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Is i24 News prepared for Israel’s saturated news market?

2 min

Israelis looking for a nightly news broadcast now have a whopping five different options, following the launch of the i24 Hebrew news network earlier this week. 

Patrick Drahi © FTG

Israelis looking for a nightly news broadcast now have a whopping five different options, following the launch of the i24 Hebrew news network earlier this week. 

Even for the news-hungry Israeli population, the market is tightly packed, as the network joins a crowded lineup, competing against the powerful mainstay Channel 12, the floundering Channel 13, the publicly funded Channel 11 (Kan), and the right-wing firebrand Channel 14.

But neither the tough competition – nor Israeli legal restrictions – appear to be dissuading the decade-old network from setting its sights on the local market with the launch of its 24/7 Hebrew news channel on Sunday night.

i24 has declared that it serves no political agenda, although observers have opined that it is looking to fit a right-wing but less fiery mold than Channel 14 — and to fill the void left when that channel goes off the air for Shabbat. Oren Persico, a reporter with the left-leaning media watchdog site The Seventh Eye, suggested that the backers of the network are not necessarily interested in commercial success.

“In terms of if there is room in the commercial media landscape, the answer is no,” said Persico, noting that not all the current three commercial channels “are able even now to support themselves. But that’s not the motive of the owners of the TV networks in Israel; they didn’t enter the market in order to make money through their media outlets.”

The Financial Strain on i24 News

So what exactly is motivating i24 owner French-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi? While the network will operate 24/7, including over Shabbat, its reach is still significantly limited due to a law that its owner has been working for years to circumvent — a development that may now be closer than ever.

i24 News has never been profitable. The losses are significant, and Patrick Drahi is in a difficult situation with $60 billion in debt. Creditors are starting to lose patience. The drastic reduction in original programming on French, English, and Arabic channels is linked to these budgetary issues.

Ahead of the launch of its 24/7 Hebrew-language channel, i24 laid off or cut back the roles of a number of journalists working on the English, French, and Arabic broadcasts. In a statement, CEO Frank Melloul denied rumors that the other language channels would be shutting down, but admitted that until 5 p.m. each day, the French, English, and Arabic networks would instead broadcast the Hebrew version of i24 with planned AI-provided translations.

For now, this AI translation system is a disaster. Viewers are desperately trying to understand, but it's impossible. A technological failure.

With his Hebrew channel, Drahi hopes to attract some advertising revenue. However, industry experts in Israel doubt the project's viability. The network appears to be gambling that the reform promised by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi – to ease the requirements for a news broadcast license – will move ahead.

© TOI and Mena Today 

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