National Geographic has launched a Farsi-language version of its television channel, which plans to target 15 million viewers across the Middle East from its home in Abu Dhabi.
National Geographic Farsi, like its counterparts in other languages, features nature, science, culture and history shows. The channel went live on Saturday, but the launch was not accompanied by any publicity.
However, a National Geographic Channel spokesman confirmed the launch in a statement sent to The National.
"This past Saturday, National Geographic Channels launched a free-to-air Farsi language service, the first documentary or non-news service of its kind," the spokesman said. "It will have the potential to reach 15 million viewers across the Middle East." The channel is based in the UAE and broadcast from the twofour54 media zone in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE capital is also home to National Geographic Abu Dhabi, the Arabic-language version of the channel produced in collaboration between National Geographic Channels International and Abu Dhabi Media, which also owns and publishes The National.
"With this new launch, National Geographic Channels' global reach now includes 165 countries around the world with content available in 38 languages," the National Geographic spokesman said.
The National Geographic Channel is co-operated by Fox Cable Networks, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire.
Advertisements for the Farsi version of National Geographic will be sold by the Dubai-based Broadcast Middle East (BME), a joint venture between News Corp and Moby Group, a media company with operations in Dubai and Afghanistan.
BME currently operates two Farsi-language channels. In 2009 it launched Farsi1, and this year started broadcasting a channel called Zemzemeh.
Although National Geographic Farsi will not be directly operated by BME, the company will sell advertising for the channel.
"If someone wants to advertise on National Geographic Farsi they'll have to come to Broadcast Middle East," said Zaid Mohseni, the chief executive of BME.
"This complements our existing two channels … by targeting the male audience," he added.
However, a representative of National Geographic Farsi said the arrangements for advertising sales on the new channel were still being finalised.
The launch of a Farsi-language service comes at a time of high tension between Iran and the US, where National Geographic is based. Allegations that Tehran was behind an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington have prompted calls to tighten sanctions against Iran. However, Mr Mohseni said that BME has an exemption from the US sanctions against Iran, which allows it to deal directly with Iranian businesses. "We will sell to everyone," he said.
Aside from Iran, where satellite TV is technically illegal, there are large Farsi-speaking populations in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and the UAE.
Mr Mohseni told The Nationalthis year that Iran's total advertising market is forecast to double to US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in the next few years, despite the ban on satellite TV in the Islamic republic. Independent figures on advertising spending in Iran are not available.
More media companies are gearing up to cater to the Farsi-speaking population. In September, the Dubai-based Arabian Radio Network launched an FM station called Radio Shoma, targeting Farsi speakers in the UAE.
The largest satellite-TV network in the Arab world, MBC, runs a Farsi-language movie channel called MBC Persia.