Media giants target Middle East

22 December 2010

DUBAI: Media owners like Viacom and BSkyB are enhancing their presence in the Middle East, which is seen as a key growth market for the TV industry.

Viacom's MTV Networks is active in this area through its eponymous music and entertainment channel, alongside the Comedy Central and Nickelodeon brands.

MTV has recently outlined plans to unveil a Comedy Central studio in the UAE, allying with TwoFour54, an official body boasting partners including CNN, the BBC and Thomson Reuters.

Elsewhere, it has reached an agreement with pan-Arab broadcaster the MBC Group, meaning the latter firm's MBC3 will show Arabic versions of well-known programmes such as SpongeBob SquarePants.

"The Middle East is the last frontier," Bhavneet Singh, MTV's managing director, emerging markets, told the Financial Times. "On a macro level this is a market we have to be in, and will be in."

While MTV Arabia launched in 2007 via a joint venture with the Arab Media Group, Singh believes it will take time to deliver results.

"It's been a reasonably successful venture, but not spectacular," he argued.

"We don't just want to stick our content on there and subtitle it in Arabic. We want to build something that will work for the long term."

More broadly, Viacom has collaborated with TwoFour54 to produce greater amounts of material locally.

"The rulers here are long-term thinkers, and see the media industry as important in developing industries for the future, and we want to be participants in it," said Philippe Dauman, Viacom's chief executive.

In a similar move, the Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation and BSkyB will create a free-to-air Arabic-language news station.

The channel will be available across the Middle East and North Africa in 2012, operating under the Sky banner, and carrying an associated website and mobile applications.

"The Middle East and North Africa is a highly attractive region for media investment and Abu Dhabi is an excellent location from which to enter this exciting marketplace," said James Murdoch, BSkyB's chairman.

TV ad revenues hit $1.5bn (€1.1bn; £964m) in the Middle East last year, a study by Value Partners and the Dubai Press Club estimated.

In November, Kantar Media was awarded a five-year contract to conduct people meter research in the UAE, the first such scheme in the country.

It will track the habits of 800 households, having been authorised to undertake this work by the UAE's National Media Council.

AT Kearney, the consultancy, reported in June that average per capita TV ad expenditure stands at $7 in Arab nations, compared with $71 in Germany, $113 in the UK and $229 in the US.

However, it suggested the introduction of systems capable of determining viewing levels in the region would drive up returns by $2bn over the period to 2015.

"Robust audience measurement is important for the media sector as a whole," Dr Martin Fabel, a consultant at AT Kearney Middle East, said.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff