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With two more Arabic channels launching, we see if there’s room for fresh faces in a tricky market

May 19, 2011 2:52 by



BUDDING VIEWERSHIP

The Web and mobile platforms are very important to Sky News Arabia, says Wells, because the region has a very large youth population. Youth in the region and around the world are increasingly using the Web and mobile phones to get their news, often at the expense of television viewing, he says. While the channel’s approach is to attract viewers of all ages – specially the older population that turns to television news – it will also try to make more of an appeal to a slightly younger audience (18 to 35 years) as they are the future, he says.

Wells says that while Sky News Arabia is aimed toward the whole region, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are important markets because of the weight of their population. “Half of our investment [in the joint venture] is coming from Abu Dhabi… so the Gulf is an incredibly important region for us, not only because we are here, but because there are  lots of very exciting things going on in the Gulf in the areas of business, commerce and innovation, and diplomatically too,” he adds. At the same time, markets such as the Levant, Palestine-Israel and North Africa are important ones to tap into, he adds.

Media experts say that there are a number of factors that can help the new channels compete: “Superior product, comprehensive news coverage, competent reporters, credibility and loyalty, as well as leveraging their know-how to the fullest extent,” says Fakhoury.

According to Skaff, “It definitely depends on the content they are providing and their understanding of the region. You can come as a fantastic niche channel that finds or grabs an opportunity in the market and offers something different in terms of content and you could be very successful.”

PATIENCE

He adds that another thing the channels need is patience. “This is unfortunately something that doesn’t really exist in this region.  It is always short-term and we are running after short term scoring, ratings and results. They should build the channel’s perception and equity over time. And at the same time, they should synchronise it with the content they are offering and the target audience they are after. I think this is the recipe for success.”

However, this alone wouldn’t lead to high ratings, results and turnover, he adds. “You need to make sure that your whole system in place is really working to deliver your plans, and this is something we don’t really see, with some different kind of channels or media houses in the region as well.”

As far as attracting advertisers is concerned, the general consensus is that once the channels attract viewers, advertisers will follow.  According to Fakhoury, the brands that advertise on the channels depend on “1) the channel offering (e.g. integrated platforms); 2) the profile of the viewers that the channels will ultimately attract. Only then can we assess the fit that such channels have with brands, and how they contribute to achieving brand objectives. That will determine the profile of advertisers that will come on board. That said, products/brands targeting males would be interested in advertising on the channel.”

Meanwhile, a source at Fox International Channels tells Communicate there are no plans for a Fox News Arabic any time soon. And Cable News Network (CNN) has no plans to launch an Arabic news channel in the region, either, according to Rani R Raad, senior vice-president and managing director for advertising sales and business development at
CNN International.

“While there seems to be a flurry of new Arabic news channels being launched, we look for the right combination of editorial and commercial sense, consumer demand, and a gap in the market,” he adds. “CNN is unique in that it is not a government-funded or subsidised channel and our assessment is that it would be difficult to operate a profitable news channel in Arabic.”

This was originally published in Communicate magazine, May 2011.



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