x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Viewers can now reach for Sky

Sky News Arabia has started broadcasting to 50 million homes across the Arab world, but faces tough competition for both ad revenue and eyeballs in a crowded TV market.

Sky News Arabia has started live broadcasts after weeks of intensive rehearsals but now faces its next challenge - making sure advertisers are on the same wavelength.

The 24-hour news station, which is based in Abu Dhabi, hit the airwaves at 8pm Sunday night, and is now being beamed to 50 million homes across the Arab world.

Media executives last night gathered at a reception held in the capital as the region's newest station went live over satellite and cable networks.

The Arabic-language channel will be "independent" in its editorial coverage, said Nart Bouran, the head of Sky News Arabia.

"I am confident we will break new ground and set a new benchmark for news coverage in the Arab world," he said.

But after the fanfare of the launch, Sky News Arabia faces tough competition attracting both advertising revenue and eyeballs in what is a competitive TV market, say commentators.

There are now 538 free-to-air TV channels in the Arab world, competing for projected advertising revenues of less than US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) this year, according to the Arab Media Outlook.

"Competition is extremely tough in the Middle East," said Thomas Kuruvilla, the managing director of the consultancy firm Arthur D Little Middle East. "I don't think [Sky News Arabia] will be profitable in the next two to three years."

Mr Kuruvilla said the success of the new station would be dependent on accurately identifying its target audience.

"It will be a complete failure if it's just another news channel," he said. "They will really have to identify who their audience is."

The new station will vie for audience share and advertising revenues with the two incumbent news channels, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.

Sky News Arabia will also compete with Alarab, a station being launched by the Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, which is set to be based in Bahrain.

Ali Ajouz, a media consultant based in the UAE, agreed the challenge for Sky News Arabia was to differentiate itself in a "challenging" market.

"It's definitely a crowded market. But there is always the opportunity for someone to excel," he said.

Television news is costly to produce, and while Mr Ajouz said it was not "impossible" that Sky News Arabia would turn a profit, he did not expect this to happen soon.

"It must be a long-term project," he said. "I don't know of any TV-news channel that is making money on its own feet."

Sky News Arabia is part of a joint venture between Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation, a private investment company owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, and British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB).

Rupert Murdoch's scandal-ridden News Corp empire holds a stake in BSkyB, which owns the Sky News brand. News Corp has been rocked by the phone-hacking scandal at its unit News International in the UK, in which some of its employees were accused of illegally intercepting voicemail messages. Santino Saguto, a partner at Deloitte Middle East, said the arrival of Sky News Arabia was another sign that News Corp was looking to boost its presence in the Middle East. "There is a strategic value for News Corp to be here," he said.

Mr Saguto said he did not see much impact of the phone-hacking case on News Corp's Middle East operations.

"The brand of Sky News is much bigger than the specific situation coming out of the UK," he said.

Sky News Arabia is set to focus on a similar brand of "breaking news" for which its English-language sister channel is known.

bflanagan@thenational.ae

twitter: Follow and share our breaking business news. Follow us

iPad users can follow our twitterfeed via Flipboard - just search for Ind_Insights on the app.