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.

What’s in a word? Coverage of Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi’s departure by newswire media and social media reactions

Another week passes by and we witness more remarkable changes in Saudi Arabia. Over the past weekend Saudi King Salman announced a raft of changes which impacted the Kingdom’s government structure as well as those who were tasked with leading the changes.

The headline grabber, in more ways than one, was the departure of the longstanding oil minister Ali Al-Naimi. Al-Naimi had been an ever-present in government, serving as the oil minister for just over two decades. There had long been talk of Ali Al-Naimi, who is now 80, stepping down. When the time came, it was still a surprise to many.

Rather than talk about the man, who is a legend in the oil industry and is held in high regard by Saudis, I wanted to briefly look at the headlines from the AFP, Bloomberg, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

AFP used the word ‘sacked’ in their headline, but then reverted to replaced in the copy. Interestingly, the piece which was on the AFP site is no longer present. The below is from the cached version on Google.

AFP Naimi coverage

Bloomberg, which has scored a number of scoops in the Kingdom recently with its coverage of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, went for the below title which . The news piece was diplomatic in terms of the wording used about All Al-Naimi’s departure, including the use of the verb ‘replaced’ to describe the change in ministers (Ali Al-Naimi’s successor is the Chairman of Saudi Aramco Khalid Al-Falih).

Bloomberg Coverage

Reuters also focused on the incoming minister and used the word replaced.

Reuters coverage

Last but not least, Wall Street Journal initially opted for the word ‘fired’ in their title. After a firestorm on Twitter, including attacks against its Riyadh-based Saudi correspondent (and Saudi national) Ahmed Al-Omran, the title was changed from fired to dismissed (the word fired is still in the url as you can see from the below).

WSJ coverage

The argument that the WSJ team put forward is that the wording was correct – one is appointed to a minister’s post and then one is fired. Fired effectively means the same as replaced, dismissed or sacked. The nuance was lost on many who took offence and reached out directly to Ahmed via Twitter to complain. In a rare display of understanding, the WSJ changed the title. Ahmed Al-Omran also apologized for any offense taken.

In a region where the international media has rarely been given much attention by the national population, the Ali Al-Naimi story underlined a possible change in attitudes brought about by social media and the need to communicate what Gulf nationals feel is a correct story or narrative to the outside world. For these reasons, this will not be the last time that the foreign media comes under scrutiny for the wording they use to describe what is happening on the ground here in the Gulf.

A camel drive-thru, changing tyres whilst driving and new Youtube regulations for Saudi

Not only does the Gulf have a 24/7 addiction to watching YouTube, but it seems the content out there is becoming ever more ‘interesting’ to say the least. Two new videos may tickle your fancy. The first is from Saudi, and could be construed as a Dummies Guide on how to change your car’s tyres whilst driving.

The second fun clip is slower-pace. The video, highlighted by Doha News, is more a spoof clip (even in Saudi I never saw an example of this) by a well-known Qatari comedian. If I was the burger chain I’d be paying to promote this online.

On a more serious note, Saudi Arabia’s government is planning to more closely monitor video content produced locally and meant for uploading to channels such as YouTube according to a fascinating report by the Wall Street Journal.

To quote from the piece:

The General Commission for Audiovisual Media will monitor the quality and quantity of content produced in Saudi Arabia on platforms such as YouTube via a code that will include guidelines on alcohol, tobacco, nudity and sexual acts, said Riyadh Najm, the commission’s president. It will also promote private-sector-led investment in the media industry.

“We will make them aware of what’s acceptable in Saudi Arabia and what’s not acceptable,” Mr. Najm said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “Criticism is acceptable as long as it’s professional and constructive.”

The irony of the above is that while Saudi Arabia has become one of the most important markets in the world for online video consumption via the likes of YouTube, Keek, Vine and other social media sites, Saudi content produced for mass entertainment has generally steered clear of Saudi taboos such as alcohol and sex. Will the above help or hinder the explosive growth of locally-produced content (you could even argue that censorship isn’t typically undertaken in parallel with promoting the industry to potential investors).

In the meantime, I hope you’ll continue to enjoy uncensored YouTube in Saudi. And if you still can’t get over the two-wheel tyre change, check out this video. Shisha-to-go? No problem. I just want to know why the choice of music!

Saudi Arabia and the Penguin Dance Craze

Saudis and penguins? As they say, opposites attract. And nothing attracts more than moments of random fun. The Wall Street Journal’s Ellen Knickmeyer has written a wonderful piece about how the Penguin dance has taken the country by storm. Read her piece and the watch the video. Don’t ask why and just enjoy!