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Virgin Radio eyes Middle East move

Virgin Radio is eyeing a move to the Middle East, with at least two media companies vying to establish a Virgin branded station in the UAE, Campaign can reveal.

Virgin Radio is eyeing a move to the Middle East, with at least two media companies vying to establish a Virgin branded station in the UAE, Campaign can reveal.

Both Fujairah Media and senior managers from Radio 1 and 2, which is in the process of being merged with Gulf News publisher Al Nisr, have held talks with Virgin Radio International about launching the brand in the UAE.

The UK’s Virgin Radio was launched by billionaire businessman Sir Richard Branson in the 1990s.

He later sold it, but still retains the Virgin radio brand in the rest of the world. Virgin Radio has launched stations in Thailand, France and China and will start two in India later this year.

Mark Fisher, COO at Virgin Radio International, told Campaign that conditions in the UAE were now right for a Virgin Radio station.

He said that while discussions had been going on for a year, no decision had yet been made about which media group the company would partner with.

He said: “These discussions have been going on for a year or so and they are definitely going in the right direction. We are by no means settled on a partner yet.”

Mekki Abdulla, director of radio and marketing at Fujairah Media, said that he was close to signing an agreement with Virgin when another unnamed media group came on to the scene.

Abdulla said: “I have been talking to them for sometime. I went to meet them in August last year. I have been talking to them since then… trying to work out a workable scenario. We are pretty close to making an announcement on that.”
He added: “We signed pretty much everything off with them and then other people tried to spoil the parade. That is why we are delayed.”

Jeff Price, head of Emirates Radio 1 and 2, said that Virgin had also been talking with him.

He said: “Virgin Radio are very interested in this market. I know that they have been talking to other parties. They have recently set up in India and they have an operation in Asia as well, which has been very successful.

“The talks with Virgin for us are ongoing, I don’t know whether they are going to come to fruition or not.

“Of course it would be fantastic to be involved with the Virgin brand.”

Price said that, should it join up with Virgin, there could be “a new future for Radio 1”.

But Fisher said talk of a possible deal was still some way off. He said: “A lot of people might think that we might be closing a deal with them, but as far as we are concerned, we are still in discussions with several people and it is premature at this stage.”

Talking about why Dubai was an attractive destination to start a Virgin radio station, Fisher said: “The radio market is relatively developed and the overall advertising market is growing quickly. We feel there is a great opportunity to leverage the Virgin brand and the experience we have gained elsewhere in Asia in particular to come up with a really great station.”

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