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Saudi Arabia: Competition between Islamic channels peaks in Ramadan



JEDDAH, (Arab News): The Al-Risalah Islamic channel, owned by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, is to launch three channels — two for children and another religious channel for non-Arabs who live in the West, said Tarik Al-Suwaidan, the channel’s head.

Al-Suwaidan did not specify when the channels would be launched.

He did, however, say that the new channel for Muslims in the West will not broadcast Arabic programs that appear on Al-Risalah dubbed into English or with subtitles, something that he said would not prove successful.

“There is no room for making a mistake with this channel,” said Al-Suwaidan, adding that there are only four English religious channels in the region.

He added that the broadcasters would like to have two full-time children’s channels to compete with the existing ones.

“There is no way that a child will leave his favorite full-time channel to watch our channel for two hours and then go back. We will therefore have to compete with other full-time children’s channels,” he said.

There are about 10 children’s channels in the Arab world.

Al-Risalah is now competing with about 60 religious channels in the region that receive around 12 percent of the region’s viewers. Religious channels also tend to compete with each other to attract popular sheikhs, especially during Ramadan.

Al-Risalah’s main competitor is Iqra, which is owned by Saudi businessman Saleh Kamil.

Al-Risalah, said Al-Suwaidan, has managed to attract 4 percent of Saudi viewers this year, compared to only 2 percent last year. He added that the channel is not targeting conservative elements within the Kingdom who don’t want to see women on television and want religious channels to not play music.

“This group constitutes only 2 million of the Saudi population and we are not competing to satisfy them,” he said.

Religious channels also describe their presenters, who are often scholars, as stars, a term that is usually associated with singers and actors.

Asked about the usage of the word, Al-Suwaidan said a star is someone popular and not necessarily a singer or an actor. “It is better to associate the term with scholars rather than actors or singers. This would make the youth more attached to religious figures,” he said.

Speaking about the amount of money the channel makes, Al-Suwaidan said that the SMS service generates only $50,000 to $80,000 a year.

“We are patient and will wait until we get more viewers, then the advertisers will come,” said Al-Suwaidan, adding that the channel generated $900,000 last year in advertisements and that it hopes to generate $2 million this year.

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