Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Having been preceded by radio by approximately 50 years, Saudi television has long worked to transmit its bulletins, news and programs according to a traditional technical and media system despite the passing of many years and numerous technical, media-related and social variables; as a result Saudi television production has failed to witness subsequent development. Nevertheless, in recent years Saudi television has decided to abandon its old “look” in favour of a new one aiming at making Saudi television a significant player in the field and pushing it to keep up with the developments that are taking place around it, as well as to face the challenges imposed by the conditions of today’s media.
After having witnessed a radical change within the state-owned Saudi television channels, it was evident that Saudi television had experienced and achieved the “biggest modernization process” of its long history starting with its external décor that until recently took on a more traditional look that failed to keep pace with the modern developments of the broadcasting world. Television studios have clearly benefited from the new look and new apparatus has been introduced at the Saudi television channels such as camera cranes for example. This modernization process also looked at the need for newsreaders to use different gestures and expressions in accordance with the nature of the news that is being conveyed and in accordance with the methods of modern directing and shooting.
After the transition, the news bulletins of Saudi television transmit live images of the Saudi capital Riyadh. Behind the news presenters, one can see some of the country’s most prominent landmarks such as the Mamlaka and Faisaliah towers.
The importance behind the modernization of Saudi television is due to the fact that it is the “first” of its kind aiming to attract a higher level of viewership since audiences have been demanding such renewal for years.
Via its four channels, Saudi television will present progressive content and various materials through news bulletins, talk shows as well as interactive and entertainment programs in a contemporary form that corresponds with the interests and tastes of the audience.
The committee for television development will monitor this progress closely on a continuous basis so as to examine the variables that have taken place during and after the period of change and their impact upon other television channels so that further modifications and development in the upcoming period could take place. Despite the remarkable changes that have come to pass at Saudi television over the past month, more adjustments are yet to come. Over the next few months, Saudi television will undergo two phases of development that will include new programming as well as modern technical advancements as part of a comprehensive development plan drafted by a specialized committee within the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information. As part of this project, the Saudi technical team received training that enables it to produce introductions and breaks and to adopt a modern approach for each program. The purpose of all this is to provide the audience with programs that are suitable for the modern era and to compete with other channels at a time when these channels have become increasingly reliant upon their news correspondents.
Over the past few decades, Saudi television has experienced several milestones for example the introduction of colour broadcasting and the new digital system that was launched last year by Saudi Arabia that replaced the analogue system which has been used for decades; in turn, this led to radical changes experienced by the four Saudi channels over the recent period which included the changing of logos and technical systems.
The timing in which the transformation of the Saudi channels was made public is very important. In this regard, Dr Sulayman al Aidy, undersecretary at the Ministry of Culture and Information and assistant for television affairs stated that the modernization of the four Saudi channels “was launched in correlation with a major religious event, namely, the Hajj pilgrimage and the arrival of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.”
Al Aidy explained that the new transformation did not take place overnight and was in fact part of a thorough plan that he had been working on for a long time. He added, “The new development had been announced almost a year ago, and it was previously stated that this development would take place in a number of stages and that viewers would see a noticeable development.”
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that following the main transformation, a second stage will begin within the next month and will include the launch of over ten new entertainment, social and political programs. He pointed out that there will be a third development stage that will be dedicated to the Saudi news channel al Ikhbariya whereby news bulletins would undergo modernization and the content of programs would be lightened. There will also be more talk shows that focus on current affairs.
Al Aidy noted that new programs would include one entitled, “Television Theatre” [Masrah al Television] in which the audience can take part and that will be broadcast from the King Fahd Cultural Center in Riyadh. He stated that there is another program called “Mowahib” [Talents] that is concerned with discovering talent in addition to programs that will broadcast evening performances and competitions.
Asked about the comprehensive development project of Saudi television, Mohammed Qazaz, a senior official at Saudi television and an adviser at the Ministry of Culture and Information stated that Saudi television that was launched in 1965 has taken several steps to develop and to keep up with the modern era. He said, “However, with the beginning of satellite transmission and the strong presence of commercial satellite channels, Saudi television could not keep up with satellite transmission for numerous reasons. Satellite channels had approved huge budgets for their television programs and spent open-handedly on their programs amidst fierce competition that led to moral and social compromises and this is completely rejected at Saudi television.”
Qazaz stated that after more than 15 years of this kind of competition, the Arab viewer in general and the Saudi viewer in particular is keen to return to originality. He said: “There is a lack of nationalist and educational elements on other channels. This means that viewers are now more ready to receive Saudi television and more accepting of it. Therefore, the timing is favourable and vital for the re-launch of the Saudi television network with the use of the latest technologies in order to compete with other channels that had occupied the top spot for years.”
Asked whether change and development will also affect the content of Saudi television, Qazaz stated that the content broadcast by Saudi television has always been characterized by its excellent quality. However, he added that the way in which it is presented on screen lacks appeal and fails to attract viewers and encourage them to watch various programs on Saudi television. He pointed out that as part of the development project they are keen to maintain the standard of the content and to present such content in a modern and appealing manner that would utilise modern technology and apparatus that were not previously available at Saudi television.
The History of Saudi Television:
The commencement of television in Saudi Arabia was announced in 1962 when the Crown Prince Faisal Bin Abdul-Aziz (also then Prime Minister) delivered a ministerial statement declaring the government’s intention to introduce television broadcasting in Saudi Arabia within the ethical framework of Saudi society which is based on the Holy Quran and the Prophet’s traditions. In 1963, the Saudi cabinet approved the establishment of television in Saudi Arabia in two phases; the first phase was the construction of two temporary stations in Riyadh and Jeddah. The second stage included the establishment of an integrated television system on a more advanced basis.
In 1965, official broadcasting of the Saudi television Channel 1 began from Riyadh and Jeddah in black and white. Colour broadcasting was introduced in 1976.
In 1967, Al Qassim Television station was launched. In 1968, another television station was launched in Medina and in 1969, Dammam Television channel was established. In 1977, Abha Television was launched.
In 1983, Channel 2 was first broadcast. In 2003, the third Saudi channel was launched specialising in sports. In 2004, the Saudi al Ikhbariya news channel went on air.