x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Dubai tops running for new TV station

Dubai tipped as a strong contender for the location of Alarab, the Arabic TV-news station backed by Prince Al Waleed bin Talal.

Dubai is a strong contender to host the headquarters of Alarab, the Arabic TV news station backed by Prince Al Waleed bin Talal that is set to launch in December next year.

The Saudi billionaire said this month he was launching the 24-hour station in conjunction with the US media giant Bloomberg, which will support the business news output of the channel.

The veteran Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who is managing Alarab, said Dubai had a very strong chance of hosting the news station, even though other locations were still on the agenda.

"Even with the cost, Dubai has become more competitive," he said. "They have had experience with other news channels … It is the favourite of many of my colleagues."

Qatar, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi are also contenders for the headquarters of the new station. A decision on the site is due to be made in two weeks.

Mr Khashoggi acknowledged the challenges of building a commercially viable TV news station given the current advertising climate.

Prince Al Waleed has committed funding for the launch for 10 years.

"We have guaranteed financial support for the coming 10 years," said Mr Khashoggi. "We will try to break even. We hope we can do that in five years' time."

The Arabic TV news market is dominated by Al Arabiya, based in Dubai, and Al Jazeera, which is funded by the Qatari government.

Another Arabic TV-news station, Sky News Arabia, will launch in Abu Dhabi next spring.

Elie Aoun, the managing director for the Middle East and North Africa region at Ipsos MediaCT, which tracks advertising spending in the region, said competition between existing news stations was strong.

"It is a very tight competition between Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. In some markets like Saudi Arabia, Al Arabiya is leading; in other markets Al Jazeera is stronger," he said.

While viewership of channels may have increased during the Arab Spring, ad revenues have actually fallen, Mr Aoun said. "All the news stations are showing a decrease in advertising expenditure," he said.

Matt Duffy, an assistant professor of journalism at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, said that newcomers Alarab and Sky News Arabia were likely to face unequal commercial pressures.

"It's important to note that only one of these two new stations is necessarily in it for the money," said Prof Duffy.

Sky News Arabia is "more interested in making sure that they turn a profit at the end of the year" - in contrast to Prince Al Waleed's operation, he said.

"You would think that, given [Prince Al Waleed's] wealth, he would be less concerned with turning a profit every year, and more concerned with offering a perspective that perhaps he thinks is missing."

Although Alarab will have a strong business slant given its tie-up with Bloomberg, potential rivals played down the threat posed by the new channel.

"Bloomberg has not had a significant impact on ratings or viewership vis a vis CNBC on a worldwide basis," said Zafar Siddiqi, the founder and chairman of CNBC Arabiya. "I expect that trend to continue."

bflanagan@thenational.ae