x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

CNBC Arabia shrugs off parent's troubles

The Arabic business television channel staged a major relaunch as parent brand CNBC in the US faces budget cuts.

CNBC Arabiya, the Arabic business television channel, has staged a major relaunch just as its parent brand, the US-based CNBC, faces budget cuts despite record ratings. The relaunch of the Dubai-based broadcaster includes 12 new programmes on topics such as women in business, the environment and private equity. "The whole point was to widen our reach," said Steven Hall, the chief executive of CNBC Arabiya. "We have done that in terms of our content. We have analysed what was working for the viewers, and we have removed some of the tired and ageing programming."

The relaunch also included the addition of staff, particularly experts in existing fields, he said. One of the new programmes is Ma'ahonna, a weekly show dedicated to businesswomen in the region. "Women in business are some of the most dynamic and productive of business people in the region, and we took the view that this is time to take a look at this. This is something that hasn't really been done in this part of the world."

Other offerings include a programme about green business, one about private equity and a personal finance show. "Our personal finance show will be the first of its kind in Arabic television," he said. "It's not just about top billionaires. We will deal with viewers' concerns about the sorts of issues that affect the daily lives of real people." CNBC Arabiya began broadcasting in 2001 and has bureaus throughout the Arab world. It broadcasts free-to-air via Arabsat and NileSat, reaching more than 50 million households.

Mr Hall said the financial crisis had been a boon for the channel, although it does not yet have ratings information to measure how much. "We've had a tremendous uplift in viewership at this time of panic and meltdown," he said. "People turn to us for reliable information. The feedback has been very positive and there has been a lot more of it." The economic havoc has also brought record ratings for its parent brand, CNBC. Recently, the 24-hour US cable news network has been posting the highest ratings in its 19-year history, but they are apparently not enough to avert the budget trimming knife.

CNBC executives were preparing to scale back budgets by as much as 10 per cent, the New York Observer reported. Until recently, the network was exempt from budget cuts, thanks to competition from the recently launched Fox Business Network. But last month, the channel's parent company, NBC, sent an e-mail to employees warning of a US$500 million (Dh1.8bn) budget cut. At the same time, CNBC has been increasing its coverage of and connections to the Middle East. Last month, the parent broadcaster announced a weekly segment focused on the region, as well as a series of tie-ups with local events and conferences. This week, CNBC teamed up with the Dubai International Financial Centre as an international broadcast partner. Maria Bartiromo, one of the channel's best-known anchors, will host a debate in Dubai next week.

"The launch of our new weekly Middle East Briefing, our involvement in several flagship conferences in the Middle East, is evidence of our growing commitment to the region as a leading provider of business and financial news," said Mick Buckley, CNBC's president and chief executive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. As an affiliate of CNBC, with its own board of regional investors, CNBC Arabiya may be immune from the financial forces battering its network parent.

"We have a strong commitment from our shareholders to retain and grow our audience," Mr Hall said. "I don't foresee a contraction." khagey@thenational.ae