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Global broadcasters go local with content in Middle East

Channels can charge sizable premium for quality content

Image Credit: AHMED KUTTY/Gulf News
Sky News Arabia’s main studio room. Television’s share of spending among measured mediatypes increased from 44 per cent in 2008 to around 69 per cent in 2012.
Gulf News

Dubai: The battles for the Arab viewers’ time and attention is going to get intense as global broadcasters launch dedicated Arabic language channels and create content. This way, they are taking the fight to entrenched regional satellite TV heavyweights LBC and MBC and across genres, be it in entertainment or news.

The rationale is straight-forward. Arabic programming has higher ad rates compared to other languages, and for the most popular content the tariffs carry a stiff premium.

According to Parc data, ad spend on TV per viewer in the region is still low compared with the rates in the West, and has much to do with the absence of TV meters to track viewer habits.

Even then, television’s share of spending among measured media types increased from 44 per cent in 2008 to around 69 per cent in 2012. “Contrary to popular belief, the monitored TV ad budgets based on rate cards increased more in proportion to the number of new channels in the past three years,” said Shaharyar Umar, marketing director at Parc.

“Since 2009, total TV advertisement time [minutes] across the region was up by around 56 per cent whereas total advertising – in dollars - nearly doubled.”

Better quality

There is more to come and advertisers better be forewarned.

“Pan Arab TV is likely to see some [ad rate] inflation due to two reasons — one is that better quality of programming of new TV productions has spruced up demand from advertisers and, two, the channels have also rationalised the commercial airtime to keep clutter under check,” said Kumar Ramamurthy, the channel strategy director for Middle East and North Africa at the media buying firm MEC.

“Ultimately, the media rates are a function of the audience they deliver and the advertiser demand.”

This was the prompt for India’s Zee TV to launch two Arabic channels back-to-back and upgrade some of its channels to HD broadcast. Earlier, it had acquired a stake in Ten Sports.

Of the recent launches, that of Sky News Arabia is also notable. For a new news channel to try and break into a category where Al Jazeera and the channels from LBC and MBC have committed followings takes some doing.

But the launch signifies a latent intent by News Corp to develop its interests further beyond the Star bouquet of Indian language content.

“Let’s not forget that some 60 per cent of the Arab world’s population is below the age of 30 – these are the viewers of the future and both Sky News Arabia’s style and our integration of technology and multimedia is going to be particularly attractive to this younger group,” said Tony Donovan of Sky News Arabia.

But another international newscaster is holding the line on committing towards a dedicated Arabic channel.

“CNN currently has no plans in what is now a very crowded marketplace,” said Phil O’Sullivan of CNN International. “While we wouldn’t rule out launching an Arabic TV channel, we would need the right editorial and commercial rationale — as well as clear consumer demand and a gap in the market — before we would enter that space. It will certainly be interesting to watch how the market develops over the next 12 months.”