The National, City 7 TV and the Quest to Make Media Profitable via Digital

Both The National and City 7 TV will be letting go of many editorial staff as they look to restructure (image source: Arabian Business)

The past couple of weeks has been tough for many colleagues in the UAE media industry. First, information was leaked about job losses at the Abu Dhabi-based, English language daily The National. The reported job cuts follows five months after the paper’s purchase by International Media Investments (IMI), a subsidiary of private investment firm Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation (ADMIC) from state-owned Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADM). At least a quarter of the editorial staff will be leaving The National by the end of June 2017, as the paper’s owners support a “digital transformation” at the paper.

“As part of this transition, over the past few months, IMI has finalised its new vision for The National, supported by a robust editorial strategy to ensure that The National fulfils its potential as a premier English language source of news about and for the Middle East,” a spokesperson told the AFP.

Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation also owns a majority stake in Sky News Arabia, and a project team has been set up to aid the “digital transformation” at The National.

The second news story over the past week were job cuts at Dubai-based English language television channel, City 7 TV. The channel has been sold by BinHendi Enterprises to WeTel-TV, a TV platform for global educational news and current affairs. A number of the editorial team have left as the channel focuses on education.

For many media outlets, the focus is increasingly on profit. In a region which is going through austerity, and where media ownership is primarily in the hands of government (for newspapers and television at the very least), there seems to be a rethink among many outlets as to how to reduce costs. As with every other region, digital is waved as the answer. However, even global titles such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Daily Mail have struggled to turn a profit online. Digital revenue streams simply aren’t going to replace lost print advertising any time soon.

The other question that The National’s media owners need to ask is how will the loss of so many journalists impact editorial quality? When it comes to media consumption, online is no different from offline; readers want good content. How that content is delivered is obviously different, but the demand for good media will remain. And will there be a logical approach to a “digital transformation”, that combines both The National’s quality copy with the multimedia abilities of Sky News Arabia? An Abu-Dhabi based rival to AJ+ would be an exciting proposition, and I hope that The National has a strong digital enabler at the helm.

Whatever happens with both publications, my thoughts are very much with those people who are leaving. I hope that you’ll find new employment soon.

The Best and Worst of Media in the UAE

The UAE’s media community has come together to support long-time radio and television host Jeff Price who needs surgery to help alleviate a rare brain condition.

There are days when you see the best in people, and there are days when you feel the opposite. The pas couple of weeks have shown the UAE’s media industry in both lights.

First, at the end of June, there came the news that the UAE’s Radio 1 and Radio 2 stations would close indefinitely. The decision to pull the plug was effectively made by Abu Dhabi Media which withdrew the frequency licences from Gulf News Broadcasting. I did occasionally listen to the channels, and I’ll miss them (I’m probably one of the few people in the industry which values radio’s reach and impact, especially considering how long people spend in their cars in the UAE).

The worst part of the story is the layoff of the production team and talent who worked on the two stations. Between 25 and 30 people have been let go. The below statement was the only public comment that I know of which made on the closures.

“Gulf News Broadcasting LLC is today announcing that with immediate effect it will no longer be managing the Radio One & Radio Two stations.

“This is as a result of unforeseen circumstances, which are beyond the control of Gulf News Broadcasting LLC.

“Gulf News Broadcasting LLC would like to thank all its employees, advertising partners and supporters for their contribution, effort and commitment for the successful management of Radio One & Radio Two stations over the last 10 years.

“No further comment will be made.”

And now for the better side of the media industry. Some of you may know Jeff Price. For those of you who don’t, I’ll quote the words from his own Go Get Funding site.

Jeff has been in the UAE for over 22 years and during that time has hosted numerous radio and TV shows, he helped launch City 7 TV, Radio 1 and 2 and was the voice of family entertainment for many of Dubai’s premium events Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, Legends Rock Dubai Tennis, Dubai Duty Free Tennis and many more. He has lived a high profile life, achieving a huge amount.

