The impending launch of two additional 24-hour news channels is unlike the spate of government backed stations seen in recent years.
The addition of a great number of state-funded Arabic news channels from France, Russia, Iran and the US have made little impact on the established leaders in the field.
Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya remain dominant in terms of audience, influence and resources.
The raft of stations that emerged in the past three to five years have been launched with clear agendas, to promote their country’s own slant on the news. Viewers are well aware of this and generally choose one of “the big two”.
Now though, this selection could become the “big four”.
The announcement in April that Prince Alwaleed is to launch his own news channel caused a few ripples in the industry given the vast personal fortune that could potentially be made available to the venture.
“It is something I will be doing personally [because it] needs a lot of investment up front,” said the Prince, speaking at the time of the announcement. The chairman of the Rotana group also said that the channel would not be part of the network’s stable but would be independent from the media group. He also stated that it would have the development of Saudi Arabia at its core casting some doubt on the impartiality that the station will possess.
“We no longer have a void in the Arab world as it is now heavily occupied. Therefore the new news channel is going to become an addition and an alternative for viewers. Our personal aim is to achieve this,” said the Prince in a further statement last month.
After distancing Rotana from the project, it was speculated that the channel could perhaps be operated in conjunction with one of News Corporations many newscasting branches, given that the Prince is the largest shareholder in the company outside of the Murdoch clan.
When it was revealed last month that Sky News was planning an Arabic channel, it appeared at first glance that the two projects were one and the same, given that News Corp owns 39 per cent of the UK-based channel.
The Sky News scheme, however , is a 50/50 joint venture with an unnamed Abu Dhabi-based businessman.
“The Middle East is undergoing rapid economic and social development and is becoming an increasingly attractive region for media investment,” said John Ryley, head of Sky News.
“Discussions are progressing well and we look forward to bringing a new approach to Arabic-language news.”
The region now faces the prospect of four competitive, well-financed, locally based, Arabic-language news stations.
The consequences of this may be most keenly felt by the two existing market leaders. However, with Al Jazeera seemingly focused on the international distribution of its English-language service, it may be undeterred by the new entrants.
Sky News has received plaudits in the UK for its accessible style and reputation for breaking news. Existing channels could be forced to raise their game.