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Thu 28 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Let the show begin

Filming of The Hydra Executives has finally started, with 16 contestants battling for a $1m prize.

Filming of The Hydra Executives has finally started, with 16 contestants battling it out for a US$1m prize. Anil Bhoyrul reports on a new TV phenomenon.

Like the launch of any reality television show, this one didn't quite go according to plan.

Having spent several hours getting ready for a lavish launch party attended by the great and good of Abu Dhabi, the eight members of the American team taking part in ‘The Hydra Executives' spent equally long cleaning up after the party.

When it comes to prizes, whoever wins will become a proper player in the property market.

"The first challenge was to see who the party guests thought were a better team. They picked the British team, so the losers - the Americans - had to wash up. It's all part of the learning process," says Hydra Properties boss and star of the show, Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim.

Dr Al Fahim has been planning the show for over a year, and last week filming finally began. The concept is based on Donald Trump's ‘The Apprentice' show, with a Hydra and UAE twist added: two teams will spend the next 16 weeks facing each other in a series of business related challenges, to test their abilities not just to cut it in the property game but in the business world.

At the end of each week, one contestant will be "fired" from what is deemed to be the weaker team - until the grand finale in June, when the winner will be revealed.

And the prize? Pretty impressive: each contestant has begun the show by announcing their own "dream" property project. The winner will see this project actually undertaken by Hydra Properties, and get a US$1m stake in it.

"When it comes to prizes, whoever wins will become a proper player in the property market and have a stake in a potentially huge project. I think they will be very, very happy with that.
Dr Al Fahim isn't the first to come up with an idea for reality TV in the Arab world - the phenomenon has been growing ever since the launch of ‘Super Stars' and ‘Star Academy' four years ago. But this is the first in which a fully operating company has used its own name for the branding.

From a marketing point of view, it appears a stroke of genius: Hydra Executives is the talk of the town, and few people in the UAE will not have heard of Hydra by the end of the series. It will be shown weekly on Infinity TV and Showtime Arabia starting April 8, 2008.

We are expecting to educate as well as entertain the general public on the highly exciting world of property development.

Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan - now a judge of the hugely successful US reality show ‘America's Got Talent', has no doubt Hydra is on to a winner.

"I've been doing reality TV for a few years now and even though we get great ratings, the format is running a bit stale. I met Dr Al Fahim when I was in Dubai last year and he told me about the show - I straight away thought ‘wow, this is something different'. Apart from the idea of seeing Americans and Brits battle it out, which is always entertaining, what is key here is we will see a company use a TV show to market itself. That is worth millions if it works," he says.

The eligible candidates were selected on the basis of their background in real estate, architecture, engineering, sales, marketing and finance. The first two weeks on the show will chronicle the contestants' stay at a boot camp where they will be given a crash course on the highly dynamic real estate business.

The following weeks will present the ‘Hydra Executives' challengers with various tasks, which have been designed to gauge their ability to work with a team and take necessary risks, and the level of their people skills, multi-disciplinary perspectives, openness for innovation, and most importantly their passion for business. Judges of the show will be comprised of industry experts who will review the team and individual performances of the participants.

Dr Al Fahim says: "We are expecting to educate as well as entertain the general public on the highly exciting world of property development through this show.
We are also optimistic that the show will present a tremendous opportunity to promote Abu Dhabi, as the richest and fastest growing development market in the world." So far, it seems the public and advertisers love the idea.

The show is being supported by several global brands, which will be providing the necessary equipment and services for the show. The contestants will be provided with a total of four cars by Range Rover and General Motors, along with mobile phones from Blackberry and connectivity from Etisalat.

ASUS and Panasonic will be handling the communications and presentation needs within the competition by supplying their latest laptops and plasma products. "I think in many ways this show is a chance for a lot of people to showcase themselves - to show the world just what is being done, and what can be done, in a place like Abu Dhabi," says Dr Al Fahim.

So the big question - who does Al Fahim tip to walk away with US$1m. "I can't tell you - but I have a feeling there are already a few hot favourites who are sure to emerge.

The doctor will spend just one day a week on the show - after all, he has a multi-billion dollar company to run. Since its establishment in 2006 in Abu Dhabi, Hydra Properties has launched an impressive roster of high value projects including Abu Dhabi Gate, Executive Towers and Marina Spirit at The City of Lights, Al Reem Island, Hydra Towers and Eve's Tower in Dubai.

In addition, the developer also recently launched Hydra Waves, one of the largest development projects in North Mexico, as part of its global expansion plans.

Dr Al Fahim says: "In this market branding is everything. Of course this show is also there to help the Hydra brand. But it's one of many things we are doing. If you stand still in this market, the competition will eat you alive."

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