US-backed Alhurra TV relaunches amid new Iran sanctions

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

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.


Prank TV show with fake Daesh fighters sparks outrage in Iraq

Prank TV show with fake Daesh fighters sparks outrage in Iraq
Updated 22 April 2021

Prank TV show with fake Daesh fighters sparks outrage in Iraq

Prank TV show with fake Daesh fighters sparks outrage in Iraq
  • Playfully entrapping celebrities is a staple of primetime Ramadan programs, but some viewers say “Tanb Raslan” goes too far 

LONDON: A prank TV show in Iraq has sparked outrage after featuring fake Daesh fighters who kidnap celebrities, strap fake suicide bombs to their chest and threaten the celebrities with execution.

The controversial program, called “Tanb Raslan,” invited celebrities to visit displaced Iraqi families who supposedly fled the clutches of the extremist terrorist group. As participants arrive at the alleged house, they are ambushed with actors disguised as Jihadist fighters who immediately threatened to kill them.

Celebrities were then blindfolded and fake suicide bombs were strapped to their chest. Unknown to the participants that their surroundings are fictitious, they were shown on their knees and get emotional all while the cameras are rolling. 

Iraqi footballer Alaa Mhawi became tearful and pleaded for his life while Nessma, a 58-year-old Iraqi actress, lost consciousness after the fake explosive belt was strapped to her.

Playfully entrapping celebrities has become a staple of primetime Ramadan TV shows in Iraq. However, this program, in particular, attracted criticism, considering Daesh and extremist violence still remain a real threat in the country.

The show is reportedly underwritten by the state-sponsored Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary, whose fighters helped expel Daesh fighters from Iraqi cities. These paramilitaries, still armed, have their own role in the TV show and are portrayed as heroes saving the day.

In the show, the homes of the alleged displaced families are located in the agricultural belt outside of Baghdad where Daesh sleeper cells still roam and extort locals.

Many Iraqi viewers took to social media to criticize the TV show. 

“This is not entertainment,” Bilal Al-Mosuli, a resident of Mosul, wrote on Twitter. 

Ahmed Abderradi expressed disbelief at the show after it made a tongue-in-cheek reference to Saddam Hussein, the dictator who terrorized Iraqis from 1979 to 2003. 

“Or we can throw guests into a river like the victims of Speicher,” Abderradi wrote on Twitter, referring to the 2014 Camp Speicher massacre when Daesh executed 1,700 Shiite conscripts and dumped their bodies into the Tigris.

For others, however, the show saluted anti-Daesh fighters with a slight reservation.

“But it is possible to show the bravery of the Hashd Al-Shaabi and Iraqi troops without introducing terrorism,” Noor Ghazi, an Iraqi living in the US, wrote on Twitter. 

A writer on the show, Dargham Abu Rghif, defended the program: “The scenes are harsh but if Daesh had won, artists would have had a far harder life. And all Iraqis, too.”

Gulf News to charge for digital content

Gulf News to charge for digital content
Updated 21 April 2021

Gulf News to charge for digital content

Gulf News to charge for digital content
  • UAE newspaper launches two subscription models for readers as it sets up paywall

DUBAI: The UAE English-language daily Gulf News has announced that it will start putting its online content behind a paywall.

It is unclear when the content will stop being available for free.

Print subscribers will receive a complimentary one-year access to; other readers can sign up for Standard Access for AED 5.95 ($1.6) per month or Prime Access AED 8.96 per month or AED 52 per year.

The Standard package allows access to most of the website content, while the Prime package will also allow access to the new categories the newspaper is launching, including Living in UAE, Your Money, Parenting and The Good.

The move is a first for a UAE newspaper. Print revenues have been steadily declining with print media taking less than 5 percent of the total ad revenue in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, according to a GroupM report.

In a Gulf News article, CEO, Editor-in-Chief and Executive Director of Publishing, Abdul Hamid Ahmad, said: “We were offering our high-quality content online for free for the longest time, when the print revenue gave us the freedom to do so. But that is on the decline, as can be seen the world over.”

