Last month, there were a number of announcements that coincided with the Chinese premier’s visit to the UAE. Image Nation announced that it would launch a 24/7 Chinese channel while ARN is looking to hit the airwaves with a new radio station to cater to Chinese listeners. In a grand launch ceremony last month, Dubai-based China Arab TV (CATV) announced a partnership with media powerhouse, China Media Group, to bring Chinese programmes such as Ode to Joy dubbed to Arabic to MENA audiences.
It was when I went to the Arab Radio and TV Festival in Tunisia three years ago that I first learnt that there was a thriving industry in China that dubs programmes in Mandarin to Arabic.
Of course, with some Turkish programmes getting the boot from local channels, broadcasters have been filling their air space with popular Korean programmes, dubbed to Arabic. The inclusion of Chinese programmes now will expand the appeal from that market.
Ultimately, audiences will watch any programme that has a compelling story line. Chinese TV series Ode to Joy, the story of a former Wall Street Executive who returns to China to search for her long-lost brother, is a case in point. It won a lot of accolades in its first season, but the second season is reported to have had less appeal for the same reason that most television series fail — a less-than-compelling script.
The popular appeal of Hollywood, Bollywood and even K-pop is well documented. Time will tell if this surge in Chinese media initiatives will translate to soft power.
And lastly, it would be interesting to see if Arab drama series make a similar journey to mainland China. It seems China already has a legion of fluent Arabic speakers, so the audience is evidently there.