Web being developed in collaboration with Lagardere

PARIS — After carving out a niche for itself in the international 24-hour news biz, Al-Jazeera is gearing up to launch a regional Arab-lingo “edutainment” kids channel.

Funded by the charitable Qatar Foundation, the web is being developed in collaboration with France’s Lagardere Group, which runs France’s most popular children’s theme channel, Canal J.

The group’s production and distribution subsid, Lagardere Images Intl., carried out a feasibility study on the project last year. It has been commissioned to coordinate and supervise the channel’s development over the next four years and mastermind its rollout, starting with the Middle East and Europe in fourth-quarter 2004 and extending to the U.S. and Asia at a later phase.

As well as hiring the channel’s staff, which will operate out of independent offices in the Middle East and Paris, the Gallic company will be responsible for program acquisition, editing and dubbing, subsid prexy Jean Rouilly said Tuesday.

Diverse programming

“It’s a unique, very ambitious project,” said Rouilly. “There’s a real need to offer Arab-speaking children and families an alternative to channels like Cartoon Network or Fox Kids that will be fun, open-minded and educational.”

The free satellite channel will air an array of shows including documentaries, a daily 45-minute debate show, fiction, a 10-minute newscast tailored to young auds and other current affairs shows, as well as cartoons. Initially it will be on air for 18 hours a day, later increasing to 24/7.

“The channel’s motto is ‘No Taboo,’ ” Rouilly said, “and it will talk about all subjects.”

Rouilly declined to give figures on the channel’s financing, which will be provided by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science & Community Development, a charity headed by Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, the wife of Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, a key shareholder in Al-Jazeera.

“It will have a bigger budget than most European theme channels to be able to commission and buy new programs,” Rouilly said.

Roughly half the new programming would be acquired, he said.

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