Healthy returns

Physique TV CEO, Hamid Dizji, reveals the broadcaster's investment plans
What's Up is one of the local shows filmed in the gym studio.
What's Up is one of the local shows filmed in the gym studio.

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Physique TV began broadcasting just over a year ago, and launched officially a month later, in December 2013. The channel is the only 24-hour fitness and lifestyle outlet for the Middle East, and broadcasts in full HD as well.

At first glance, the concept behind Physique TV may seem too narrowly targeted, but this is actually a channel with one of the most diverse arrays of content of any broadcaster in the region, but what is the virtue of a channel to promote healthy living and an active lifestyle? And how does CEO Hamid Dizji prevent the programming becoming boring and repetitive?

The key, according to Dizji, is to be encouraging rather than instructional. “There are many lifestyle, sports and other types of channels, but there was nothing, until now, to address the needs of a healthy and active lifestyle,” he says of the concept behind Physique TV.

“So Physique TV is something totally new, but we avoid the trap of becoming overly ‘instructional’ in the way we present our content. Love in the Wild for instance is a fun new dating series that indirectly encourages an active lifestyle because of its setting – this is what all our shows do. Our general manager, Peter Einstein is bringing a fresh approach to this form of entertainment.”

Indeed a glance through the program guide on any given day shows documentaries following lifeguards in Southern California, urban free runners in the world’s inner cities, and its flagship fighting title MMA Allout.

This acquired foreign content is mixed in with a plethora of locally produced shows to create a well-rounded entertainment line-up. According to Dizji, the channel’s success over the past year is down to its careful programming for target audiences.

During the day, Physique TV’s audience is female-dominated, says Dizji, so they broadcast yoga, Pilates and healthy cooking shows. Then during prime time the channel switches to flagship shows like What’s Up / Shoufi Mafi, which is the same local show but presented for an English and Arabic audience.

“These are weekly talk shows and news programs that focus not on politics and war, but on the latest developments in healthy living and self-improvement,” Dizji tells Digital Broadcast Middle East.

“Then, later in the evening we broadcast our major male-targeted shows like MMA Allout, All the Right Moves and Push Girls, which takes a ground-breaking new look at people with physical disabilities pursuing an active lifestyle.”

Physique TV is part of a larger group of companies and is therefore not overly concerned with making a significant profit quickly and is instead focusing on its content. “SGT Group is taking a long-term view to Physique TV making a large amount of profit, we don’t want to make fast money,” says Dzjin. “We want this channel to be a benchmark of fitness and healthy living in the Middle East.”

As such, advertising is an important source of revenue for the channel, but it is one that Physique TV has avoided relying on in the short term.

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The broadcaster’s partnership with MyHD brings in a significant amount in subscriptions, while the renting out of production facilities is also a sizeable source of revenue, because Physique TV operators the only gym broadcast studio in the whole of the Middle East.

“Advertising will always be important, but we’ll never allow ourselves to rely on it entirely, because Physique TV maintains a very high standard when it comes to who we allow to advertise with us,” says Dizji.

“We’re proud of our arrangements with Emirates Holidays, Nissan and du, for example, but although we’re being approached every day by different companies, we don’t actually pursue partnerships with many of them.”

This is because, as part of a broader group, Physique TV has the luxury of being able to pick and choose, so that the products advertised match the standard of the kind of lifestyle it’s trying to promote.

“You won’t find discount muscle enhancers and diet supplements advertised on Physique TV, for instance, unless they’re approved by the FDA in the US and have scientific proof to back up their market claims, and we ask our advertisers to provide this proof before we sign a contract with them. In the long run, this will benefit our advertisers as well, because it will be a valuable market endorsement,” says Dizji.

Broadcasting throughout the Middle East, Physique TV’s primary markets are the UAE and Saudi Arabia. “We began broadcasting on ArabSat with MyHD, because they have a package of HD channels and after that we expanded to du and Elife with Etisalat and later our other partner Ooredoo in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We’re also available by our live stream online,” says Dizji.

The channel produces 30% of its content locally in various outdoor locations around the UAE, as well as two studios. Dizji tells Digital Broadcast Middle East that the eight local shows they’re currently producing are actually more than they’d planned for the first year of broadcasting. “Many western shows do not have cultural resonance with our audience,” says Dizjin.

“You can translate the language, but you cannot translate the culture. Going forward, we see this 30/70 balance shifting rapidly.”

In fact, Physique TV are currently planning two new local productions, which will hopefully be launched later this year. The first will be called Modaholic and will be a fashion and beauty show, presented in Arabic, but with the unique Physique TV angle, whereby instead of just critiquing different looks and advising on what looks best on a certain frame, “we’ll be showing the audience how to make their physique fit a certain look,” says Dizji.

The second show has not been named yet, but according to Dizji will be primarily targeting the female KSA daytime market. “This will be a training program for Saudi Arabian women. In KSA, women do not have the same lifestyle as Emirati women in that there is not the same access to fitness clubs and gyms,” Dizji told Digital Broadcast.

“So we’ll be enabling them to turn the privacy of their living room or bedroom into their own workout studio.”

Having set up the studios and broadcast systems last year, with a massive investment in excess of US $6-million, Physique TV also enjoys the advantages of broadcasting directly from its offices in Bur Dubai, which is unusual for such a small, niche channel.

“We’re a 360-degree channel, everything is done by us. We have a state of the art playout system from Oasys in the UK and we’re able to manage the channel second by second, which gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of being able to change content based on real-time events,” says Dizji.

“We’re connected to Etisalat’s Towi Al Saman Earth Station via fibre cable, but we’re also broadcasting via the Arabsat teleport. Very few local broadcasters have this kind of flexibility in terms of in-house playout management, especially broadcasters our size,” Dizji adds, telling Digital Broadcast Middle East that the Oasys playout system alone cost more than half a million dollars.

“The decision to bring playout in-house also delayed our launch because we had to wait for approval from the National Media Council, but it was worth it in the long run,” says Dizji. “We couldn’t do without the flexibility that this in-house ability gives us.”

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