News Corp sets sights on Middle East media deal

Murdoch empire eyeing 20 percent stake in Rotana Media, claims WSJ.
Rupert Murdoch is reportedly eyeing a 20 percent stake in Rotana Media.
Rupert Murdoch is reportedly eyeing a 20 percent stake in Rotana Media.

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Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is in talks with Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to buy a 20 percent stake in broadcaster Rotana Media, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the deal.

The newspaper, citing a person involved with the deal, said it's not clear at this stage whether the deal will be for existing stock or new shares.

A formal bid valuing the stake is expected this month, the person told the paper, without giving specifics on price.

Kingdom Holdings, the investment vehicle for Prince Alwaleed, is already a major shareholder in News Corporation.

News Corp could not be immediately reached for comment by Reuters out of regular U.S. business hours.

The WSJ said, Rotana, which hosts Fox channels in Saudi Arabia via its TV network, owns rights to more than 2,000 Arabic movies and a large music library.

But the venture that News Corporation might find most interesting, and to which it could add most value, is the online video and music on demand service, rotana.net, which is currently live as a beta site.

Rotana.net is modelled on hulu.com, a US-based television on demand service that allows the American public to watch popular television series such as Lost, 24, Family Guy and House in full screen high definistion over a broadband internet connection.

Hulu.com is currently free-to-view, but executives from the major US television networks, including News Corp's Fox, are mulling options to make the service more commercial.

Hulu.com has exploded onto the internet scene in the United States, rising from nowhere in 2007 to become one of the 40 most popular sites in the country, according to web ranking service alexa.com.

Viewers in the Middle East cannot access television on demand services such as Hulu.com, or Britain's BBC iPlayer, but Rotana.net has open access to its television, film and music archive throughout the GCC.

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