a reliable means to attract a large share of the advertising scene in the Arab World.  Reality shows are able to attract large shares of advertising whether they star public personas or regular people.

A Noticeable Spread

Despite the success that has come from this form of TV programming, the debate surrounding it has been non-stop since the launch of “Star Academy” on the LBC channel from Lebanon in 2003, which was considered to be the first reality TV show in the Arab.  There is a trend when looking at the amount of TV shows being broadcasted which they are mostly copies of shows in the U.S, Europe or in some cases Latin America.

The shows depend primarily on entertainment and have very little to add in terms of knowledge and skills building as most of these shows are there to discover singing and dancing talents, fashion designing, cooking and makeup artists, including some sports talents. While there are very few shows that aim to better knowledge, improve intelligence, information dissemination, support inventors and inventors, as well as learning the Holy Quran.

The most renowned of these shows were “Fel Hawa Sawa” a show that aimed to bring together youth of both genders that are willing to get married broadcast by the “ART” network before it got cancelled, “The Life of Khawat” that was broadcast by the “Rotana” channel as well as the more famous “Star Academy” that went on for 12 seasons and finally “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” that was launched by MBC1 in the year 2000.

Some channels in North Africa become interested in broadcasting some programs based on reality TV such as “Nos El Deen” that was first broadcast on the “First TV” Tunisian channel. Another show was “Naqlak Ma Aandy” that was broadcast by the “Tunisian” channel and it caused widespread debate in Tunisia especially after the High Agency for Communications for Hearing and Visual Broadcasts “El Hayaka” in March 2014 stopped its broadcast for a month with a penalty of 200,000 Dinar after they had broadcast a show that discussed a parenting scandal.

Other shows such as “Jack Marsool” broadcasted on the TV channel Nesma is a Tunisian version of “El Mesameh Kareem” and the show of “Lala El Aroosa” on the “Oula” Moroccan TV channel. Moroccan TV was also the first to broadcast on its second TV channel “Dosium” a show that dealt with “Talents in Reciting the Quran” during the holy month of Ramadan which was based on the Malaysian show of “The Younger Imam”.

Multiple Reasoning

Since the start of this reality TV trend, the amount of debate on why these shows of spread continues and if TV channels have succumbed to these programs due to viewer needs, even though some of these shows have surpassed what was seen as a limit for TV channels in the Arab world. This is especially true when looking at a number of shows that discuss sensitive content for Arab audiences or will channels continue to invest in these type of shows in order to create more financial profit.

The size of viewership for these shows are usually measured by the amount of telephone calls and text messages.  The viewership for these shows remains very high and at number one comes Star Academy. Viewership reached 23,175,000 people calling from Egypt, 18,536,000 people from Lebanon calling in, 16,933,000 people calling from Syria, 11,300,000 from Saudi Arabia, 8,078,000 people calling from Jordan as well as a number of other calls from other countries. These participations have increased incrementally and they increase when contestants are followed by fellow nationals at home in the final stages of the competition.

The issue with reality TV shows in the Arab world is that they do not always conform to the social values that exist in the Arab world. The critique by many is not simply that the show is a copy of another in the west, but the fact they bring up social issues and push the boundaries of the agreed upon norms in Arab society. This is very different from the western point of view that in some cases no longer reflects the reality in society, especially in shows that have people be watched constantly on camera and more often than not affects their behavior and reactions.

However, these parties are very careful to affirm that some of the reality TV shows can actually contain content that is positive and can help to nurture and support creativity and talents as well as help to spread positive social values, competition, information gathering and increase social awareness.

In that light, the reasons that these shows have been receiving such support such as “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, “The Poet of a Million”, “El Mesameh Kareem” and “Talents in Reciting the Quran” as most of them are well received and most importantly adhere to the cultural and social norms that exists in Arab societies.