US-backed Alhurra TV relaunches amid new Iran sanctions

Since its launch in 2004 Alhurra has attracted notoriety over allegations that it is a US government mouthpiece. (Supplied)
Updated 06 November 2018

US-backed Alhurra TV relaunches amid new Iran sanctions

  • Media exec Nart Bouran says television still ‘very important’ due to Arab world’s connectivity issues
  • Bouran said relaunch will clear up any misconception about Alhurra and what it stands for

DUBAI: The US-backed Alhurra TV channel relaunched its news outlets on Sunday ahead of the Trump administration reimposing key sanctions on Iran.
The channel — part of umbrella corporation Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) — is no stranger to controversy, with previous claims that it is a mouthpiece for the US government.
Yet a senior Alhurra executive said the relaunched network — which comes as the Trump administration looks to gain support for its harder line on Tehran — will not shy away from reporting the pressing issues affecting the Middle East.
“We will not be holding back on the things that we believe need to be discussed very openly — for example, terrorism, the involvement and interference of Iranian forces and their proxy in the region,” Nart Bouran, senior vice president of news, programming and transformation at MBN, told Arab News.
Alhurra, which first launched in 2004 as a counter voice to a perceived anti-US media bias among some Middle East networks, attracted notoriety in the region over allegations it is a US propaganda machine, partly because it is indirectly funded by Congress through the US Agency for Global Media, an independent federal agency.
This was also highlighted by Alhurra’s coverage of the Iraq Abu Ghraib prison-torture scandal under then-US President George Bush’s tenure in mid-2004.
Alhurra, which is Arabic for “the free one,” was the first Arabic news channel to air an interview in which Bush apologized to the Arab world, with many in the Middle East seeing that as a confirmation that the channel has a US government agenda.
The US-backed channel only broadcasts in the Middle East and North Africa, and not in the US where it is headquartered. Yet Bush’s decision to issue his first apology via Alhurra was unpopular with many US citizens — as well as many in the Arab world.

Bouran, however, said the relaunch will clear up any “misconception” about Alhurra and what it stands for.

“I think you’ll notice that when it comes to the US policy, there are voices that speak for and against and all voices are present on our screen,” Bouran said. “Alhurra can take the opportunity to make ourselves present proper media or journalistic values that others might claim (but) we will actually implement.”
The relaunch includes the opening of new studios at Dubai Media City; Alhurra also has a bureau in Baghdad, where it operates Alhurra Iraq, and it hopes to boost its presence across the Arab world, and especially in Saudi Arabia.
“We’re hoping that we can also be present in Saudi Arabia soon because we believe it’s very important to be there and be able to cover Saudi Arabia properly,” Bouran said.
The decision to go for studios in Dubai and not another Arab country is due to logistics, Bouran explained, saying that it is about “getting in touch with guests who want to appear on screen and early on in the day to have a full 24-hour news service.”
However, when asked whether the channel has editorial agreements with the governments of the countries it operates in, Bouran responded by saying: “No, the simple answer is no.”

Nart Bouran: Senior VP of News, Programming and Transformation at MBN

Alhurra operates in a media landscape that it vastly different to when it launched in 2004, with its audience now relying heavily on digital and social media platforms as primary sources of news.
“Nobody argues that (social media is not) very important but you also have to remember all the viewers, and not everyone is going to get into social media; there’s a connectivity issue for a lot of countries in the Arab world,” Bouran said.
He also explained that Alhurra is taking a “holistic approach,” with a large number of platforms, including digital and social media and linear TV, carrying its content.
Although the market is already saturated — with Arabic heavyweight channels such as Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya, BBC Arabic, CNN Arabic and Qatari-owned Al Jazeera already dominating screens — Bouran said the relaunch is “timely” and that there is a “strong and prominent” role Alhurra can play.


Global Amazon marketing agency launches in Middle East to help regional brands

Updated 19 October 2020

Global Amazon marketing agency launches in Middle East to help regional brands

  • Podean CEO Mark Power: ‘You can’t just look at Amazon as a pure sales channel, it is much more than that; it’s a vast array of properties, experiences, and content’
  • Mark Power: ‘The Middle East is a huge market of 230 million people so Amazon’s taking this very seriously because it’s a very strategic market with real volume and real growth’

RIYADH: Global Amazon agency and marketplace consultancy Podean has been officially launched in the Middle East, with a regional headquarters in Dubai.

