Saudi to begin awarding radio licences this month

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One of the more hopeful developments in Middle East media over the last few months has been Saudi Arabia's decision to open up its radio market to more private competition. At the moment, Saudi-owned MBC owns both of the private stations licenced to operate in the kingdom, but the

reported today that the first of five more FM radio licences will be awarded on Jan 30. The remaining four would be awarded every two weeks after that.

High on the list of likely licence winners,

, are Rotana and ART, MBC's main rivals in the region. These companies have been lobbying for years to open up the radio licencing process, according to ministry officials. Last month, the

confirmed that these companies, along with 13 others, had made the cut for the short list.

Radio doesn't get much attention globally these days, but in the Middle East -- maybe because of the car-obsessed culture, I don't know -- it is still a money-maker. Our own company, Abu Dhabi Media Company, launched two stations last year, while Dubai's beleaguered media conglomerate, Arab Media Group, announced to much fanfare last month that regardless of what is happening to its TV and print operations (systematically stripped away and handed over to Dubai Media Incorporated over the second half of last year), its radio stations were gaining listenership and doing just fine.

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