He added that the decision to put content behind a paywall was taken “a while ago” as it is no longer possible to carry on offering content for free while revenues keep declining.

He said the digital paywall is not meant to be a deterrent for people reading the news. Instead, “it is a gateway for trusted, credible and verified news” that is aimed at protecting readers from “fake news, clickbait and low-quality advertising.”

The Gulf News website has an average of 230 million page views and 15 million unique visitors every month. Yet, said Ahmad, “the commensurate revenue has not come in,” which has an impact on the quality of advertising.

He believes that the paywall will not only encourage better journalism but also better advertising. “Once you have paid subscribers, it will mean a targeted market that advertisers can optimise and utilise more effectively.”

Over the past two years, more publishers have introduced paywalls to sustain their business, although some lowered their paywalls during the pandemic.

“The idea was that information about the outbreak of COVID-19 had life-saving potential, and so it should be available to everyone, not just to subscribers — a fraction of news readers who tend to be the wealthiest and most highly-educated,” reported the Columbia Journalism Review.

Meher Murshed, Executive Editor, Digital at Gulf News, said in an article on the paper’s website that the need of the hour is to break news instantly, which can compromise accuracy.

“There is a cost to fact-checked, responsible journalism, one that is not click bait or chases page views. We have to spend resources for in-depth reporting.”

That is why Gulf News decided to launch a digital subscription, said Murshed, “so we can continue giving our readers quality journalism.”

Kantar announces winners of Creative Effectiveness Awards 2020

Throughout last year, Kantar, a data-driven insights and consulting company, tested more than 10,000 adverts for clients around the world. (Supplied)
Throughout last year, Kantar, a data-driven insights and consulting company, tested more than 10,000 adverts for clients around the world. (Supplied)
Updated 21 April 2021

Kantar announces winners of Creative Effectiveness Awards 2020

Throughout last year, Kantar, a data-driven insights and consulting company, tested more than 10,000 adverts for clients around the world. (Supplied)
  • Awards analyzed more than 10,000 digital, TV ads

DUBAI: Throughout last year, Kantar, a data-driven insights and consulting company, tested more than 10,000 adverts for clients around the world and has now revealed the ones that performed most effectively.

Unlike other awards, Kantar relies on consumer feedback to award campaigns.

The most creative and effective ads of 2020 were:

1. Heineken / US / Cheers to all from Publicis

2. Bosch / Germany / Atino from C3 Creative Code and Content (Stuttgart)

3. Burger King / France / Consignes 2 Security – The Retour from Buzzman

4. Shea Moisture / US / It Comes Naturally from BBDO New York and JOY Collective

5. Samsung / US / Make their year, with Galaxy Buds Live from R/GA

6. Milka / France / And a lot of Milka from DAVID Madrid

7. Google / US / Find your Scene from Google Brand Studio

8. TENA / UK / TENA Silhouette Washable Underwear (I will wear what I want) from AMV BBDO, London

9. TD / Canada / Keeping your business moving forward from Leo Burnett

10 Adrenaline Rush / Russia / More from KAPIBARA

11. YouTube Kids / US / YouTube Kids Brand Anthem Film from Droga5

12 Avocados from Mexico / US / Avocados from Mexico Shopping Network from Energy BBDO Chicago

13. Gatorade / Chile / Gatorade GOAT CAMP from TBWA / Chiat de Los Angeles

14. Toyota Corolla / Canada / Vente Etiquettes Rouges from The Showroom

15. Kozel / Slovakia / Pimp my goat from Armada

16. Nissan Sentra / US / Joy Ride from Nissan United

17. Panadol Actifast / Malaysia / Delivery Rider Malaysia from Grey Group Singapore

18. eBay Australia / Australia / The Fast and the Furious from Che Proximity Australia

19. Siemens Home Appliances / Turkey / Ankastre from MullenLowe Istanbul

20. Hershey’s Kisses / US / Bells to Blossoms from mcgarrybowen


Based on the winners for 2020, the company identified five habits of the most effective advertisers.

