x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Mansour backs Sky News channel for Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed has been named as the investor behind a plan to launch an "independent" Arabic news channel in Abu Dhabi in conjunction with Sky News.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed formed a 50-50 venture with BSkyB for the Arabic-language station that will be launched in 2012.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed formed a 50-50 venture with BSkyB for the Arabic-language station that will be launched in 2012.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed has been named as the investor behind a plan to launch an "independent" Arabic news channel in Abu Dhabi in conjunction with Sky News.

Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation (ADMIC), a newly formed private investment company owned by Sheikh Mansour, has formed a 50-50 joint venture with British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), which operates the Sky News channel.

The new Arabic-language station will feature the Sky News brand and will be broadcast free to air across the MENA region. It will launch in 2012, the two parties said.

"The new channel will be an important, independent voice for the Arab world," said Dr Sultan al Jaber, the chairman of ADMIC and of the new venture.

More than 180 journalists will work at the station in studios to be developed at Abu Dhabi's twofour54 media zone. Some existing studios at the centre will also be used by the channel.

A network of bureaus across the MENA region, as well as international bureaus, will support the operation in the capital.

Adrian Wells, previously the head of international news at Sky, has been appointed to launch the channel before a permanent director of news is installed.

Sky plans to launch a local advertising sales operation to bring in income for the channel.

"We will be selling airtime within the region," a Sky spokesman said. "The arrangement for doing that will be confirmed in due course. It's going to be a local advertising sales operation."

The new station will enter a crowded free-to-air TV market and face competition from the incumbent Al Jazeera and Al Arabia channels. The Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud also plans to launch a 24-hour Arabic channel.

Media planning executives said that while news stations attracted high audiences in the Middle East, they did not attract proportionally high advertising revenues.

"It's quite surprising that there are only two [dominant] news channels in the region," said Bhaskar Khaund, the TV planning director at the media agency MEC, based in Dubai. "This is a politically charged region and a news-hungry region. In that context, there is room for more. Having said that, commercially it's a tough one. If you look at the numbers, these two channels - Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya - have about 10 per cent of the audience share in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

"But their share of the advertising market is lower. People don't tend to advertise on these channels much. The revenues it attracts are still not huge."

Tony Orsten, the chief executive of twofour54, confirmed Sky would be a new member of the media zone.

"Sky News Arabia will be a new business located at twofour54," Mr Orsten said. "This is a significant increase in both the stature and the physical size of the industry in Abu Dhabi. We see Sky as one of our most important partners going forward."

It is understood ADMIC was set up as a special-purpose vehicle for the venture with Sky and does not currently have other interests in the media field.

According to ADMIC and Sky, it is "a private company focused on making strategic investments in the Middle East media sector".

bflanagan@thenational.ae