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How Qatar Lost its Audience

How Qatar Lost its Audience

Friday, 15 December, 2017 - 13:15
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.

Nowadays, most of UAE residents don’t watch Qatari TV channels, including Al Jazeera, not even online or via social media.

In the real world, they no longer exist although they are registered on receivers because most of the TV services are linked to telecom service providers, and they are suspended so they have disappeared.

In Saudi Arabia, and in most of the region’s countries though at a lesser extent, hackers gained access to the Qatari beIN sports network -- they provide the same service in HD and for around one quarter of the amount.

Practically, the Qatar media empire is collapsing. Not only did it lose around USD5 billion invested in news channels, sports contracts, movies, multiple-platform broadcast networks, websites and social accounts, which are directed from Doha, Istanbul and London, but it also lost the political messages it aimed to transmit through them!

Qatar’s attempts in inciting the war in Yemen failed. Its attempt to support Iran and attack Saudi government internal decisions also failed along with its attempt to defend itself in the dispute with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain.

Probably, losing billion of dollars is the least of the Doha government’s concern compared to its political and propaganda losses in what it considers to be its project, source of importance and strategies center.

Qatar thought it could intimidate the region’s governments through managing the audience from a distance.

These countries, in their dispute with Qatar, endured what Doha issued from its various networks and their branches. After the latest dispute surfaced, however, the media was added to the battle. All the techniques and expertise that Qatar has invested in for years and the brands and audience created by its networks were dealt a fatal blow. What happened?

A series of consecutive measures were taken, including disconnecting Qatar’s media networks, confronting them via opposing networks and mobilizing counter digital armies.

Countries, which rely on cable networks and dial-up for television broadcast, shut down dozens of Qatari channels, including those that have different names, but are owned by Qatar. This included political, documentary, children, drama and movie channels.

Most viewers, as it is the case in UAE, lost access to these channels on their televisions and mobile phones, except for those who are on satellite receiver dishes. Viewers didn’t rush to other means, such as proxies, because there are many alternatives and suitable channels that compensate them for the Qatari ones.

Another move that also dealt the Qatari sports networks a fatal blow was when channels that broadcast sports matches with cheap prices appeared in the market and urged many to give up their subscriptions with Qatar’s television networks.

Qatar had adopted the policy of seizing sports-related rights from of all associates it owned, especially in Spain, UK, France and Italy, through purchasing them for overpriced sums, worth an estimate of USD2 billion, in order to discourage TV services providers from even thinking about competing with them.

Some may condemn involving sports in political confrontations. This would have been true if Qatar wasn’t the one violating the international regulations when it exploited its monopoly of sports TV contracts. Or when it mobilized international players to talk via its channels and condemn boycotting Qatar when most of them do not even know how to locate Qatar on a map!

Its sports television network, which is the most expensive in the region, is not based on commercial bases. Hackers aggravated Qatar’s losses, doubled them and destroyed the audience, which it wanted to politically influence to serve its own purposes.

My next article will discuss the fierce wars of electronic armies in the backdrop of Qatar’s confrontation, the government’s attempts to regain control of the situation and recover the audience that it lost over the past ten years.

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