Alf Alf wins first Saudi radio licence for $20 million

A new era for Saudi radio began yesterday. After a lengthy selection process, the Ministry of Culture and Information awarded its first licence for a private radio operator to Alf Alf, a Saudi media company that currently produces a newspaper and will soon be launching a television station, according to ministry officials. The price was 75 million Saudi riyals (Dh 73.4 million, $20 million).

The selection is somewhat surprising, as the short list for licences included bigger players such as Rotana and ART. Just last week, I was talking to officials from Rotana who seemed hopeful that they would be the first.

But there are four more licences to be awarded, and it is still quite likely that these large players will be entering the market before it's all over. The remaining licences will be awarded every two weeks for the next month and a half, according to ministry officials.

MBC, which currently runs two stations in the kingdom, will continue to broadcast, according to ministry officials. Other contenders on the short list include Al Jazirah Newspaper Group, Al Shams, Al Arabiya, Ghayat Al Edba, Fal, Electronic Resourced, Nour Communications, and Al Watania Advertising and Publishing.

The licensing scheme is part of a wider attempt to bring more private competition and regulation to the Saudi media market. On Thursday, Saudi officials awarded the kingdom's first satellite television licence to Saudi Comedy Channel for three years.

"From now on, no Saudi channel can appear without the licence of the Ministry of Culture and Information," Abdul Aziz Khoja, the Saudi cture and information minister, told Arab News.

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