Digital advertising is more common in the region than reported by major tracking agencies but it is still a small portion of total advertising revenues compared to many other parts of the world, according to a new survey. Picture used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: The Gulf’s advertisers might have been relatively slow on the uptake in realising the potential of web-based advertising. Doesn’t matter, because they seem to be doing quite well on social media. There are multiple reasons for their fast-track approach.

A new survey — titled “Media Industries in the Middle East, 2016 Report” — finds that of the Top 100 pages on Facebook (based on the number of fans), 23 are Arabic content generated from within the Mena (Middle East and North Africa) territory. Of the Top 100 Twitter profiles (again based on the number of followers), nine are from the region, which is repeated in the case of the Top 100 YouTube channels.

“Compared to the total population of Arabic speakers, there is a disproportionately low number of Arabic language websites, but a disproportionately high number of the world’s top Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and YouTube channels in Arabic,” states the report authored by a team from Northwestern University in Qatar and Doha Film Institute.

“According to extensive industry interviews, digital advertising is more common in the region than reported by major tracking agencies, but is still a small portion of total advertising revenues compared to many other parts of the world.”

And social is what seems to be driving much of the web-based ad placements in these markets. From a narrow base of 3 per cent back in 2010 (out of an overall billings of $5.1 billion [Dh18.7 billion] across all platforms), digital has grown to claim 10 per cent in 2015 of Mena’s spend of $5.55 billion in ad dollars, according to Northwestern University data. (During the same period, newspapers’ share was clipped from 45 per cent to 32 per cent, while that on television ranged between 37-43 per cent.)

“There was a sharp rise in the number of TV channels available in the region in the years after 2012, while advertising revenues have remained relatively flat,” states the report. “More non-scripted shows are appearing on the major channel line-ups, and more of those are made in Arab countries.”

For newspaper and magazine publishers, the report does provide some silver linings. While ad-related revenues dropped by a fifth since 2010, “Circulation has remained fairly stable... [while] newspapers still claim a substantial share of overall ad spend in national markets, benefitting from their well-defined national distribution areas,” the report notes.

In the case of magazines too, whereas ad revenues are down 25 per cent between 2010-15, the “overall circulation has remained steady”. But in their case, 90 per cent of revenues for regional magazines are derived from ads, while it is only a third in the US. So, any weakening in consumer activity within a market could have outsized consequences for regional magazine publishers.