Global powerhouse Disney stamping its local footprint

The ‘House of Mouse’ has a lot of platforms that appeal to a wide audience in the region, writes Justin Harper

Ruben Lawrence, Director, Marketing, Communications, Ad Sales and Production for The Walt Disney Company Middle East, spoke to Campaign Middle East’s editor about its ‘authentically Disney, distinctively local’ approach.

Tell us about Disney in the Middle East

The Walt Disney Company has a long-standing history in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). We’ve had a regional presence for decades, with a full team based in the UAE.

MENA is a very important market for Disney, so having a team on the ground has always been crucial – people who know the region, are from the region, and understand its many nuances.

We have an extensive presence including our thriving Studios business – the many blockbusters and award winners we release in cinemas. We also have our TV Channels business, spanning the beloved Disney Junior, our recently re-launched Star Channels, and the hugely popular National Geographic channels.

This also includes our Arabic free-to-air channel, National Geographic Abu Dhabi (NGAD), in partnership with Abu Dhabi Media (ADM). Then of course, we have Disney+. Our streaming service launched across MENA in 2022 and we’re thrilled with how it’s been received.

Ruben Lawrence, Director, Marketing, Communications, Ad Sales and Production, Walt Disney Middle East

Speaking of Disney+, tell us about the new logo

We recently introduced our refined Disney+ MENA logo, which includes Arabic script for the very first time! This was designed by our local creative team and was a regionally led initiative.

This evolution blends Hulu’s signature green into the legacy Disney+ blue, creating a premium and elevated feel to welcome Hulu on Disney+ and mark a new chapter in storytelling for the streaming service.

How else is Disney+ ‘localising’ for the region?

When we launched Disney+ nearly two years ago, we had one major objective: launch the global streaming service, but it had to be relevant and resonate with our local audience.

To paraphrase our CEO Bob Iger, it’s what we call ‘authentically Disney, distinctively local’. This continues to be a priority for us, both on the marketing and operational side.

Last year, we launched our first local TVC – ‘This is Disney+’. This was the brainchild of our MENA creative and marketing teams and was completely shot and produced here, featuring an entirely local cast and starring four prominent content creators from Saudi Arabia.

This helped us connect our messages with our audiences and be more relevant. On the operational side, we know many people grew up watching our beloved Disney Animated content in Egyptian Arabic specifically, so we were thrilled to bring this back with Disney+. Most of our animated content is available in the dialect.

You also recently rebranded the TV Channels side of your business?

It was incredible to re-launch our Star channels last month. Previously under the ‘Fox’ brand, the new Star channels have the same amazing content, with a new bold look and feel.

Each of the six TV channels have their own fanbase – with an epic lineup of the very best in lifestyle, action, comedy and drama series, and blockbuster films.

National Geographic is also a Disney brand. Do you see an appetite for the brand in the region?

While it’s true that some global markets have seen a shift towards digital and streaming, MENA is unique in the sense that TV channel viewing remains strong – both paid and free to air.

This created a unique opportunity for us, when it came to the powerhouse that is National Geographic.

The brand is extremely popular in the region, with a massive fanbase of loyal viewers – across TV and its many other touchpoints. And, through our partnership with Abu Dhabi Media (ADM), National Geographic Abu Dhabi (NGAD) has been a game changer for the brand in terms or reach and engagement.

NGAD has allowed us to further expand the brand’s regional footprint, bringing MENA audiences the esteemed content from National Geographic, all available in Arabic.

Local, original content

When we add in the NGAD YouTube channel scale, also in Arabic and with over 5m subs, it’s a powerhouse.

We also produce local, original content for the channels. A great example of this is The Emirates from Above, part of the highly respected Nat Geo ‘From Above’ series. Centred around the UAE, it was also released in Arabic on NGAD, featuring narration by well-known Emirati actor, producer, and TV presenter, Saoud Al Kaabi.

We’re delighted to also have produced a four-part series working with the Mohammad Bin Rachid Space Centre to tell the story of the UAE journey to space. A fascinating series to bring to life.

Local productions are always on our radar, and we look forward to telling more of the amazing stories from across the region, as well as having the opportunity to work with local talent.