New Arab TV news channels launched as viewers’ behavior changes

New Arab TV broadcastings are mushrooming in the Middle East while the turmoil’s impact on the number of viewers begins to decline.

Saudi Prince and multi-billionnaire Al Waleed Bin Talal announced on Saturday that he will shift the headquarters of his Rotana Media Group from Riyadh to Manama, the capital of Saudi Arabia’s neighboring country Bahrain.

At a press conference in Manama, the Saudi prince, whose fortune is estimated by Forbes to stand at 20.5 billion U.S. dollars, explained that Rotana Group’s 13 channels will be broadcast from Bahrain, and his new Al Arab news channel which is expected to start broadcasting early next year will also have its principal studios in Manama.

The move does not only strengthen Bahrain’s stance as a media hub against its rivals in Doha, Qatar, and the Dubai Media City in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it also heats up the already competitive environment in the Gulf Arab region’s news channel sector.

Just a week ago on May 6, Sky News Arabia, the Arabic-language version of British Sky News, launched a 24 hours news program from Abu Dhabi in the UAE. Times might be soon over when Al Jezeera from Qatar and Dubai-based Al Arabiya controlled the market, analysts say.

The worldwide Arabs also have the choice of other Arabic programs from Western countries like BBC Arabic, Al Hurra from the United States and France’s TV5 Orient and France 24 Arabe, as well as Russia Al Youm (Arabic for Russia Today (RT)).

According to the fourth Arab Media Outlook, which was published by the Dubai Press Club and presented to the public at the 11th Arab Media Forum held last week in Dubai, “the type of broadcasters benefited from the recent regional uprisings were the news channels, both new and established ones, whose viewership was boosted by events in the region.” However, the turmoil also weighed in advertising revenues, the report said.

At the end of 2011, Al Jazeera, founded in 1996, was forced to restructure its business for the first time amid growing competition and changing viewership behavior.

While Gulf Arab news networks have a strong backing from the oil-rich sheikhdoms and kingdoms where they reside, news channels in crisis-ridden Lebanon and Egypt remain a token force. Egypt in particular is still in the process of re-inventing itself.

Nevertheless, the Arab Media Outlook noted “Since the recent political crisis in Egypt, a number of channels have launched, including Tahrir TV and news channels 25TV and Egypt 25.” Viewers became somewhat more patriotic as they are more worried about political development in their own country, rather than regional issues, the report noted.

The fourth Arab Media Outlook noted that “68 percent of people surveyed stated that they were watching Al Jazeera to follow news of the uprisings, and 61 percent said that they were following Al Arabiya.” With the turmoil calming down, especially in Egypt and Tunisia, these figures might be soon obsolete and shared by newscomers like Sky News Arabia or Prince Al Waleed’s Al Arab.

The pieces of the jigsaw in Arab TV broadcasting are yet to be set.


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