Afghanistan’s booming media industry is defying the odds, says Moby Group’s CEO, Zaid Mohseni
Spend an hour in the company of Zaid Mohseni, and, as you would probably imagine, he is exactly like most media moguls: sharp suited, sophisticated and, most importantly, full of corporate talk.
“We initially wanted to invest in some companies — be the middle man — and help facilitate foreign investment but the first investment we had was a radio station and we’ve been in the media ever since,” he explains.
There is one small difference though: the empire Mohseni helped create happens to be based in war-torn Kabul, while his latest venture is a new television channel in Iran. Crazy? Not according to the numbers.
The Moby Group, which launched in Afghanistan in 2002, is today the country’s biggest media operator. The company employs over 400 Afghans and expatriates across eleven businesses. Moby Group’s broadcast media brands, TOLO TV, LEMAR (TV) and ARMAN FM are some of the most recognised in Afghanistan, and command an estimated 80 percent of in-country audience. Three years ago, the final of “Afghan Star” on TOLO TV brought in an audience of 11 million — a staggering 90 percent of the viewing population.
So how did this all happen?
Afghan-born Mohseni along with his three brothers and sister moved to Australia in the 1980s. The family wasn’t sure if they would ever return home to Afghanistan. But a series of events including 9/11 and the subsequent overthrow of the Taliban saw lawyer Zaid and his brother, Saad, return to Kabul to look for investment opportunities. Armed with a US government grant together with their own savings they set up a local radio station, which later became part of the Kabul-based Moby Group.
Just nine years later the two brothers along with their sister, Wajma, and another brother, Jahid, are sitting pretty at the top of a media empire that few people thought could exist, let alone succeed.
“It’s all grown organically. For example, we run a technology company because power was a real problem and no one had generators so we had to create our own company to deliver this to us. Similarly, our advertising agency was born because there weren’t
any advertising agencies in the country,” explains Mohseni.
Mohseni’s latest venture is a second Farsi-language channel for Broadcast Middle East (BME), the 50/50 joint venture between the Moby Group and Hong Kong-based Star TV, a News Corp subsidiary. The channel, named Zemzemeh — which means whisper — follows just two years after it launched the hugely successful Farsi1, the first free-to-air Persian language entertainment channel.
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