What most people don’t know is the incredible amount he’s also done behind the scenes. Jeff has tirelessly championed just causes from repatriating Filipino workers who’ve become too ill to work and can’t get home to raising funds for charities helping construction workers families and those coping with crippling disabilities.Being the Jeff we know and love, he doesn’t mention these projects, causes and achievements, because that is his way.

Yes, he’s worked with everybody from Richard Branson to Chuck Berry, James Brown, and the Black Eyed Peas, and been instrumental in launching the careers of many of our favourite household names, but his passion has always been to help and fight for those unable to help themselves.

Now Jeff needs your help. Urgently.

Earlier this year after searing headaches, Jeff was diagnosed with a rare brain condition that leaks fluid into his skull. Whilst he does have medical insurance, this was not able to cover 2 life-saving operations. Jeff, along with our family, friends and generous colleagues got him through the first two surgeries, but now the money has run out. Jeff needs to raise more than 300,000 AED to have a valve fitted a third time to reduce the pressure on his brain and for further medical treatment required in this complex diagnosis.This is time sensitive as daily his sight is failing and the short–term memory and speech areas of his brain are being damaged.

It’s time to give back to Jeff.

He’s brought joy to countless millions over the years and been a true credit to the UAE expatriate dream, working hard, mentoring others and giving without hesitation to those less fortunate. All while bringing up the two children he adores – 13 year old Maddy and 3 year old CJ, who so many of you also know and love.

We are now asking for Jeff’s vast international family of friends to contribute if they possibly can. Jeff has never shied away from seeking help for those in need, but at a time when he needs that help himself, he feels unable to ask you himself, so we have to do it for him.

We are setting up a fully audited and transparent online contribution blog so that you can pay cash directly and contact others who can help too.

We all know from Jeff being a part of our lives, with his warmth, humour and compassion, that Jeff would help you in a heartbeat.

It’s his time now.

Please give what you can to help us get him the treatment he desperately needs as soon as possible.

Members of our community have helped Jeff reach half his target of 65 thousand pounds. Let’s show how good we are, by donating to Jeff during his hour of need. You can donate at his Go Get Funding page here.

Innovation and the need to think simply

Innovation starts with the ability to ask a question

Innovation starts with the ability to ask a question

This week is a special one in the UAE – it’s officially Innovation Week and the country is full of activities extolling the virtues of innovation and all that this word entails (I admit, I’ve come to dislike this word, not because of what it stands for but rather its constant misuse).

As I’m a media junkie, two news pieces stuck out. The first was an effort by the Dubai Media Office to promote innovation through its Media Innovation Lab, a quarterly event that aims to promote a culture of innovation and creativity in media. To quote from Emirates 24/7, “the initiative seeks to share knowledge on media-related innovation among corporate communication and media professionals and media students. It is also in line with the UAE leadership’s directives to promote innovation in all sectors.”

The second is even more ambitious, and, quite literally, out of this world. I’ll let The National’s copy explain this innovation for you:

High school and university students from across the UAE have the chance to directly shape the future of space exploration.

Two competitions giving them the opportunity to watch their experiments blast off on a rocket to the International Space Station were announced on Tuesday at the launch of The National Space Programme in Abu Dhabi.

In the initial stages of the programme, The National, Abu Dhabi Media’s English-language newspaper, has linked up during Innovation Week with the UAE Space Agency, Boeing and other public and private organisations.

The National Space Programme contests are Genes in Space, challenging high school pupils to create a DNA analysis experiment, and the Satellite Launch project, in which a university team will build a satellite.

There’s a third strand I’d like to bring in here. I had the pleasure of talking to a university professor who teaches media here in the UAE. He was recalling the story of an occasion when the power failed at his academic institution. One of his students, a local, asked if she should cover the happening for the university student publication. He said yes and encouraged her to go and follow up with the operations department who look after issues relating to maintenance.

