Bigger UAE presence for News Corp

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire is to help fund the expansion of the Dubai-based media company Moby Group.

Saad Mohseni, Director and Founder of Moby Media Group, Afghanistan's largest media company. Photo by Siddharth Siva.
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News Corp plans to pump funds into the Dubai media company Moby Group, which hopes to launch up to five TV stations over the next two years.

Rupert Murdoch's troubled media empire said this week that it had taken a minority stake in Moby, which plans to expand across the Arab world and beyond.

Moby runs several media brands in Afghanistan, including the television stations Tolo TV and Lemar TV, radio stations and a production company.

Capital from News Corp will help Moby to boost the number of TV channels it operates, said Saad Mohseni,Moby's chairman and chief executive. "We are looking to launch three to five channels - in Arabic amongst other languages - in the next 18 to 24 months." Moby currently runs media brands in the Dari, Farsi and Pashto languages. Mr Mohseni said there is "enormous opportunity in the Middle East and certain other countries". However, he declined to specify which specific markets Moby planned to target.

"We have some concrete plans moving forward. It's going to be predominantly broadcasting, but production of local content is very important to us. The idea for us is to diversify."

News Corp has an existing relationship with Moby through a 50 per cent shareholding in Broadcast Middle East (BME), a joint venture between the two companies. BME, which specialises in Farsi broadcasts, runs the Farsi1 and Zemzemeh channels. News Corp has now traded its shareholding in BME for a minority stake in Moby, the companies said in a joint statement.

"Under the terms of the agreement, News Corporation will contribute its 50 per cent shareholding in Broadcast Middle East, its Farsi-language TV joint venture with Moby, for a minority shareholding in Moby … BME will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Moby following the investment," the statement said.

"News Corporation will provide strategic guidance and input via representation on the Moby board of directors," the statement added. "[It] will also provide growth capital to Moby for its expansion plans."

Mr Mohseni declined to disclose the percentage stake News Corp now holds in Moby or the total investment that Mr Murdoch's company plans to commit to fund expansion.

The company did not typically have lavish budgets for its TV-channel launches, Mr Mohseni said. "We are not known for launching channels with huge budgets. We are very nimble." Moby Group operates in Dubai and Afghanistan, and Mr Mohseni said it was considering a wider base in the UAE. "We will probably bolster our presence in the UAE. We are in talks with folks in Abu Dhabi as well."

James Murdoch, the deputy chief operating officer at News Corp, said the markets covered by Moby were "challenging, yet very promising". "Merging our Farsi joint venture into Moby allows us to expand our activities with what is surely one of the most dynamic and exciting media businesses in emerging markets anywhere," he said.

News Corp declined to disclose financial details of the deal with Moby when contacted by The National. Rupert Murdoch has been slowly building his business in the Middle East. An Arabic-language version of Sky News - which is part-owned by News Corp - is to be launched in the spring.

Fox International Channels, a unit of News Corp, already broadcasts 12 channels in the Middle East and North Africa. Pay-TV channels operated by Star, News Corp's Asian satellite-TV network, are also beamed across the region. News Corp also has a stake in the Saudi Arabian media company Rotana.

Despite its growth in the Middle East, News Corp has been rocked by the phone hacking scandal in the UK, in which some of its employees were accused of illegally intercepting voicemail messages.