News Group

Tough times ahead for hard news
29 September, 2011

Television viewers are notoriously trigger-happy with the remote control. With more than 500 satellite channels beamed across the Arab world, television stations face an increasingly tough battle for the attention of fickle audiences. That may be especially true for the two new Arabic-language news stations set to hit the airwaves next year. Observers say the newcomers will have to work doubly hard to be noticed by viewers and advertisers. "I think it will be extremely difficult to build a commercially viable pan-Arab news station in this day and age," says Mazen Nahawi, the founder and president of News Group International, which is based in Dubai and specialises in media monitoring. Arguably, the timing could not be worse for the launch of Sky News Arabia, a joint venture between Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed and BSkyB, and Alarab, which is backed by the Saudi billionaire Prince Al Waleed bin Talal. Sky News Arabia will be based in Abu Dhabi. Uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East boosted viewer numbers for Arabic news stations earlier this year - but a decline in advertising revenue.

And that means the two new 24-hour news stations have missed out on the surge in interest in countries experiencing the so-called Arab Spring. Yet both face a battle for a slice of the Middle East's diminishing advertising pie. The cost of a 24-hour TV news operation is high, given the numerous international bureaus required. "News is usually among the costliest TV programes to organize and run," says Sami Raffoul, the founder and general manager of the Pan Arab Research Center (Parc).

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