Hala TV’s path into the heart of the Arab public in Israel won’t be easy. It can expect tough competition for the attention of Israeli Arabs from hundreds of satellite channels around the Arab world, including MBC, Future TV and Al Jazeera, which all offer the world high-quality content. This is in addition, of course, to competition from Israeli broadcast channels.
I ask the channel’s CEO, Joseph Atrash, why a viewer would pick Hala TV from such abundance. Atrash has led the company since drafting the tender bid, through forming a staff and developing programs, up until finding advertisers. “It’s a little like David against Goliath,” Atrash answers.
“It’s true that satellite offers more than 700 channels including sports, children’s, drama, reality and comedy programming that’s created all over the world at very high quality. But no Israeli Arab can participate or vote in those programs. There’s a lack of treatment of Israeli Arab issues; there is no channel that reflects the Arab public in Israel, there’s no local focus. Let’s say Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] is asked by [PM Benjamin] Bibi Netanyahu to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. That kind of recognition has immediate implications for Arabs living in the State of Israel — who will provide commentary from their perspective? Not Al Jazeera, not CNN and not [Israeli] Channel 2. Only us.”
You may not have deep pockets like Channel 9 — your Russian counterparts — but have you learned anything from them?
"We learned from them an important insight in the field of marketing. Our channel will survive if advertisers from the general sector understand that this is a platform for them to reach the Arab public, and as a result, they increase their investment in it. The Arab advertising pie is presently very small, 70 million shekels [$17 million], including everything — journalism, billboards, radio, internet, etc. You wonder: What are the chances the channel will survive this way? Channel 9’s mistake when starting out was that it tried to bite from the Russian public’s advertising pie, instead of enlarging it.
"If we strive for revenues of 40 or 50 million shekels [$10–13 million] in the fifth or seventh year of the channel, from this pie of 70 million, that means shutting down all other media in the Arab public. That’s not what we’re interested in doing. So we need to change the approach — not to bite from the existing pie but rather to enlarge it, at the expense of the advertising pie of Israeli television, which now stands at 1.3 billion shekels [$330 million].”
Among your target audience, there are already quite a few viewers who are disappointed by the relatively meager content at this stage, and from the lack of a large prime-time program like “Big Brother,” “Survivor” or “The Voice.”
“Our strength is not in producing big reality shows. We won’t make ‘The Voice’ because I assume that the budget for all of our programs combined, some 16 million shekels [$4 million], is smaller than the budget of just ‘The Voice’ alone. Our strength will be in creating local value. We create formats of content that are not expensive — what to do — but their relevance to the audience is large. We can’t compete with ‘Arabs Got Talent,’ which enjoys huge ratings in the Arab world. But we can cover and talk about the phenomenon of viewing this program in an Arab village.
“We can’t compete with lifestyle programs at the production level of MBC, but I can make a program that will advise you on where to find an expert on osteoporosis, and where to get a facial done near my mom’s town and not in Beirut. And ahead of the weekend, our soccer expert will analyze what’s happening in Sakhnin [an Arab city in Israel's North District with an excellent football team] and where Nazareth is going. That’s our strength. There’s no link between the amount of money that is invested in the studio and the relevance of the content. For example, the evening program of comedian AymanNahas, which is broadcast during prime time, has succeeded in garnering interest among the general public even though it’s not ‘Big Brother.’”
Atrash adds that the channel is also a response to media discrimination against the Arab Israeli public. “The discrimination against us in the Israeli media is double — both in the small amount of coverage and also the type of coverage. It engages in character assassination of the Arab public as compared with the Israeli public. We are presented as thieves, a fifth column, collaborators. And a source for good food. There are lots of items in the Israeli press about honor killings in the Arab family, but nothing about the success of a biotechnology company in Nazareth.”