The second season of Arab Idol, which concluded on Saturday after making its Palestinian victor a global celebrity, has become both a television and cultural phenomenon, says broadcaster MBC.
Although it is still too early for viewing figures to be gathered, experience leads MBC to believe that around 100 million viewers from the Arab world tuned in to watch the 22-year-old singer Mohammed Assaf – who grew up in a refugee camp – be crowned the region's pop idol.
This 'guesstimate' TV audience represents around 60% of Arab youth and 50% of Arab adults, says Mazen Hayek, official spokesman and group director of PR & commercial for the Dubai-based free-to-air satellite network.
"Arab Idol 2 was a TV benchmark but also a social phenomenon. The programme emptied the streets of Arab cities on a Friday night," he says. It was "a quantum leap" from the success of the first series of MBC's localised version of FremantleMedia's international hit TV format.
"Despite us having the magic formula to make it succeed ... Arab Idol 2 has exceeded all expectations – given the global media hype and attention, coupled with the local hype. The TV ratings and engagement on multi platforms in showcasing the 27 finalists, who were truly exceptional talents, saw it unite Arabs from the Maghreb to the Sultanate of Oman," Hayek told Rapid TV News.
Arab Idol 2 saw a huge amount of social networking – using Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram – about the show, Hayek adds. "TV remains the primary source of entertainment par excellence in the region, but it is now the bridge to social media too.
"The second series was a game-changer for the show and for Mohammed Assaf: a man who never dared to dream," he says.
The scale of the celebrations in Palestine at the end of Arab Idol 2 was unprecedented and, says Hayek, it made a great change to see the occupied territories feature positively on the global news agenda. "Mohammed Assaf is the embodiment of hope, of the fighting spirit. He has shown that nothing is impossible ... He embodies the dreams and aspirations of Arab youth."
After winning the show, Assaf was appointed by the United Nations as its first youth ambassador to Palestinian refugee camps in the territories and in neighbouring countries. He is also expected to visit the West Bank to perform.
Meanwhile, MBC's attention is already turning to its forthcoming Ramadan programming, as well as scheduling its next reality big hitters. Season 3 of Arab's Got Talent is currently shooting and will air this September on MBC4, featuring two of the region's top rated comedians on the judging panel. Then The Voice will be back towards the end of 2013, followed by Arab Idol 3 next year.
Hayek also says MBC is currently in talks to acquire another major international format in the reality genre, and is confident it will launch across the Middle East and North Africa in 2014.