1992 Dow Jones Report on MBC Plan for UPI

Here's a July 22, 1992, Dow Jones report by Peter Waldman on MBC's plans for UPI:



LONDON -- The Saudi Arabian buyer of United Press International plans to expand the U.S. news service into "boutique" markets, including financial, energy and Arabic news services, said Abdullah Masry, executive board director of Middle East Broadcasting Center Ltd., which acquired UPI last month, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The new UPI, after absorbing some $11 million of technological improvements over the next 18 months, won't aggressively pursue its traditional field of general news, where giant rivals Associated Press and Reuters Holdings PLC dominate the market. Instead, Masry said, UPI, pooling resources with MBC, an Arabic satellite-TV network based in London, will focus on emerging markets in the Mideast, Asia and Latin America, tailoring news services to specializedcustomers such as Arab financiers and oil traders. Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, operates several financial news services, some of them in partnership with AP.

MBC paid about $3.9 million for UPI in a U.S. Bankruptcy Court auction in New York. MBC, which hit the airwaves in Europe, North Africa and the Mideast in September, is owned primarily by Saudi banker Saleh Kamel and Walid Ibrahim, brother-in-law of Saudi King Fahd.

"With our connections in the Arab world, UPI will have a head start in the financial news area," Masry said.

MBC has identified a number of "synergies" between its TV network and UPI, Masry said. The most obvious is spare time on the two satellite transponders that MBC leases 24 hours a day but uses less than half that time. Currently, UPI transmits mostly over land-based lines, Masry said, which are slower and more prone to interference.

MBC also wants to defray news gathering costs and create new products by combining its TV and print operations.

The first step, said Masry, is to establish credibility.

Though Washington-based UPI has an 85-year track record, its new owners know that many news executives are leery of its Saudi ties. To allay fears of a hidden Arab agenda, MBC is mounting a public-relations campaign in the U.S., stressing its commitment to objective journalism. UPI, has only about 100 newspaper clients now, down from about 5,000 at its height.

To boost its image, MBC is trying to woo non-Saudi investors to the closely held company and is searching for a prominent American executive to run UPI.