Daren Poole, global head of creative at Kantar, said: “While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to creative and effective advertising, we observed five habits from our winners that ensure their advertising will deliver for their brand – in both the short and long term. These can act as guidelines for all advertisers.”

The five habits:

Be distinctive: Create the ability to be noticed and remembered in a world where there is a profusion of ads. Your ad is not just competing in its category. It is competing for attention against the world. Stand out from the category as a minimum, and ideally from any other advertising.

Brand intrinsically: Make sure that the attention won by the ad is at the service of the brand. Get your branding cues right. A surprising number of companies forget this basic rule.

Be meaningfully different: To grow market share or defend premium pricing you need to fulfil consumers’ functional, emotional, and social needs in the category and illustrate your uniqueness compared to the competition.

Trigger an emotional response: Making the viewer feel something, wins engagement for the ad, bypassing the natural tendency to screen out advertising. It also has positive effects on the brand’s emotional associations.

Talk with your consumer: Successful marketers know they can get too close to their creative journey and lose perspective, so they listen to viewer feedback during creative development.

Garena Free Fire wins over mobile gamers

Garena Free Fire wins over mobile gamers
Updated 21 April 2021

Garena Free Fire wins over mobile gamers

Garena Free Fire wins over mobile gamers
  • From tournaments and partnerships to a great gaming experience, Garena Free Fire ticks all the boxes

DUBAI: People spent an average of approximately 3.5 hours a day globally on their mobile phones in 2018. That is predicted to rise about 4 hours this year, according to Statista.

It’s unsurprising, given that more people use their mobile devices for everything from relaxing and socializing to shopping and even doctor’s visits — and that a significant portion of the time spent on mobiles is on gaming apps. In 2020, mobile playtime went up by 62 percent, according to Game Analytics, mostly as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns. Although gaming, in general, is more popular among younger audiences, mobile devices have opened up the arena to older audiences as well.

The increased time spent on mobile gaming – an estimated $85 billion industry – has encouraged developers to launch games that go beyond the puzzle game style popularized by the likes of Candy Crush.

One such game is Garena Free Fire. Launched in 2017, the battle royale style game shot to popularity in 2019 with the game achieving more than 100 million peak daily active users in 2020. It was the most downloaded mobile game worldwide both in 2019 and 2020, according to App Annie.

Battle royale games are multiplayer survival games that require players to eliminate other players to win. Since such games usually feature high-end graphics and animation, they’re better suited to bigger screens. However, Garena Free Fire was designed exclusively with the mobile gamer in mind, said Hans Saleh, Country Head for Garena, Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The gaming market in the MENA region is full of potential. According to a Frost & Sullivan report, gaming in the MENA region is estimated to be worth $4.5 billion, with the number of gamers believed to be more than 100 million.

The report also found that Saudi Arabia ranked 19th in gaming revenues in 2019, while the UAE ranked 35th.

“Saudi is definitely one of the big markets, and so is the UAE. We are also seeing growth in Egypt. We are focusing on being closer to the gamers because it’s all about the user experience for us,” said Saleh.

The company conducted extensive research to get feedback on its product. Saleh attributes the popularity of the game to this user-centric approach. In fact, currently, Garena is in the process of beta testing a new version of the game called Garena Free Fire MAX, although there are no plans for a public launch yet.

Garena Free Fire-related content recorded more than 72 billion view counts across YouTube globally in 2020, making it the most viewed mobile-only video game globally on YouTube for both 2019 and 2020. It was also the third most viewed among all video games on YouTube in 2020.

The company is also promoting the game by building Garena Free Fire communities globally through grassroots events and influencer engagements; and through collaborations such as those with Netflix’s “Money Heist” and football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

To attract players in the region, Garena Free Fire recently announced a collaboration with Arab superstar Mohamed Ramadan. He will be introduced as an in-game character, becoming the first-ever playable Arab character in a battle royale game.

Another way of engaging gamers is through tournaments. The Free Fire World Series was launched in 2019 with a top prize of $200,000. “It gathers all the champions from different regions globally and they compete to become the world champion,” said Saleh.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the World Series was converted to the Continental Series in 2020 with separate tournaments for America, Asia, and the Europe and Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region with a total prize pool of $900,000 divided among the three regions.

