Arab business TV booms

New nets include CNBC Arabiya, Eqtisadia

BEIRUT — As stock trading breaks out across the Arab world, so too has Arab business television. During the past five years, once-nascent regional markets have been ignited by high oil prices, and more than half a dozen satellite channels have been launched to feed audiences’ thirst for business news. While a crop of newer channels, such as the Arabian Business Channel, Stock TV and Decision Makers, have all failed to produce a significant amount of programming despite ambitious plans announced in the press, the following channels are booming:

CNBC Arabiya
Launched in 2003, CNBC’s affiliate was the region’s first all-business channel and remains the largest. The Dubai-based broadcaster maintains bureaus in Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Riyadh, Jeddah, Bahrain, Doha, Kuwait, London and Singapore. It employs 200, “most of which are editorial,” says sales director Omer Ghani. The channel features live rolling coverage of markets across the region and a number of anchor-hosted programs focusing on commodities, foreign exchange markets, corporate news, real estate, Islamic finance and world markets. Despite layoffs of 39 employees in 2006, Ghani says the channel has received an “extremely positive” reception in the market and that the station recently broke even.

Al-Arabiya
Following the rapid increase in stock market activity in 2005, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya made a drastic shift toward business news, offering continuous ticker-framed market coverage throughout the trading day. With a set of daytime business anchors, the channel’s 50-strong business editorial staff produces six hours of consecutive finance-related programming each business day. Coverage also includes a weekly program devoted to the energy market, and there are plans to broadcast a real estate show, according to Al-Arabiya spokesman Nasser Al Sarami. He says the station’s business coverage generates “a great deal” of Al-Arabiya’s overall income, although the network did abandon previous plans to launch a separate all-business channel.

El Eqtisadia
With studios in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, El Eqtisadia offers live coverage of the regional markets with a focus on Saudi Arabia. The channel was launched in 2006 and now employs 22 journalists, according to Dubai operations manager Khaled El Rahahleh. Unlike the anchors on CNBC and Al-Arabiya, many of the station’s male and female anchors wear traditional Arabian headscarves. Programs feature in-studio analysts and many are sponsored, but the pace of conversation, anchor experience and extent of programming remain secondary to those at the net’s better-known rivals.

Al Aqariya
Launched in 2004 with broad plans to cover the Arab and international real estate industry, Al Aqariya has significantly scaled down its operations, shutting down a recently launched second channel as well as ending carriage on the popular Arabsat satellite network. CEO Rabeea Atatreh describes the moves as cost-cutting measures and says the broadcaster, which had espoused plans to expand into Asian and European markets with an English channel, was now restructuring. Although Al Aqariya continues to broadcast on the Nilesat free-to-air satellite platform, its parent company is proposing to place the channel with major cable operators in the Gulf and target high-end housing communities.

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