Following the launch of Sky News Arabia’s radio station in August, Communicate caught up with Nart Bouran, head of Sky News Arabia, to discuss how the company has embraced social media, radio, TV and everything in between.
Tell us a bit about the venture into the radio space.
At the moment, [our] TV and radio [channel] is the same. It’s available in most of the UAE. As phase 1, we’ve just turned the TV audio, with minor tweaks, into the radio station. In the second phase, we’re going to start specified programming for radio dur- ing peak hours. We’ll do the same thing that we do on TV with a few changes that are more suitable for radio, but we’ll always remain a pan-Arab news organization – that’s our priority and our target.
At a time when companies are venturing into online as the next step, why did you decide to go back to radio?
It’s not going back; we didn’t start as a radio channel and then go online, on social media and TV. We have [covered] all the platforms; this is just another one. It’s a bit like any opportunity that you get. The op- portunity came for us to broadcast 24/7 in the UAE and if you’re a news organization on the way up, you take any opportunity you get and start a new medium. Right from the beginning, we thought of Sky News as a news platform and not as a news TV, radio, or website. For anyone who drives a car, radio is still important, especially in societies that are de- pendent on personal transportation, such as the UAE.
Are you concerned that people won’t stay tuned to a news-only radio channel?
People will listen to what they like. With news, you could potentially say that they listen to the headline news for five to ten minutes and then they switch. However, if you give them something extra, such as a discussion, a feature, or an important interview, people will listen. There’s a misconception that news is only wars. There’s sports news, business news, entertainment news, health news… In fact, an Arabic news channel like this doesn’t exist in the UAE, so it’s still niche.
When Sky News Arabia started in 2012, it seemed like a big challenge to compete with heavyweights such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, and Al Arab TV was going to launch, too. How has this evolved over the years?
Al Arab TV had said that it was going to launch a year before we announced and then they launched three years after us. Competition is still there and it’s very fierce. [When we launched], people were talking about the market being full and where and how we were going to find our niche. Also, we launched just after a few changes in the Arab world, so there was the question of what we were going to do then. Little did people know that our region is very hot with news. From a content point of view, fortunately or unfortunately, in the region there’s a lot to cover.
From a competition point of view, you have to find your niche. You look at your editorial line – Is it something people are more comfortable with? Does it make more sense? Do people feel that it’s more balanced and acceptable, that it’s not bipartisan or leaning one way?
How has the state of broadcasting in the Arab world changed in the last few years?
Since there’s so much happening [in the region], people have taken sides more than they should, so the changing spectrum in the media of the region is a result of very high-value news stories. That has differentiated people. People now recognize that a certain media outlet is taking a different perspective. Additionally, there’s usually one big story that everyone concentrates on, like what’s going on in Europe with the refugees. Now, because of the political situation in the region, we’ve got four to five major stories happening – like Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya and, once in a while, something in Bahrain, Kuwait and Tunisia.
So, is there more news now or is it that more issues are being openly covered?
Both. Also, technology has changed a lot. There [were always] lots of stories happening around the world, but no one had a smartphone and data. All it takes now is a video of five seconds to make a difference. Today, because of technology and media, it’s very difficult to miss anything. Everything can become a big story in one second.
How has Sky News Arabia embraced this technology?
We have products for online. We also do multimedia stories. In terms of streaming, we do news roundups six times a day. We’re looking into a lot of things related to second screen. Hopefully, in the first quarter of 2016, we will be launching some of it. We launched our new website last month, along with a fully responsive mobile site. It’s about providing more content, but in a way that people want to see. [In terms of new initiatives], we won’t be reinventing the wheel, but it is going to be new in the region.