x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Jordanian radio station Play 99.6 FM taking to web

A pioneer of the Jordanian radio industry is expanding into the wider Arab world with two Web-based ventures.

A pioneer of the Jordanian radio industry is expanding into the wider Arab world with two web-based ventures. Modern Media launched Play 99.6 FM, one of Jordan's first private-sector radio stations, in 2004 after the liberalisation of the country's airwaves. Modern Media has since expanded into entertainment, event management and marketing services. But its move from Jordan to the Gulf will be driven by the disruptive power of the internet and social networking, said its co-founder, Zafer Younis.

"Our radio team has a lot of experience in building an audience, interacting with them and creating a buzz that goes beyond our own media," he said. "Three years ago, our Facebook page had 40,000 members, which was unheard of in the region. But it was easy for us, and we realised that it is something we can help our clients with." One of the company's new ventures, which manages the social networking and new-media presence of corporate clients, has already signed major brands including Nokia, Zain and BlackBerry.

Succeeding in radio, Mr Younis said, requires a keen sense for trends, interacting with the audience in real time and managing promotions that spread by word of mouth. The same skills are needed for companies to capitalise on social networking and new media. "Radio and online are perfect partners. What radio likes is what online likes," he said. "What radio taught us is how to be spontaneous and work with your audience 24-7. Customer loyalty is low, your competitors are just a click away, and you have to always be thinking what you are offering that keeps your audience engaged."

A second new business will stream dozens of live radio channels from the internet to mobile users through their handsets. Modern Media is in talks with regional telecommunications operators regarding that service. While the company has managed to build a successful English-language radio station in Jordan, expanding into regional radio markets requires huge investments and complex negotiations - barriers the company hopes to hurdle by reaching listeners directly through the internet.

To do so, Modern Media is likely to need to strike deals with mobile operators to gain access to their high-speed mobile internet systems. While customers across the region have access to mobile broadband plans that offer unlimited data usage, bandwidth-intensive applications such as streaming music and video often remain regulated by operators as they manage scarce capacity. But major Arab mobile operators have expressed interest in partnering with Mobile Media to deliver radio to their customers online, in return for a share of up to 50 per cent of the channel's local revenue.

"Investors say 'you are a dying business; why do you want my money? The internet is going to wipe you out'," Mr Younis said. "But we've been hungry, we've been waiting for this to happen for five years, to take what we do to the UAE, to Saudi Arabia. And mobile internet is the first light of hope we have seen. We're ready for it." tgara@thenational.ae