It is estimated that more than 30 million people watch the Farsi1 channel at peak times. Behrouz Mehri / AFP

News Corp plans to launch two Farsi-language satellite TV stations through a joint venture with a regional media company based in Dubai.

Rupert Murdoch's media empire already has a stake in the Farsi1 television station, and aims to launch two additional channels targeting the Iranian market in the next few months.

The two new channels will be operated by Broadcast Middle East (BME), a joint venture between Mr Murdoch's News Corp and Moby Group, a media company with operations in Dubai and Afghanistan.

BME launched the Farsi1 channel in 2009 and this month plans to launch the first of the two additional Farsi-language channels. The station is called Zemzemeh - Farsi for "whisper".

"That's happening on the 9th of July," said Zaid Mohseni, the chief executive of BME. "The second channel is going to be a little more female-skewed than the first channel."

The family-focused channel will feature shows from the US, Europe, South America and South Korea dubbed into Farsi. The shows to be aired include the reality TV programme Project Runway and the Spanish-language telenovela La Reina del Sur (The Queen of the South), both from the US.

BME, which is based at Dubai Studio City, plans to launch another channel after Ramadan, bringing the total number of stations it operates to three.

Mr Mohseni said the third station would be a Farsi-language version of a well-known TV station operated by another unit of News Corp.

"It's an internationally recognised brand … targeting more of a male demographic. We're thinking [of launching it] before mid-September, subject to making sure that, technically, everything is available," he said.

Like Farsi1, the two new stations will be free-to-air, with revenue derived from advertising.

"We're targeting all the Farsi-speaking geographical areas. The biggest is Iran, followed by Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and the UAE. These are some of the biggest markets we've got," said Mr Mohseni.

Satellite TV is illegal in Iran, so it is difficult to obtain accurate viewership figures from that market.

However, Mr Mohseni said that up to 30 million people watch the Farsi1 channel at peak times.

"These are our guesstimates, based on surveys that we've done online," he said.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the popularity of the Farsi1 station, the channel has prompted some criticism from Iranian authorities, including concerns about the content, although BME censors the programming.

Mr Mohseni said the company had no physical presence in Iran and "probably wouldn't be allowed to" by authorities there.

"Once we had this mass viewership, we did get some criticism, and I think partly because the government for the first time was getting real competition," he said. "There was evidence that there were more people watching satellite than the local channels for the first time in the history of that country, and that may have led them to lash out."

US government sanctions against Iran do not directly affect BME, because the company has an exemption to deal with Iranians, Mr Mohseni said.

The Eutelsat W3A satellite, which broadcasts the Farsi1 station, will transmit the two new stations, beaming them across Iran and other parts of Asia, as well as Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

"The Farsi-speaking community is 110 million-plus, so it's a reasonably sized market," said Mr Mohseni.

Ben Flanagan
Jul 4, 2011