The Korea Herald


Saudi prince invests $300 million in Twitter


Published : Dec. 20, 2011 - 10:33

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) _ Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and his investment company said Monday they are investing a combined $300 million into Twitter, increasing the microblogging site's cash cushion as its user base expands.

Alwaleed's joint investment with his Kingdom Holding Co. follows months of negotiations and will give them a ``strategic stake'' in Twitter, according to the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based investment firm. It wasn't clear how much of Twitter the prince will control.

Alwaleed, a nephew of the Saudi king, ranks 26th on Forbes' list of the world's richest people. He has a history of investing in media and technology companies, and said the deal represents an interest ``in promising, high-growth businesses with a global impact.''

Twitter allows users to send short messages of up to 140 characters. The 5-year-old site has been instrumental in connecting protesters and relaying on-the-ground developments during this year's Arab Spring uprisings.

Globally, the San Francisco-based company has more than 100 million active users who post an average of 250 million messages, or ``tweets,'' a day.

``We believe that social media will fundamentally change the media industry landscape in the coming years,'' Ahmed Halawani, KHC's executive director of private equity and international investments, said in a statement. ``Twitter will capture and monetize this positive trend.''

Twitter spokesman Matt Graves confirmed the investment but was unable to provide further details.

Alwaleed owns 95 percent KHC, which has a major stakes in Citigroup Inc., Apple Inc. and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

His Twitter investment comes as Arab activists from Tunisia to Bahrain have flocked to Twitter to coordinate protests and voice their opposition to long-ruling autocratic regimes.

Arabic is now the fastest growing language on Twitter, according to a study released last month by French social media research firm Semiocast.

Although Arabic tweets account for just over 1 percent of all Twitter messages, their volume has jumped 22 times over the past year, Semiocast said.

``Twitter is growing exponentially, especially in the context of the Middle East,'' said Ismail Patel, who follows digital media in the region for the research firm Informa Telecoms & Media. ``The Middle East is an important region for Twitter. And Twitter is becoming increasingly important for all Middle East residents ... because of the Arab Spring protests.''

Alwaleed is launching a new Arabic news channel that will challenge established players such as Qatar's Al-Jazeera and Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya.

The channel, which will be called Alarab, is expected to begin operations next year and will feature reports from business news service Bloomberg LP. Alwaleed has said he hopes the new network will focus on the shifts taking place across the Arab world, with an emphasis on increased freedom of speech and of the press.

KHC also owns a sizable stake in a Saudi media company that produces the influential Arabic language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat and other publications.

Alwaleed's decision to buy into Twitter likely goes beyond his interest in media and technology.

Said Hirsh, a Mideast economist with Capital Economics in London, said rich Arab investors like Alwaleed have long targeted trophy assets and well established businesses.

``It is ... an investment into a well recognized brand with future growth potential,'' Hirsh said, adding that Twitter investors such as Alwaleed are unlikely to try to influence the user-generated content on the site. ``I ... don't think that there is anything sinister behind it,'' he said.

Twitter recently began rolling out a series of tweaks designed to make the site easier to navigate. The redesign also aims to allow for more detailed information about corporate brands, as Twitter tries to convert more companies into advertisers.

The company earlier this year raised $400 million from venture capitalists and other investors. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said in September that cash cushion would allow the company to control its own destiny _ and for now avoid selling its stock through an initial public offering.

By limiting its shareholders to a small group of private investors, Twitter doesn't have to disclose how much revenue it brings in. The research firm eMarketer estimates Twitter will generate close to $140 million in ad revenue this year and $260 million in 2012.


<한글 기사>

알왈리드 왕자, 트위터 지분 인수

사우디 국왕의 조카로 아랍권의 대표적 억만장자 투자자인 알왈리드 빈-탈랄 왕자가 3억 달러를 투입해 트위터 지분을 인수하는 것으로 19일(현지시간) 나타났다.

포천에 의해 보유 재산이 190억 달러로 전 세계 26번째 부자에 자리매김한 그는 자신 소유 투자회사인 킹덤 홀딩스를 통해 지난 몇 달간 지분 인수 협상을 진행해왔음을 이날 킹덤 성명이 공개했다.

정통한 소식통들은 빈-탈랄이 트위터에 직접 투자하지 않고 유통시장에서 거래 되는 주식을 인수하는 것이라면서 지난 10월 현재 트위터 주식 가치가 80억  달러라 고딕 코스톨로 최고경영자(CEO)가 밝힌 점을 고려할 때 인수하는 지분이 4%를 밑돌 것으로 관측했다.

킹덤 고위 관계자는 로이터에 "투자 수익을 겨냥한 것"이라면서 따라서 이사회 참여 등 경영에 관여하지 않을 것이라고 강조했다.

이 발언은 트위터와 페이스북 등 소셜 네트워크 서비스(SNS)가 '아랍의 봄'으로 불려온 중동 민주화 시위에서 큰 역할을 해온 점을 의식해 나온 것으로 보인다.

일각에서는 사우디도 민주화 시위를 의식해 1천300억 달러가 투입되는 민생 개선 프로젝트를 발표했음을 상기시키면서 국왕의 친척인 빈-탈랄이 트위터 지분을 인수하는데 이런 정치적 배경도 깔렸다는 분석이 나왔다.

뉴스코프 지분 7%를 보유한 빈-탈랄은 케이블 뉴스 채널도 운영할 계획을 하고 있다.

씨티그룹 지분 등도 보유한 그는 아랍의 공정 선거와 고용 창출 필요성을 강조하는 등 평소 개방적인 제스처를 취해왔다.