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Television in Saudi Arabia


Television in Saudi Arabia

Television in Saudi Arabia was introduced in 1964.

There are several hundred pan-Arab channels on air at one given moment. The Saudi television market is, however, dominated by just five major companies: Dubai TV, Middle East Broadcasting Center, Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, Rotana and Saudi TV. Together, they control 80% of the pan-Arab broadcasting market.[1] Though private television stations cannot operate from Saudi soil, the country is a major market for pan-Arab satellite and pay-TV. Saudi investors are behind the major networks MBC, which is based in Dubai, and Emirates based OSN.[2] Although satellite dishes have been officially banned since 1990, Saudi Arabia has the second highest satellite TV penetration in the Arab Region, at 97%, and there are 85 free-to-air satellite channels headquartered in Saudi Arabia.[3]

The Saudi government estimated that in 2000 the average Saudi spent 50% to 100% more time watching television than his or her U.S. or European counterpart.[4] On average, 2.7 hours are spent daily watching TV in Saudi Arabia.[3]

The pay-TV market in Saudi Arabia is small, with a penetration estimated at 21%. Al Jazeera Sports is one of the largest pay-TV players in terms of subscriptions, with a market share of 59%. Due to the current absence of cinema in the country, pay TV penetration is expected to increase.[3]


  • History 1
  • State-run channels 2
  • Programming 3
  • Most-viewed channels 4
  • List of channels 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7


The first television broadcasts in Saudi Arabia originated from a 200-watt television station, AJL-TV, "The Eye of the Desert".[5] These were English-language programs for the personnel of the USAF Dhahran Airfield, and started on 17 June 1955.[6] The programming was from contemporary American television, but all references to Christianity, Israel or alcohol were edited out.[5] In September 1957, ARAMCO began a television service for its 9,000 employees in Dhahran.[6]

For many years, Wahhabi clerics opposed the establishment of a national television service, as they believed it immoral to produce images of humans.[6] The first national television broadcasts began in 1965,[7] and the first broadcast was a recitation of the Quran.[8] The introduction of television offended some Saudis,[7] and one of King Faisal's nephews, Prince Khalid ibn Musa'id ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz,[9] was killed in a police shootout in August 1965 after he led an assault on one of the new television stations.[7]

Nawal Baksh was the first Saudi girl to appear on Saudi television, in 1966. After the 1979 Mecca siege, women were banned from television for a short time, after which written rules for Saudi television continued to include a ban on women appearing during Ramadan.[10]

Prior to the introduction of satellite broadcasting, Saudi TV channels One and Two had a reach of 60% of the adult Saudi population. The exception was with regard to Eastern Province audiences who traditionally tuned into Bahrain TV.[11]

Arab satellite first became available in 1985 with the launching of Arabsat, but it was not until the 1990s that satellite television became commercially viable. Accessibility of Western entertainment and news programs had a profound effect, as the foreign telecast programs were instantly popular, leading Saudi TV to respond with more programs, including a live political talk show in which senior officials responded to questions by viewers.[12]

The first private satellite channel in the Arab world, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, was founded in 1991.[12] In the early 1990s, King Fahd began to invest in the television business through Abdul Aziz Al Ibrahim and Khalid Al Ibrahim, the brothers of Al-Johara, his favourite wife.[13] Other private channels soon followed, led for the most part by Saudis and Lebanese.[12] By 2003, there were 15 private Arab satellite television channels, four of them owned by Saudis.[12]

By the mid-2000s, many women presented shows on Saudi television.[14] After trials in 2004 and 2005 in Jeddah, Digital Terrestrial Television launched in July 2006 and covered five major cities. To continue DTT transition and extend the service across the Kingdom, the Ministry of Culture and Information signed a contract with Thomson in May 2008.[15] By 2010, its network of 100 digital terrestrial broadcasting towers covered nearly 90% of the population. However, probably due to the adoption of multichannel TV on satellite, the uptake of DTT remains limited; in 2012 it was estimated at 1% of total households.[3]

State-run channels

The terrestrial broadcast sector in Saudi Arabia is state-owned through the Ministry of Culture and Information.[15] The state-run Broadcasting Services of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia operates almost all domestic broadcasting outlets.[2] State-run television consists of four channels: Saudi One, the main channel in Arabic launched in 1963;[15] Saudi Two, an English language channel; Al Riyadiah, a sports channel; and the news channel Al Ekhbariya.

Government-owned terrestrial television has changed little since 1969. Its programming is still predominantly focused on educational, entertainment, and religious subjects. Reruns of Arabic-language cinema, particularly Egyptian movies, are also broadcast. Political content other than official government announcements has remained relatively limited.[12]


Kalam Nawaaem, a popular female-hosted Arabic talkshow discussing various societal topics, and Arab Idol, both showing on MBC, are the most popular TV programs in Saudi Arabia. Sada Al Malaeb, a sports talkshow, is the third preferred show. Turkish drama series also capture a strong following.[3]

Most-viewed channels

Average daily reach, total Arab population, September 2011:[16]

Position Channel Group Daily reach (%)
1 MBC 1 Middle East Broadcasting Center 51.82
2 Al Arabiya Middle East Broadcasting Center 26.98
3 Saudi TV 1 Broadcasting Service of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 17.68
4 MBC 4 Middle East Broadcasting Center 16.16
5 Al Jazeera Qatar Media Corporation 14.18
6 MBC 2 Middle East Broadcasting Center 13.16
7 Rotana Cinema Rotana Group 12
8 MBC Drama Middle East Broadcasting Center 11.99
9 Dubai TV Dubai Media Incorporated 11.89
10 Rotana Khalijiah Rotana Group 9.19

List of channels

See also


  1. ^ The Report: Saudi Arabia 2008. Oxford Business Group. p. 173. 
  2. ^ a b "Saudi Arabia profile - Media". BBC News. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Arab Media Outlook 2011-2015". 2012. pp. 159–161. 
  4. ^ Cordesman, Anthony H. Saudi Arabia enters the 21st century. 
  5. ^ a b Vitalis, Robert (2007). America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier. Stanford University Press. p. 183.  
  6. ^ a b c Boyd, Douglas A. (Winter 1970–71). "Saudi Arabian Television". Journal of Broadcasting 15 (1). 
  7. ^ a b c "Saudi Time Bomb?". Frontline PBS. 
  8. ^ "A Chronology - The House Of Saud". Frontline PBS. 
  9. ^ R. Hrair Dekmejian (1995). Islam in Revolution: Fundamentalism in the Arab World. Syracuse University Press. p. 133.  
  10. ^  
  11. ^ Shoult, Anthony (2006). Doing Business with Saudi Arabia. p. 279. 
  12. ^ a b c d e Long, David E. (2005). Culture And Customs Of Saudi Arabia. pp. 89–90. 
  13. ^ Lacey, Robert. "17". Inside the Kingdom. p. 144. 
  14. ^ Andrew Hammond (2007-05-30). Popular Culture in the Arab World: Arts, Politics, and the Media. American University in Cairo Press. p. 226.  
  15. ^ a b c "Arab Media Outlook 2009 - 2013". p. 105. 
  16. ^ "Al Jazeera Arabic (AJA) Facts and Figures, Saudi Arabia 2011". Ipsos, Saudi Tlm September 2011. p. 8. 
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