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Dubai TV

Dubai is the media hub for the Middle East Region and is home to several television (& radio) channels, some coming from Media City in Dubai. There are three main television standards throughout the world and Dubai uses the PAL system as is also used in most of Western Europe, Australasia and Southern Africa.

For the Western visitor, Dubai TV comes across as a mixture of English Language and foreign language channels. The foreign language ones are largely Arabic but there’s also a smattering of Eastern European and Indian sub-continent language channels. There must be over 350 channels in total available on TV in Dubai.

But, and this is a big but, it depends on where you’re staying, what channels they’re subscribed to and how the channels are received, as to which channels you’ll be able to watch.

Dubai TV

Hundreds of channels are available, but it just depends which your hotel subscribes to - BBC World/BBC News, CNN, Fox are all possibles. Staying in a family apartment, as we do, it depends again which channels are subscribed to as to what you'll be able to view. Many channels from all around Arabia can be found plus others from Pakistan, Russia - you name a country, there's probably a channel or two from that country available if you can find it.  

Discover favourite Things to Do in Dubai and where to Play Golf in Dubai to make your holiday in Dubai extra-special.

TV in Dubai. There are three means of getting TV shows – free-to-air, satellite and cable. The majority of expat residents subscribe to one or more satellite or cable channel providers, which although they are in competition with each other and are constantly changing their package options, helps widen the overall choice.

New apartments and villas are usually pre-wired for certain services. Cable television is broadcast by two government-owned providers Du and Etisalat (E-vision – which itself offers over 250 channels, 15 premium packages and 21 different language options). You don’t always get to choose which you want – often the cable provider is assigned to a property according to its location. Both offer similar packages that include popular international news programmes, including Al Jazeera, BBC World, CNBC, CNN, France 24 and Sky News. Most subscribers will buy a basic or premium package according to their requirements and, amongst many others, are likely to include offerings from OSN (Orbit Showtime Network), Star TV, ART, Firstnet and TFC.

A typical untravelled Brit or American will probably have only come across Al Jazeera TV reports when something untoward has happened somewhere in the Middle East. But don't be fooled, Al Jazeera is a large, editorially independent, multi-channel regional broadcaster with its HQ in Doha, Qatar, and whilst, obviously, most of their output is aimed at the Middle East, there's also a large, again multi-channel, English language service and you'll recognise some presenters as ex-BBC or ex-American channel presenters. I was initially surprised to find that the only way I could watch a Formula 1 Grand Prix a couple of years ago was on Al Jazeera Sports - where, like Sky in the UK, they have a range of around fifteen HD sports channels. More recently Al Jazeera Sports changed its name to Be In Sports.

Discover the best ways of Getting Around Dubai and where to do your Shopping.

Local free-to-air English language channels in Dubai include:

  • Dubai One – 24 hour entertainment specialising in various US series.
  • MBC 4 – Primarily US series targeted at women.
  • MBC Action – US action series, targeted at men.
  • MBC Max – latest Hollywood films.
  • MBC 2 – mainly Western movies.
  • City 7 TV – Independent Dubai-based broadcaster, for News, Business & Lifestyle programmes combined with International lifestyle, drama and comedy programmes.

Free-to-air channels may well include one playing well known UK & US series but these are generally months behind the pay or subscription channels.

UK devotees of Corrie, Emmerdale and Eastenders however will be disappointed as the likelihood is that you'll not be able to access current shows but rather you'll be re-watching those you saw a few weeks ago at home. 

Family based in Dubai are completely underwhelmed by the selection of English language TV channels available. The word used was ‘crap’! For what is meant to be a reasonable package they pay over £100 a month and this could easily reach £200 if they included all the sports and soaps they would like on the premium channels.

Make your Dubai holiday even more special - discover the Best Views in Dubai and the Best Ways to See Dubai.

As a holidaymaker or business traveller you won’t have the luxury of choosing your own TV service providers, you’ll be totally dependent, in your hotel or rented apartment or villa, on the already chosen package of channels. This may or may not be to your taste, although you may get the option of one or two extra pay per view channels.

