SMS news service is a big hit for MBC

Thousands of consumers have signed up for a breaking news SMS alert service within the first few days of its launch by Middle East media company MBC.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  October 2, 2005

Thousands of consumers have signed up for a breaking news SMS alert service within the first few days of its launch by Middle East media company MBC. The project, which provides news and sport headlines in Arabic and English from MBC’s Al Arabiya channel, has already seen 40,000 consumers sign up, although it only launched half way through August. So far the service has been most popular among its Arabic users. Commercial director Mark Butterfield said subscribers get two or three messages a day, although the service is suspended late at night when phone owners are asleep. Initially, the service is simply sent as a basic text message, but Butterfield said: “The next stage we’re looking at is MMS, then streaming handset video.” Based on consumers paying around US$3 per month to subscribe, the service is on course to deliver revenues well in excess of US$1.5 million per year, although this will have to be shared with the providers of the technology. MMS, which stands for multimedia messaging, allows users to receive images with their text messages, while the streaming service, which would be available on third generation handsets, potentially allows for live video. Butterfield said that, because of technical limitations, there were no plans at this stage to make the service available to advertisers. So far coverage is to about 50% of the region, with plans to expand into Egypt and North Africa shortly. Users subscribe from the news channel’s website and a separate team of journalists prepare the messages. Butterfield said: “It’s intended to be a complementary service.” However, the service is not the first of its kind in the region, with Aljazeera offering something similar. But Butterfield said: “It’s taken us five months to do what Aljazeera did in three years.” Asked if the launch of the service in English hinted at plans to offer Al Arabiya’s TV news service in English, Burtterfield said: “Not at the moment. We’re still a young brand.”

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