Major issues face TV ad industry in Middle East

12 August 2010

DUBAI: Television remains the dominant advertising channel in the Middle East, but must overcome concerns about transparency and accountability.

According to the Pan Arab Research Center, ad expenditure in the region doubled from $5.5bn (£3.5bn; €4.2bn) to $11bn between 2005 and 2009, as TV revenues almost tripled to $5.9bn.

The medium was also the main driver of growth last year, when total media budgets rose by just $1bn, while television recorded an uptick of $1.5bn, gaining share as a result.

PARC suggested that the introduction of a wide variety of free-to-air stations and niche networks in the recent past both encouraged this trend.

At present, pan-Arab spending takes a 78% of TV income, compared with 72% in 2005, and is responsible for 42.6% of all expenditure in the Middle East, an increase on the level of 33.4% posted in 2008.

Brand owners proved particularly keen to exploit the advantages of reaching several markets simultaneously during the downturn, although longer-term trends have promoted this shift.

"Television viewership in the region is significantly affected by major political events, world sports and scheduled occurrences like school holidays and Ramadan," said M Shaharyar Umar, a PARC analyst.

"Even when taking these out of consideration, the public are spending more time on TV than ever before."

In evidence of this, the average viewing time in Saudi Arabia climbed by 50 minutes, to nearly 300 minutes, from 2005 to 2009.

One obstacle to further progress is the lack of meaningful audience measurement systems in most countries, with a number of high-profile efforts now underway to change this situation.

AT Kearney, the consultancy, has estimated that the successful launch of reliable peoplemeters and other similar tools could boost demand by $2bn.

Booz & Co. has also argued the absence of accurate figures led media groups to regularly outsource their sales operations, which is having a negative impact on the industry.

"Selling in the Middle East is not as simple as selling in the US: there are no peoplemeters here and that's why people don't do [ad sales] in-house," said Jayant Bhargava, a principal at the firm.

Operating a dedicated team to manage these activities typically swallows around 5% of ad returns, but the addition of "middlemen" has actually been much less cost-effective.

"A good proportion of the TV adspend is controlled by media representatives – certainly more than 70%," said Bhargava.

"The commission structure in the Middle East ranges from 20% to 40% - it depends on the broadcaster and its negotiations with the media representative.

"There is definitely room for money to be saved, to bring more value back to the bottom line."

Data sourced from Digital Production/The National; additional content by Warc staff