“Million Dollar Listing UAE,” the first adaptation outside the U.S. of Bravo’s long-running luxury real estate reality franchise, is going through the roof in the Middle East.
The bilingual show, featuring five United Arab Emirates brokers wheeling and dealing lavish properties in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, has been breaking all previous viewership records “across originals as well as licensed shows” since its Sept. 15 launch on subscription streamer Starzplay Arabia, says its CEO Maaz Sheikh.
In hindsight “it’s a no brainer” says Ben Ross, acting CEO of Image Nation Abu Dhabi, the government-owned studio that decided to license the show from NBCUniversal Formats after being approached by veteran Dubai-based real estate agent Ben Bandari, who initially tried to get the remake rights himself. Image Nation then brought it to Starzplay.
Until recently, Bandari’s claim to fame was achieving property sales exceeding 20 billion Dirhams ($5 billion). He now stars on “Million Dollar Listing UAE” along with agents Zay Brown, who is from the U.K. and is the show’s youngest broker; Nassira Sekkay, who drives a yellow Ferrari – she is known as “The Shark”; Rami Wahood, who sells units in Dubai’s Burji Khalifa, the world’s tallest sky scraper; and the perpetually smiling Riad Gohar, co-founder of Dubai’s BlackOak Real Estate whose moniker is “The Charmer.”
“Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles” star Josh Altman (pictured, above) and his brother, Matt, also feature in the first episodes of “Million Dollar Listing UAE,” creating a cultural bridge of sorts. For the UAE version, Image Nation consulted closely with the original format’s U.S. production company World of Wonder. “We got their notes, we got their guidelines, and they even sent out their post-production producer towards the end of the shoot,” Ross recounts.
But what grabbed Starzplay from the get-go about bringing this Emmy-nominated piece of U.S. pop culture to the Arab world “was the hyper localization of it,” says Sheikh. “The fact that the show would be a product of what’s happening in the UAE and that the talent and cast would essentially be people from this part of the world. That was extremely attractive to us,” he explains.
Sheikh noted that 20 years ago the UAE became the first country in the Gulf region to open up to allowing foreigners to own real estate. Now Dubai is the world’s top market for prime real estate thanks to a rush of new buyers, including from Russia, that prompted prices to skyrocket 225% in the last quarter after hitting a pandemic low during the third quarter of 2020, according to real estate consultancy Knight Frank. By contrast, the U.S. luxury housing market bubble has burst with transactions recently dropping more than 24% in New York City and Los Angeles, according to brokerage Redfin.
That’s why these days real estate “Is more engrained in the fabric of society and a topic of dinner conversations in this part of the world than anywhere else,” Sheikh points out.
The local real estate boom’s relevancy is also reflected in the geographic breakdown of the current success of “Million Dollar Listing UAE” on Starzplay, which according to Sheikh comes almost 50% from subscribers in the UAE alone, while another 30% comes from Saudi Arabia and the rest is from customers in the 17 other markets across the Middle East and North Africa where the service operates.
But “Million Dollar Listing UAE” now has even bigger ambitions.
Since Dubai is “top of mind globally,” as Sheikh puts it, Image Nation and Starzplay are now confident they will soon find international distribution outlets for the first non-U.S. “Million Dollar Listing” iteration.
Meanwhile, auditions are underway in Dubai for the show’s second season.