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Cablegate: O Tv: A Rising Star in the Arab Media Market

VZCZCXRO9203
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #0555 0791352
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 191352Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8606
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS CAIRO 000555

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR NEA/PPD, ECA, IIP

E.O.12958:N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECPS KPAO XF EG
SUBJECT: O TV: A RISING STAR IN THE ARAB MEDIA MARKET

Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

1. (U) Summary: On March 16, A/IO met with Yasmine Abdullah Attia,
the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Egyptian youth
entertainment channel O TV, which celebrated its one-year
anniversary on January 31, 2008. In slightly more than one year, O
TV has rocketed into the top 10 most watched entertainment channels
in the Arab world, bypassing the Lebanese Broadcast Channel (LBC)
and Dubai 1 in total viewers. While maintaining its focus on
entertainment and cultural variety shows, O TV has begun to branch
out with documentaries on international topics such as Darfur and an
economic program on the Egyptian stock exchange. Most
significantly, O TV indicated a willingness to explore cooperative
television projects with the U.S. government that would highlight
the lives of Egyptian students and immigrants living in America.
End summary.

----------------
Enter O TV
----------------

2. (SBU) On March 16, A/IO met with Yasmine Abdullah Attia, the
youthful CEO of the Egyptian youth entertainment channel O TV.
After a year in business, O TV has exploded onto the Arab media
scene, rising to the 10th most watched entertainment channel in the
region and surpassing such stalwarts as LBC and Dubai 1. Abdullah
attributed O TV's success to its focus on programming that is both
unconventional and targeted to a younger audience. The programming
philosophy of O TV is to avoid politics and focus on what is "cool,
outside the box, and shows Egypt to be modern." O TV is perhaps
best known for screening American and European movies with little to
no censorship -- a rarity in Egypt and the wider Middle East -- but
a big draw for viewers. 65-70% of the programming on O TV is
original. The most popular programs, Sabah Sukar (Good Morning) and
Masaa Sukar (Good Evening), are distinctive in their use of Egyptian
colloquial slang and innovative set designs. O TV also inaugurated
the first daily program focused on the Egyptian stock market, which
has expanded the channel's viewers to include members of the
Egyptian business and investor communities.

3. (SBU) O TV is the project of owner Naguib Sawaris, the richest
man in Egypt. His business empire includes Mobinil and several
international telecom ventures and Orascom Construction. He
recently sold Orascom Cement to Lafarge for $12.9 billion. Sawaris
takes an active interest in the channel, micromanaging its
programming down to the guests on O TV's talk shows. To manage O
TV, Sawaris appointed Yasmine Abdullah Attia, who at the age of 32
is not only the youngest CEO of any television station in Egypt, but
the only woman occupying that position as well. A former national
tennis champion, Abdullah lived in the United States for a year for
tennis school in Texas. Upon her retirement from tennis, Abdullah
worked as a presenter on Dream TV, the Egyptian Space Channel and
most recently on Channel 2's popular talk program Beit Beitak until
her sacking by the Minister of Information for undisclosed reasons.
Despite having no background in business administration, Abdullah
was appointed CEO and Managing Director of O TV, giving her control
of personnel and programming.

4. (U) With only 450 employees, O TV is small compared to either the
state run media (Egypt TV has 7,000 employees) or other independent
stations like Dream TV (730 employees). When the station began its
operations, Abdullah made a conscious decision to recruit new
television talent through open casting calls. As a group, the 450
employees of O TV are young and inexperienced; only two had ever
appeared on camera before joining the station. Abdullah said that O
TV pays better than rivals Dream TV and Orbit TV. While the station
has not yet turned a profit, Abdullah says its operating budget is
sufficient until the station can renegotiate the fixed advertising
revenue contract it signed onto when it began. Given the station's
expanding market share and its wealthy patron, O TV is positioned to
be a formidable regional media player.

5. (U) O TV is seeking to expand the production of its original
content to include documentaries on topics such as Darfur and the
screening of independent short movies from young Egyptian movie
makers. O TV is also looking to acquire additional television
channels that would focus exclusively on movies (O TV Cinema) and
music. Asked if O TV had any interest in pursuing programming
production opportunities in the U.S., Abdullah was receptive to
cooperative television projects with the Embassy focusing on the
lives of Egyptian students and immigrants and their experiences in
America.
RICCIARDONE

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