Fox snatches egg from MBC media basket

Firm signs deal to air first-run films on on the region's six-month-old Fox Movies station, right currently held by MBC.

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Fox International Channels, a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire, has signed a deal with its sister company, Twentieth Century Fox, for exclusive rights to air top-quality, first-run films on the region's six-month-old Fox Movies station. These rights are currently held by MBC, the Saudi-based satellite broadcaster that dominates the Middle East's free-to-air film channel market, but they would switch over to Fox in the early part of next year.

"Twentieth Century Fox, prior to our arrival, had a deal with MBC, and now we have a deal with Twentieth Century Fox," said Rohit D'Silva, the general manager of Fox International Channel Middle East. "This is something that takes away from the overall content which MBC had earlier." Mazen Hayek, the group director of marketing at MBC, declined to comment on how the deal would affect the station, but said the real judges were the advertisers. "They are the ones who have the final say at the end of the day."

The deal represents another chapter in the long-running rivalry between the two titans of Saudi media: Sheikh Waleed Al Ibrahim, who owns MBC, and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who owns Rotana. Fox Movies was brought to the region through a partnership between Rotana Media Services and Fox International Channels. The channel launched in the Middle East in May with the airing of Blade Runner - The Final Cut, starring Harrison Ford, the first time the film was aired in the region.

It was designed to be the first of two English-language, free-to-air satellite channels to be introduced this year. The other station, which will feature American television programmes, is scheduled to launch before the end of the year, Mr D'Silva said. The channels have offices in Dubai Media City. Fox provides the majority of the content while Rotana is responsible for regional sales. The companies share advertising revenue. The programmes are broadcast from an uplink in Cairo.

"To date, as a result of our partnership with Fox International Channels in launching Fox Movies, we have been instrumental in delivering viewers in the region and an inimitable movie watching experience," said Nezar Nagro, the president of Rotana Media Services. "At RMS we have always remained committed to bringing a greater breadth and depth of diversity and innovation to the Middle East in terms of media content, and so we welcome this deal as yet another measure that demonstrates this commitment to our viewers."

Fox Movies airs feature films from every major Hollywood studio, but Mr D'Silva said the rights to first-run film content from Twentieth Century Fox were not a given, just because the company is owned by Mr Murdoch. "It's a competitive environment internally," he said. "Our deals are based on the specifics of the individual marketplace."