Fuel TV to boost production in the Middle East

Action sports and lifestyle channel Fuel TV is looking to heavily increase its presence in the Middle East.

World Wakeboarding Association Wake Park World Championships held at Al Forsan International Sports Resort, which was covered by Fuel TV. Courtesy Damnworks
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Sports fans can look forward to bigger and better coverage of events, thanks to plans by international action sports and lifestyle channel Fuel TV to dramatically increase its presence in the region.

The channel, which is watched in about 15 million homes in more than 60 countries worldwide, is broadcast regionally on the OSN network.

Last month, the channel was in Abu Dhabi filming the World Wakeboarding Association Wake Park World Championships at the Al Forsan International Sports Resort – and that is only the first of many regional productions, says Fuel’s vice president, Rui Ventura. “We want to do more and more events in region after this,” he says. “Next year, we plan on both participating in existing events as media partners, and putting on our own events.

“We are working on a number of events alongside OSN. I can’t give details yet, but we’re talking about some key events that we’re closing deals on, alongside major event organisers.”

Fuel is aiming to increase its regional presence in a number of markets and the Middle East is currently the key focus, Ventura says.

“We were formerly part of Fox,” he says. “But following a restructuring, when Fox wanted a single sports channel to compete with the likes of ESPN and NBC, we were given the opportunity to buy ourselves out and now we are masters of our own destiny. Now we are focusing on increasing our brand presence much more in key markets, including the Middle East. We’re focusing on a number of other territories, including Spain and Portugal, Australia, and even relaunching in the United States, but right now the Middle East is crucial.”

Fuel’s content focuses on the six main action sports: skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, BMX, motocross and wakeboarding. The channel also hosts music shows, and fashion and lifestyle content related to the action-sports community.

It also broadcasts documentaries, one of which, Skateistan, explored the skateboarding scene in Afghanistan.

Fuel’s current portfolio of programmes includes 21 different original series, plus live sports coverage and highlights.

“The two main drivers in modern TV are live or original content, so that’s where we’re focusing,” Ventura says.

“We produce 80 per cent of our own content, which is rare for an independent channel.

“These are proper, scripted series, not just highlights or events that happened three months ago. We do a lot of storytelling around the lives of the athletes, and a lot of stuff on sustainability and environmental shows. We’re part of a number of organisations like Surf Aid that protect the environment and the oceans.

“And of course, we cover a lot of music that goes with the lifestyle, too.”

Ventura says Fuel’s coverage of the Abu Dhabi wakeboarding event is only the start of what he hopes will be a rapid rise in Fuel TV’s regional presence.

“This is a stepping stone for us in the region,” he says. “From now on we want to be more relevant to the regional action-sports community. It’s a game-changer for us.

“What we’ve learnt in other markets is that once we connect our in-house content with live events, it’s very important not just in terms of ratings, but for brand engagement in a region or community – and people who skate or surf or snowboard know us and want to identify with us.”

Ventura notes that the region’s exceptionally youthful demographics – the polar opposite of Fuel’s native Europe (the channel’s headquarters are in Lisbon) – is a key aspect of his company’s plans to expand here.

“The youth culture here is one of the fastest-growing and biggest in the world,” he says.

“Action-sports culture here is growing a lot, too, with projects such as X Dubai ... this region seems to be positioning for something bigger, like the Olympics in future.

“Skateboard and surf have both been nominated as Olympic sports, potentially starting in 2020, so there’s a huge potential for the community to grow here.”

But ultimately, it all comes down to one thing. “Young people love good content,” he says, “and we have it”.