Naziha Baassiri

Bringing home TV back home

One of the many hilarious videos put together by myTV after asking Lebanese to send messages to their loved ones abroad. (Video via YouTube.com)

his one goes out to all the Arabs living abroad. If you haven’t seen the YouTube videos of “Messages from Lebanon”, then you’re clearly missing out. The series, which focuses on Lebanese sending messages to their loved ones residing abroad, is the brainchild of myTV, a company using breakthrough technology to bring TV viewers a piece of home.

Recently founded by 38-year-old Lebanese technologist Spiro Azkoul, myTV is a channel that brings the Arab-home TV experience to expats residing in the Americas. “The channel is an aggregator of content with Live TV as well as videos on demand (VOD),” he told NOW Extra from the company’s office in Beirut’s suburb of Jal el-Dib.

While this is not new, Azkoul explained the reasons behind his venture, saying that he moved to the states when he was 16. “I spent a lot of money just calling back home… and I’d drive for 40 minutes just to eat a real Shawarma sandwich... People [want something] to bridge them back to their home [country].”

Luckily, today’s technology offers a helping hand. With Americans cutting the cord on cable, the fierce advocacy for net neutrality, and the presence of over-the-top (non-quota) Internet services, myTV became the logical solution to the absence of good and relevant content for Arab expats.

Azkoul and his team paved the way for their new company with a heartwarming media campaign that won over many Lebanese, with over 50,000 views of myTV’s YouTube channel and more than 10,000 likes on its Facebook page.

Seasoned media professional and myTV’s director of content acquisition and customer operations Ahmad Zahzah, who is an expat himself, agreed with Azkoul, saying that the company is not merely a business venture.

“Arabs have faced major restrictions on assimilation [in the West,]” he said. Frequently depicted as villains in Hollywood as well as the news, Arabs failed to organize themselves and establish a presence in the media as compared to other immigrants, such as the Iranians.
With a substantial number of Arabs living in the Americas – 62 percent in North America and 80 percent in South America – Azkoul and Zahzah teamed up to make their fellow citizens feel closer to home. “We want all Arabs to share this…We’re Lebanese emigrants, [and] we’re not politically or religiously affiliated,” said Azkoul.

Using breakthrough technology, Azkoul proudly stated that his company provides a “bubble of desired content.” With 16 available channels, including LBC America, Télé Liban (TL), Al-Risala, Al-Sumaria, Al-Shabab and the various Rotana channels, Azkoul said that myTV is still waiting to add eight more channels in the very near future.

When asked about the possibility that few locals themselves seem uninterested in watching, for instance, Lebanon’s state-owned TL channel, Azkoul said that “I think [offering it in the package] gives us a stamp of legitimacy… Some people want to watch [Lebanese series Abou Salim] Fehman or [Lebanese actor] Chou chou.”

But MyTV has even bigger plans. Striving to win over other minorities, Azkoul said that “myTV’s future includes catering to Latinos, Iranians, Greeks as well as Indians.” Zahzah explained that the huge amount of content will result in “over 200 channels and a library consisting of videos, movies, series, cartoons… that are of relevance to the communities we cater to.”

It seems the business side of things has turned into a labor of love for the guys behind myTV. “We don’t have one size that fits all… We aim for mainstream as well as for the different niches out there,” said Zahzah.

When asked about the competition, Azkoul was confident that his company will be successful in carving out a place for itself among the Arab diaspora. “Nobody offers this type of content in high-definition in the states… The closest company is called Dish Network.”

But Azkoul and Zahzah are only spearheading the venture. Behind them is a young, motivated and highly skilled team. With ages ranging between 19 and 38, a group of developers, designers, social media techies and content managers drive myTV to fulfill its vision of connecting people to their homeland wherever they are.

“With myTV, we will truly be able to bridge that gap,” concluded Azkoul.

To learn more about myTV, check out the website here.