x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Sky in talks over Abu Dhabi channel

British Sky Broadcasting is in talks to launch an Arabic-language news channel based in Abu Dhabi, which could air within two years.

BSkyB's plans to launch an Arabic-language news channel is being backed by an unidentified Abu Dhabi investor.
BSkyB's plans to launch an Arabic-language news channel is being backed by an unidentified Abu Dhabi investor.

British Sky Broadcasting is in talks to launch an Arabic-language news channel based in Abu Dhabi within two years. The British broadcaster is in talks with an unidentified Abu Dhabi investor to launch a 24-hour station under its Sky News brand, as part of a 50-50 joint venture.

A senior source at Sky News told The National that a Saudi backer was also behind the new channel, without giving further details. A Sky executive from the UK is expected to head up the UAE-based operation. Plans are under way for Arabic-language news centres in "most regional and international" locations, according to the Sky News website. Sky News is already available in the Middle East in English. The new Arabic channel will be made available on free-to-air platforms in the MENA region, according to the Sky News report.

"Discussions are progressing well and we look forward to bringing a new approach to Arabic-language news," said John Ryley, the head of Sky News. "The Middle East is undergoing rapid economic and social development and is becoming an increasingly attractive region for media investment. This venture would build on our existing strengths as an international news provider and bring the Sky News brand to a new audience.". Competitors cast doubt over the ability of the new station to make money in the competitive Arabic TV market, or differentiate itself from the existing players. "The cost [of setting up a news station] is extremely high - you have to operate in five continents - and revenue is limited," said Mazen Hayek, the group director of marketing, PR and commercial for MBC Group, which is behind the Al Arabiya news channel.

"What could a new news channel bring to the audience? What is the unique selling proposition of that channel? How could a business plan make sense, if it's not linked to a media conglomerate with other channels?" Sky News is the second player this month to announce plans for an Arabic news station. Last week, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said he would launch a 24-hour news channel in partnership with the Fox Network, which is part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire. However, sources close to the deal have since played down the likely involvement of Fox in the venture. News Corp is connected with both of the planned Arabic-language news channels. Prince Alwaleed has a 7 per cent stake in News Corp, while Mr Murdoch holds a 9.09 per cent stake in Prince Alwaleed's media company Rotana, which the Prince has said will not be involved in the running of the news channel. Mr Murdoch's company also has a 39.1 per cent interest in British Sky Broadcasting. The new entrants to the market face tough competition from Qatar's Al Jazeera and the Saudi-controlled Al Arabiya news stations, as well as international Arabic news outlets France 24, Rusiya Al Yaum and BBC Arabic. @Email:bflanagan@thenational.ae