In 2017, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) e-commerce market reached $8.3 billion with an average annual growth rate of 25 percent. In 2020, e-commerce expenditure exceeded expectations by more than $52 billion since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown began in March – up 77 percent year-on-year. And at the forefront of this surge was Amazon.

In the UAE alone, 46 percent of shoppers use Amazon with Noon being a distant second at 16.9 percent.

Mark Power, founder and CEO of Podean, spoke to Arab News about the Amazon ecosystem and how his agency can help brands succeed on the platform.

Podean launched in New York 9 years ago and has since expanded to the UK, Australia, and the Middle East. Power comes from an agency background having worked at The Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG).

“Holding companies (such as IPG) are very sophisticated and they have huge scale and they help brands in a very sophisticated way when it comes to media and creative but they really don’t understand the nitty gritty of the world of e-commerce and retail and they have a lot of trouble working out how to make money from it,” he said.

On the other hand, he added, Amazon-focused agencies were usually started by ex-Amazon employees who have a siloed approach.

“We believe Amazon should be ultimately integrated with everything else you’re doing as a brand. You can’t just look at Amazon as a pure sales channel, it is much more than that; it’s a vast array of properties, experiences, and content,” Power said.

A common challenge is that most brands and businesses think of Amazon as a sales or retail channel simply to place their product on.

“It doesn’t get the love it really needs because Amazon has now given people access to tools to make their products stand out, and if you’re not doing that you can quickly lose out on precious sales and valuable traffic or not convert that traffic because you haven’t invested and you haven’t sort of adjusted to the new the new Amazon reality,” he added.

As of 2018, Facebook and Google commanded around 70 percent of digital advertising dollars while Amazon’s share was roughly 7 percent and it has surely increased – beyond regular forecasts – this year.

Amazon’s consumer growth has been supported by the launch of initiatives and products for businesses such as the Amazon Marketing Cloud and its demand-side platform (DSP), which allows brands to place display and video ads across Amazon’s websites and apps.

This year has also marked a significant milestone for the e-commerce giant with product searches on Amazon surpassing those on Google in the US. All of this means that brands – even those not selling on the platform – can now also use Amazon for upper-funnel marketing activities, such as brand awareness, and not just for performance marketing. They can also access Amazon’s data to pinpoint the consumer journey and better target audiences.

Power pointed out that the agency’s services were not cannibalizing audiences away from a brand’s direct-to-consumer channel, but rather finding these potential consumers who have visited a brand’s direct-to-consumer channel but prefer the Amazon experience and shaping their consumer journey in a way that is favorable to the brand.

While consumers are flocking to Amazon for everything from toilet paper to electronics, sellers and businesses are expressing concerns as evidenced by the antitrust hearing against Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.

Sellers know that the best place to sell online is Amazon, but it is a tricky situation to be in when Amazon starts selling its own versions of the most popular products.

“It’s hard to make a judgment call. But, at the same time, some of the things that we’ve seen as partners within the Amazon ecosystem doesn’t look good at all,” Power said.

He chalked it down to the silos that exist within Amazon. “Amazon is a siloed business made up of a vast array of different entrepreneurial businesses within different businesses within different businesses and that has caused it to become an incredible success.

“But I think it also can be something where because there are silos and lack of communication, some of those teams go off and do things and they do it fast and so successfully, that it may come at a cost – not just to other teams within Amazon, but also the partners that they’ve built.”

He added that Amazon was now being much more careful as to how it worked with partners, “not just be obsessed with end-consumers which it has been touting for many years.” And this is reflected in the initiatives it has launched to support partners and brands such as its APIs (app programming interfaces) and Brand Registry programs.

Its advertising tools for the Middle East are in the process of being launched starting with the UAE and Saudi Arabia and then Egypt and Turkey, all of which will be served by Podean’s Middle East headquarters in Dubai.

Power said: “It (the Middle East) is a huge market of 230 million people so Amazon’s taking this very seriously because it’s a very strategic market with real volume and real growth.”