This student did just that and headed down to the operations department to understand more about the power cut. When she did meet someone, she asked what happened and explained why she was asking a question. And the response? “Why are you asking such questions? Who is your professor?”

While I love the ambitions of blasting into space or talking about creativity in the media, I’d love to see us put our feet on the ground and push for a climate where a question is welcomed, both from each of us as individuals as well as the media. As for the curious student, the brave lady did publish her story. She’s my innovator this week.

Goodbye Dr Taryam, Hello Al Otaiba – Changes in the UAE’s Media Landscape

Mohammed Al Otaiba has taken up the top job at The National, despite having no prior media experience (image source: The National)

The past couple of days have been one of loss and change for the UAE’s newspapers. On the same day, news pieces announced the passing of Dr Taryam, the co-founder of the largest Arabic-language newspaper Al Khaleej, and the appointment of Mohammed Al Otaiba as the editor-in-chief of Abu Dhabi’s English-language daily, The National.

Dr Abdullah Taryam was one of the founders of the country’s Arabic media industry; He established Al Khaleej newspaper with his brother, the late Taryam Omran Taryam in Sharjah in 1970. After initial difficulties – the paper wasn’t printed for eight years during 1972 and 1980 due to funding – Al Khaleej grew to become what is the Dar Al Khaleej newspaper group which includes English-language daily The Gulf Today, Arabic-language weekly political magazine Al Shuruq and the Arabic-language family magazine Kol Al Usra. With a PhD in modern history from Exeter University Dr Taryam also held the posts of Minister of Education and Minister of Justice for the UAE. Gulf News wrote an extensive obituary on Dr Taryam which can be read here.

On the morning of the 30th The National announced its own change at the top, namely the appointing of Mohammed Al Otaiba as the editor-in-chief. I’m going to lift the text from The National’s piece rather than summarize.

“We are pleased to announce the appointment of Mohammed Al Otaiba as editor-in-chief of The National and are confident that his well-rounded experience in media, foreign policy and diplomacy will add a valuable global perspective to The National,” said Saif Saeed Ghobash, the acting chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi Media, which publishes The National.

Mr Al Otaiba said: “I am delighted to join The National newspaper and to be granted the opportunity to be part of a true success story for English journalism in the UAE. Writing has been a strong passion of mine for years and I look forward to being part of such a dynamic team of journalists.”

Mr Al Otaiba has a background in diplomacy and media, including 10 years representing the UAE at the UN in New York, Beijing and London.

He recently served as head of Image Nation Abu Dhabi, a division of Abu Dhabi Media. After being appointed head of the organisation in October 2011 he helped develop Abu Dhabi’s film industry.

Mr Al Otaiba’s appointment comes at a time when the newspaper is strengthening its local news coverage, Abu Dhabi Media said in a statement on Thursday.

It has recently supplemented its coverage with focus pages and a larger national news section, “boosting its reputation as a key English-language newspaper of record reflecting and supporting the country’s development and achievements,” the company said.

Abu Dhabi Media manages 18 broadcast, publishing and digital media brands and is considered among the fastest growing organisations in the region.

Mr Al Otaiba holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the American University in Cairo, and a master’s degree in administrative studies from Boston University, with a concentration in multinational commerce.

The reaction to the news has been interesting to watch, with observers noting Al Otaiba’s lack of newspaper and media experience.

The piece in The National does seem to be contradictory, with Al Otaiba’s international experience praised and then noting The National’s increased focus on local reporting. Al Otaiba’s appointment may be an attempt to ensure that The National is fully aligned with the official line. The paper, which was ostensibly founded to promote a free local press, has suffered over the past couple of years as it has attempted to promote a higher quality of journalism whilst ensuring that it doesn’t upset the national authorities and its owner, the Abu Dhabi Government.

It’ll be interesting to see how Al Otaiba does and how The National’s newsroom responds to the change. On the 30th January we’ve lost one renowned local media figure; have we been given another one in his stead?