My Turn

Baghdad Business

1/23/2009 2:28 PM

David Isaac has a challenging business to help establish — but nowhere near as daunting as a previous stint helping restore Iraqi Media Network TV and radio broadcasts in post-invasion Iraq in 2003.

David IsaacBack then, the one-mile journey out of the fortified “Green Zone” in Baghdad to the tower location necessitated a convoy including two tanks, he says. He told me he was sick in his room at the al-Rashid Hotel when it came under rocket fire in September 2003 — one person was killed and 17 wounded in the incident — and had to walk down from the ninth floor amid the smoke. “I was one of the last people out” in that attack, which destroyed a room across the hall, Isaac says.

“And we thought our jobs were stressful,” a man within earshot of our conversation at the Future TV Show at the New York Hilton remarked on Thursday.

Now Isaac is general manager and CEO of London, England-based United Media Channel, a start-up service aimed at providing news programming to Arabic speakers in the Middle East, Europe, around the world, with an early emphasis on news from Iraq and the Kurdistan region in the north of the country.

Its founder is Hersh M. Al-Tayyar, a Kurdish Iraqi businessman whose aim is to promote “peace and the economy in all of the Arabic world, and especially in Iraq and Kurdistan,” according to Isaac.Hersh M. Al-Tayyar

The service went live in December on Eutelsat’s satellite network available to over-the-air satellite receivers in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, accessible to all Arabic speaking countries, Isaac says. Currently it is only broadcasting test signals.

He says the company is in the process of establishing three satellite news gathering (SNG) terminals — in Arbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region; in Baghdad and in Basra — and hopes to launch live programming by April, he says.

The situation in Kurdistan is very stable, he says but less so in Baghdad and especially Basra. ”In Basra we’ll maybe face a lot of problems, but we’ll do it.” UMC plans to establish offices in Tunisia, Kuwait, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain — and have five locations in Iraq.

Al-Tayyar’s also building a studio and uplink complex — United Media City Iraq — in Arbil, according to Isaac, who thinks prospects for economic growth in Kurdistan and Iraq in general are very positive for the next five to 10 years.

As for the new venture, the TV business “is not easy,” Isaac says, especially to break into the U.S. market, where he said UMC has a capacity deal with Galaxy (Intelsat). “But from past experience, I think this time we’ll be successful.”

Traveling to meetings should be quieter, at least.

March