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Opinion

How did Qatar lose its audience?

Today, most UAE residents do not watch Qatari TV channels, including Al Jazeera, not even online. In the real world, these channels do not exist anymore, notwithstanding their presence on satellite receiver lists. The reason is that most TV services were linked to telephone companies, and they have been stopped, so they have disappeared. Qatar’s media empire has collapsed.
It has not only lost the $5 billion it invested in news channels, sports contracts, movies, multi-platform broadcast networks, websites and social media accounts controlled from Doha, Istanbul and London. Qatar has also lost all their political messages. It has failed in its attempts to incite the public against the war in Yemen, support Iran, attack domestic Saudi decisions, and defend itself in its dispute with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain.
Maybe Doha’s worry over the loss of billions of dollars is nowhere near its worry over its propaganda and political losses. It thought it could intimidate regional states by claiming that it was remote-controlling the masses. The countries that are in dispute with Qatar used to be tolerant of and patient with the performance of its networks, but since the start of the recent dispute, they have added the media to the battle.

All Qatar’s investments over the years in technology and expertise, and all the audiences it managed to build, have received a fatal blow. What happened? A number of simultaneous steps were taken, including stopping Qatari media networks, confronting its propaganda and rallying counter-electronic armies.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

In countries that rely on cable networks and mobile TV reception, they turned off tens of Qatari channels, including those that broadcast using unusual names but are owned by Qatar. These included political, documentary, movie, children’s and drama channels. The TV sets and mobile phones of most viewers, as in the UAE, stopped broadcasting these channels, except for a minority who depend on satellite reception dishes.
The reason why viewers did not revert to other reception methods such as proxies, as was the case in the past, is the availability of many suitable TV alternatives that make up for the loss of Qatari channels.
The second blow was fatal for Qatari sports channels. Many sports channels appeared on the market offering international matches at a very low price. This spurred many viewers to give up Qatari sports channels.
Qatar used to have a monopoly on sports rights from original owners, this was done by buying them for astronomical figures, estimated at about $2 billion, to stop other TV channels from competing with it for years to come.
Some may condemn using sports in the political arena, and this would have been correct had Doha not violated international regulations when it used its sports TV monopoly and rallied international players to condemn the boycott of Qatar through its channels. Most of them could not even locate Qatar on a world map!
Moreover, its sports TV network, which is the most expensive in the region, is not based on business principles. And hackers multiplied Qatar’s losses and finished off its regional audience, which it wanted to use politically for its own interests.

• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.
Twitter: @aalrashed