MBC eyes English news channel

Sheikh Waleed Bin Ibrahim Al Ibrahim, owner of the MBC Group of channels, has confirmed the Dubai-based broadcaster is finalising plans to launch an English language news channel.

Speaking at celebrations to mark MBC's 15th birthday, Sheikh Waleed also predicted the number of free-to-air channels broadcasting in the region would be reduced from its present level of more than 200.

The Saudi Sheikh said that, while no green light had been given to launch the news channel, the company was speaking with cable and satellite operators to see if they would carry the channel before a final decision is taken.

He said: "The MBC Group is finalising the business plan for an English news channel. We are talking to a few cable operators around the world before we start executing the project so that we can guarantee exposure.

Our business plan has not finished. We are in the last stages. I would expect it to be finished in the next two months."

MBC also confirmed the departure of its commercial director Mark Butterfield, who is leaving the network after 18 months to take on the role as media director for the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey at FMCG giant Unilever.

Sheikh Waleed predicted a reduction in the number of free-to-air channels.

"If you look at the Ipsos or Pan Arab Research Center research you will see that out of the 200 channels only 20 channels appear on their radar screen, the rest don't even exist. Once we have people meters, you live with what you get or you will have to close down."

Asked if he thought consolidation was likely, he replied: "Oh yes, definitely."

He said that people metering would be a reality in Saudi Arabia within one year.

"We are trying to work together and find a solution and implement people meters at least in the Gulf countries. That is why we are working with the clients and MBUs [media buying units] to put together a plan for people metering implementation in the region starting with Saudi and then perhaps the UAE and Kuwait."

Responding to criticism that there were too many adverts on MBC, Sheikh Waleed said: "The issue with advertising is that the advertising value is very low therefore that is the reason why a large number of ads are placed on the channel. We are looking into ways to minimise this by negotiating with our current clients."

Talking about Butterfield's departure, he said: "He spent some time with us, we totally have learned from him and he learned from us. We wish him the best of luck and we thank him for all of the time he shared with us."

Butterfield, who was previously sales director at ITV, the UK's largest commercial TV broadcaster before moving to the Middle East, is filling the role vacated by controversial former head of media Mike Gillam who was fired by Unilever for allegedly making inappropriate business suggestions, following a lengthy internal investigation.

Unilever, which is one of the biggest advertising spenders with MBC, has also announced that Inger Hedin has been appointed as media director for the Middle East. She will be responsible for overseeing media services and buying from the company's Dubai regional headquarters.

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