Feature

International Business Media: News arrivals

New entrants are looking to steal the headlines, but how much of a threat do they really pose to the established news channels? Robert Gray asks.

Here's what's new with the news. In the past 18 months, a flurry of pan-regional news channels have hit the air.

Among such launches as Press TV, Telesur, Russia Today, CNN IBN, TV-2 News, Africa 24 (due in 2008) and planned Arabic channels for the BBC and Deutsche Welle, the most high profile are Al Jazeera English and France 24.

Both bring distinctive editorial perspectives, unashamedly rooted in their countries of origin. Al Jazeera English and France 24, based respectively in Qatar and France, offer an alternative take on global events to that given by the established titans of TV current affairs such as BBC World and CNN.

It was in the early 90s that the pan-regional TV news sector last saw such a raft of launches, with the emergence of EuroNews, Deutsche Welle and BBC World. These players have carved out strong positions in the market, alongside the likes of CNN, CNBC and Bloomberg. So, are the newcomers likely to fare as well?

"Many senior business decision-makers around the globe neither speak English nor subscribe to an Anglo-American world view," Ian Rotherham, the head of international at Media Planning Group, says. "So, in an online world with more media choice, a reliance on pan-regional media supplied from the UK or US is no equilibrium."

Rotherham does not expect either Al Jazeera English or France 24 to capture a significant share of pan-regional advertising. But he does feel that they will encourage others to develop pan-regional media brands to service the needs of specialist audiences.

The economics of media in a digital age means that even relatively niche operations can succeed. The growth of IPTV will further reduce the barriers to entry, though news gathering itself remains a costly business.

MPG takes the view that in light of a growing thirst for alternative views, it needs to refresh its traditional international planning and, potentially, its media partners. Rotherham says it would be wrong to focus on established media properties with a predominantly Anglo-US view, just because they deliver the largest audiences.

Others feel the jury is still out. Robert Sue, an account director at MEC Global Solutions, says: "It sounds obvious, but advertisers will be wary of using the new channels until there is solid audience data to allow comparison with established channels. We have not seen an effect on the programming or sales of the established players such as CNN, BBC World and EuroNews."

This is not that surprising given that most audience measurement is based on annual surveys; established players and advertisers will not know the impact of the new entrants until 12 to 18 months after launch. Al Jazeera English and France 24 have been criticised for being slow to provide information. But they do offer opportunities.

France 24's advertising chief operating officer, Patrice Begay, points to a large choice of sponsorship opportunities - 24 in all - for advertisers to place their brand in a targeted environment.

The philosophy, Begay explains, is to support advertisers by partnering beyond the traditional formats to develop bespoke events. These would then be given international visibility.

"We are being watched a lot by opinion formers, political and in the media," Al Jazeera English's managing director, Nigel Parsons, says. "We are attracting a younger audience cynical about mainstream media views, too."

While it has made a splash by securing talent of the calibre of Sir David Frost, the Qatar-based channel has yet to win over major advertisers, many of which are sensitive about aligning themselves with the Middle East and its political and religious canvas.

Olivier de Montchenu, the managing director of EuroNews Sales, says his channel is unique as the only one available in seven languages across the region. He welcomes the competition, as it helps to create buzz and visibility. "It can help us to grow the ad cake by stimulating advertisers," he says.

Similarly, Max Raven, CNN International's head of ad sales for the UK, Scandinavia and Netherlands, says the arrival of new channels has not affected advertising but "makes for a lively marketplace. It also shows a belief in the consumer's interest in news, which we're delighted to see."

However, he points out: "Our competition doesn't just come from other international TV news channels, but from a range of media outlets, local, worldwide and online. Anyone who delivers to the global citizen."

This intensified competition is spurring media owners to create opportunities. On 1 June, CNBC launched CNBC Africa, the continent's first 24-hour international business channel.

CNBC says its advertising revenues across Europe increased more than 45 per cent year on year in 2006. New advertisers include Air France, Allianz, Credit Suisse, Fortis, IBM and SocGen.

Existing advertisers have also been spending more with the channel, CNBC's European sales director, Liz Jones, says, with average client spend up by 33 per cent. Growth in branded content and creative solutions is enabling CNBC to tap into pan-European advertising and PR budgets for clients such as Shell, Allianz, HP and IBM. Revenue from this area grew by more than 100 per cent in 2006.

This is mirrored by BBC World, where its vice-president, sales for EMEA and North America, Carolyn Gibson, believes branded content is vital. "A growing number of firms want to advertise pan-regionally to reach this audience," Gibson says. BBC World is available in over 200 countries and reaches 280 million homes.

CNN has moved to secure its grip on advertisers looking for large audiences they can access via multiple platforms with the relaunch of its website. Its online offer has been designed with advertisers in mind, Raven says. Video pages and live news streams are among features that aim to deliver an environment in which the broadcaster believes marketers can be most effective.

With the confidence of a big player with little to fear from new rivals, he urges advertisers to be clear about their objectives and the platform that can best supply them. But if the market gets tougher, prepare for those gentlemanly gloves to be disguarded.

THE HIGH-PROFILE NEWCOMERS

FRANCE 24

Launched: 6 December 2006.

HQ: Paris, France.

Parent/backers: Owned 50/50 by Groupe TF1 and France Televisions.

Advertisers: HSBC, IBM, Air France, Guerlain, Dior, Coca-Cola.

Distribution: Extensive across Europe, the Middle East and Africa on cable and satellite networks and the internet. Also shown in Air France airport lounges.

Content: In French, English and Arabic. Programming covers events across the globe, with the five primary focus points of news, economy, culture, sports and weather.

Mission: To report on international news with a specifically French viewpoint and convey the values of France.

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH

Launched: 15 November 2006.

HQ: Doha, Qatar.

Backers: Al Jazeera.

Advertisers: Qatar Airways, Qtel, Qatar Financial Centre Authority.

Distribution: To more than 80 million cable and satellite households. Plus, availability on broadband IPTV, ADSL, terrestrial and mobile phone platforms.

Content: News, current affairs, features, analysis, documentaries, live debates, entertainment, business and sport. Shows include Frost Over The World, presented by Sir David Frost.

Mission: As the first English language news channel based in the Middle East, Al Jazeera English aims to set the news agenda and act as a bridge between cultures. It presents itself as the channel for Middle East events.