Some sports and general channels, not necessarily with English language commentaries, along with other definitely English language channels, that you may be able to access on satellite or cable, dependent upon the package chosen by your hosts, may include:

  • Al Jazeera English
  • Al Jazeera Live
  • America Plus (Orbit)
  • BBC Prime (Orbit)
  • BBC World
  • Be In Sports (formerly Al Jazeera Sports)
  • CNBC
  • CNN
  • Cinema City
  • Discovery Channel (Orbit)
  • Discovery Science (Orbit)
  • Discovery Animal Planet (Orbit)
  • Discovery Travel and Living (Orbit)
  • ESPN (Sports)
  • Fox News
  • Fox Sports
  • France 24
  • Hallmark Channel
  • National Geographic
  • MBC Action
  • MBC 2 & 4
  • ShowMovies 1 and 2
  • ShowMovies Action
  • Showmovies Comedy
  • ShowMovies Family
  • ShowSeries 1
  • ShowSeries Extra
  • Sky News
  • Star Movies
  • Star World
  • Ten Sports
  • TCM
  • The History Channel
  • UKTV Granada
  • VH1

Discover Where to Stay in Dubai or why not find your special hotel by using our preferred and recommended hotel search site - Hotels Combined.

Football on Dubai TV – UK Premiership football seems to be a must watch event for many male English expats, but the coverage of this seems to change on Dubai channels every year or so. Even if the package originally included it, the chances are it’ll have moved to another channel, in another package, the following year.

On a early visit to Dubai I was delighted to find Manchester United v. Chelsea live on some unknown Arabic channel. Great I thought, but all the commentary (except the players' names) was in Arabic, and the commentator was much more excited and excitable than the usual John Motson, et al. At half time we had the usual panel of four pundits, including one I thought I'd be able to understand, Dwight Yorke (ex. Man Utd), but his words were drowned out by a simultaneous translation into Arabic. At least I saw the footie!  

Luckily, this is one of the things you, as a visitor, can do something about – because you can get your footie-fill by visiting one of an increasing number of 600+ sports bars where matches are shown live on large TV screens.

Click on Sports Bars to decide where to go!

Visiting our Sports Bars page you'll find a selection of great places to get your TV sports fill and (usually) a more than adequate pre or post-match meal. These are mostly as suggested by our sports-mad Dubai-based family.

We don't attempt to list all the Sports Bars in Dubai, but just a starter selection, as the number is ever-growing and constantly changing, and if you need more you'll find a much more comprehensive list at www.timeoutdubai.com. Once on the Time Out site look for Sport on TV and /or Bars & Clubs and you’ll come up with a host of suggestions for TV sports bars around the city. Remember though that a UK Premiership match starting at 7.45pm in the UK, starts at 10.45pm (in summer) or 11.45pm (in winter) in Dubai.

Discover our Favourite Bars, our favourite Cafés and the Best Restaurants in Dubai.

And Finally - You will occasionally be surprised at what’s available on some TV channels, even if it’s all in Arabic. It’s certainly interesting to have a trawl through the foreign language channels and see the differences and similarities in presentation between various countries.

If you're UK or USA based you'll be used to watching or avoiding Britain's Got Talent and America's Got Talent on prime-time TV. Well I found, much to my great surprise, something even worse - Arabs Got Talent! Now I've seen it all, or rather I haven't thank you! (And no apostrophe in the title!).  

One important thing to remember about Dubai TV is that there probably is a certain amount of censorship, although to what degree is guesswork. Some would say that the news-gatherers are controlled by the Government, whilst others will claim things are almost as relaxed as in the West. The truth is likely to be somewhere between these two extremes.

They’re probably trying to find a balance between freedom and preserving cultural values. We were in Dubai when the Emir of another Emirate died and all locally controlled channels showed nothing but the picture of an extract from the Qur’an and played solemn music. Certainly don’t expect the news programmes to cover any Dubai or UAE directed anti-Government protests in a sympathetic manner. Mind you, you'll not see any protests anyway!

Before you set off on your Dubai holiday adventure learn more about the History of Dubai and how the Power and Politics works.

Full access to all the TV channels you’re used to at home is unlikely. Not because the channel is not available but more likely because the place where you’re staying only takes the free-to-air channels, perhaps plus a cheap package of extras.  The premium channels are likely to be too expensive for most places to take.

Don’t worry about it, you didn’t travel thousands of miles to watch TV did you? There’s a load of other Places to Visit and Things to Do in Dubai, not to mention Shopping and discovering the best Food and Drink venues to visit during your stay.

Visit Don’t Miss in Dubai for a brief itinerary of things to see during your stay!

Return to Richard's Dubai Guide home page