When CNN moved to Dubai with a regional office in Dubai Media City, it had a certain advantage being the first runner in the race of satellite TV channels.
The Gulf War at the start of 1991 was probably the biggest boost for the channel, at least in the region.
What followed was the battle for the skies as Al Jazeera dominated the sector with regional advantage and aggressive “poaching” of international presenters. Al Arabiya was soon on the trail offered by regional television giant MBC.
Just when industry experts were complaining about the crowded skies, the BBC announced its intention of another attempt at starting an Arabic service – this time with lasting intentions.
CNN for sure had the advantage amongst the foreign channels as it was the first to start operations, but its transmission has so far been restricted to English language only. As Arabic channels get their share of attention, CNN stays firm on its choice of language.
The channel’s investment in the region is growing with an extended sales and marketing team based in Dubai and a new studio facility in Abu Dhabi. In an effort to beef up CNN’s marketing in the region, Rani Raad, its recently promoted senior vice-president of advertising and sales, shared his and the channel’s vision with the media.
Leading from the top, Raad is propagating hiring of local Arab talent who are close to regional reality and will add to the commercial strength of the channel in reaching out to the clients.
“The more people we hire from this part of the world – people who understand this region – the better we are able to service it,” he said.
In fact, realising the commercial potential of the region, Raad believes that, “in a few years we could be running the commercial operations for the Middle East and Africa region from this part of the world”.
CNN has been operating from Dubai Media City, but realising the growing potential of the capital, an investment has been made to set up a studio in Abu Dhabi.
Executive Vice-President and Managing Director of CNN Tony Maddox, commenting on the move, had said: “It’s very important to highlight the fact that Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE, where most of the heads of state come to visit.”
In Dubai, CNN maintains its presence with a correspondent and a bureau chief. CNN has an elaborate Arabic website and that remains its only interaction with the Arab audience. Emphasising that, Raad was categorical in his response stating there is not a big enough market to launch an Arabic channel to make it commercially viable.
On facing the competition from the Arabic channels, Raad conveyed the confidence that CNN feels that it is “right in there with the Al Jazeeras and the Al Arabiyas. When you’re looking at an audience that is predominantly Arabic speaking, that’s a very good result for us”.
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