This year, Garena is launching a new format especially for the MENA region, which includes the launch of the Free Fire Arab League and Free Fire Arab Championship. The winners of the Arab Championship will be eligible to participate in the Arab League, the winners of which will then go on to represent the MENA region in the Free Fire World Series.

The Free Fire World Series 2021 will take place in May in Singapore and will feature a $2 million prize pool.

Garena believes that the new format can engage viewers and players, as well as being sustainably run for the foreseeable future, said Saleh.

Netflix shares tumble as subscriber growth cools

Netflix shares tumble as subscriber growth cools
This Aug. 13, 2020 photo shows a logo for Netflix on a remote control in Portland, Ore. (AP)
Updated 21 April 2021

Netflix shares tumble as subscriber growth cools

Netflix shares tumble as subscriber growth cools
  • Netflix executives had cautioned in past quarters that the pandemic fueled a surge in subscriptions, with people who would have eventually signed up jumping on board sooner than they might have

SAN FRANCISCO: Netflix shares plunged Tuesday after the leading streaming service reported cooling growth in paid subscriptions that had caught fire during the pandemic.
While revenue jumped 24 percent in the first quarter of this year when compared to the same period in 2020, paid memberships grew less than expected to 208 million, Netflix said in its quarterly earnings release.
New subscriber additions were some two million below Netflix's forecast.
"We believe paid membership growth slowed due to the big Covid-19 pull forward in 2020 and a lighter content slate in the first half of this year, due to Covid-19 production delays," executives said in the release.
Netflix reported profit was up to a stunning $1.7 billion on revenue of $7.2 billion, as subscribers weathered price increases.
The Silicon Valley-based company said it expected subscriber growth to accelerate anew later this year as it releases sequels to hit shows.
"We had those ten years where we were growing smooth as silk," Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings said on a streamed earnings call.
"It is just a little wobbly right now."
Netflix executives had cautioned in past quarters that the pandemic fueled a surge in subscriptions, with people who would have eventually signed up jumping on board sooner than they might have.
"We continue to anticipate a strong second half with the return of new seasons of some of our biggest hits and an exciting film lineup," Netflix said in an earnings letter.
A shift from traditional television to streamed services such as Netflix remains a clear trend, according to the company.
However, competition is also ramping up from Disney, Amazon and other titans.
"More and more new streaming services are launching, reinforcing our vision that linear TV will slowly give way to streaming entertainment," Netflix said.
"We're working as hard as ever to continually improve our service so that we are the best entertainment option available."
But the sharp deceleration suggested slower growth ahead from Netflix, sending shares down some 11 percent in after-hours trade.
Hastings said that competition in the streaming television market has been consistently fierce, with Amazon Prime and Hulu as rivals for more than a decade.
The cooling is a "sign that the world is coming back to more normal at the expense of Netflix," tweeted Gene Munster of the investment firm Loup Ventures. "We think the long-term growth is flattish."

Productions delays caused by the pandemic have resulted in the release of many original Netflix shows being delayed until the second half of this year, according to the company.
"While the roll out of vaccines is very uneven across the world, we are back up and producing safely in every major market, with the exception of Brazil and India," Netflix said.
The streaming television service expected to spend more than $17 billion on a wide range of content, much of it original.
New seasons of hit shows set for release later this year included Sex Education, The Witcher, La Casa de Papel (Money Heist), and You.
Original films slated to arrive included the finale to The Kissing Booth trilogy; Red Notice starring Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds, and Don't Look Up which has a cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Timothee Chalamet, and Meryl Streep.
Netflix is also investing in shows made by talent outside the US, finding "locally authentic stories" from around the world resonate with viewers.
"We're increasingly seeing that these local titles find significant audiences around the world, which supports our thesis that great stories are universal," Netflix said.,
Examples of recent local language hits included Lupin, a series based on French novels telling tales of a daring gentleman burglar, according to Netflix.
A second season of Lupin is due out later this year.