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Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, the Saudi billionaire, has partnered with the US data company Bloomberg to produce Alarab. Fayez Nureldine / AFP
Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, the Saudi billionaire, has partnered with the US data company Bloomberg to produce Alarab. Fayez Nureldine / AFP

Prince Al Waleed and Bloomberg plan Arab news channel

Bloomberg and Prince Al Waleed have teamed up to launch a pan Arab TV news service with a focus on business.

Two giants of the financial world have joined forces to launch an Arabic news TV station with a focus on business.

The Saudi billionaire Prince Al Waleed bin Talal has partnered with the US financial data company Bloomberg to produce Alarab, a 24-hour station set for launch next year.

Bloomberg will provide five hours of business news per day for the new channel, which will have "an emphasis on freedom of speech", said Andrew Lack, the chief executive of Bloomberg's multimedia group.

Mr Lack said editorial independence was a prerequisite for Bloomberg to enter the deal.

"This channel is going to come with an independent spirit and an independent view that we at Bloomberg support very strongly," Mr Lack said. "We wouldn't have been engaged in this effort if in fact the effort wasn't driven by this fair, independent and balanced approach."

Prince Al Waleed announced the launch of the news channel last year. Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi Arabian journalist, will be its manager.

Alarab says it will focus on political, social and economic issues in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world.

Manama, Doha, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Beirut are under consideration for a location for Alarab's headquarters and main broadcast centre.

The Alarab news channel is privately owned by Prince Al Waleed, and independent from the Prince's ventures Kingdom Holding and the Rotana Group.

Mr Lack said the format of the content provided by Bloomberg had yet to be decided. He declined to specify the value of the deal but said the channel would seek revenue from advertising and distribution.

"It's a serious commitment on both our part and Prince Al Waleed's part," he said.

Alarab will vie for audience share with the two mainstream Arabic news stations, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. It will also compete with the existing Arabic business station CNBC Arabia.

The TV news market is set to become even more crowded with the planned launch of Sky News Arabia, which is to be broadcast from Abu Dhabi early next year.

Commentators said that competing in the TV news environment would be a costly undertaking for the Al Waleed venture.

"Alarab will require substantial investment, and it will be going up against rivals such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya that are established and have deep pockets," said Matthew Reed, an analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

"The planned launch of Alarab is a bold move. It's timely in that there is clearly a great deal of interest right now in news about the Arab world, as a result of the Arab Spring and developments since," he added.

Elie Aoun, the managing director for the Middle East and North Africa region at Ipsos MediaCT, which tracks advertising spending in the region, said the market was already well served for business news.

"The market is already crowded, but TV is still the main source of information for business news," he said.

Sami Raffoul, the general manager of the Pan Arab Research Centre, agreed. "The demand already exists for business news, but it is already captured by the likes of Al Arabiya," he said.

Mr Lack said that Bloomberg was accustomed to operating in competitive markets.

"We're used to a crowd. You've always got four or five competitors. That comes with the territory," he said.

Bloomberg currently has about 100 staff in the Middle East. "As this story develops, we may be adding more people," Mr Lack said.

bflanagan@thenational.ae

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