Online gains ground in Middle East

20 July 2010

DUBAI: An increasing number of young consumers in the Middle East now spend more time on the web than watching television, according to new research.

Effective Measure, the survey firm, conducted a poll of 2,587 people in the region in order to establish which media channels commanded their attention most often.

The majority of contributors were under the age of 30 years old, male, relatively affluent, and employed in white collar professions.

Overall, 88% of the panel logged on to the net on a daily basis, falling to 70% for those who viewed broadcast content on television with the same frequency.

Similarly, while 51% of respondents spent over three hours a day using the internet, this figure stood at 25% for participants that devoted a corresponding period to TV.

"The amount of time spent online compared with other mediums was surprising," Brendon Ogilvy, vice president of digital insights at Effective Measure, said.

However, he also argued that although the sample featured in the study “have a preference” for surfing the net, this was unlikely to cause a substantial shift in marketing budgets in the near future.

"It doesn't necessarily mean the internet is more attractive to advertisers. It should just be seen as another medium," he said.

One reason for this is the web's modest reach, standing at 38.1% in Saudi Arabia, the most densely populated country in the area, and 20% in Egypt.

Ian Sanders, lead partner for telecoms, media and technology at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the consultancy, suggested the online audience was small but "quite active".

"The generation that's spending a lot of time online and on social networking sites are tending to spend less time watching TV.

"And if they want to watch TV, they do so via non-linear sites like YouTube. This is an indication of what the future holds. You'll see online adspend increasing."

Currently, the internet only takes between 1% and 2% share of advertising expenditure in the Middle East and North Africa, with television very much the dominant medium.

However, while broadcasters such as MBC Group are expanding their digital offerings, most are confident that TV will retain its leading role over the short-to-medium term.

"TV penetration is 95% across the MENA region," said Mazen Hayek, director of public relations and commercial for MBC Group.

"TV remains the primary and dominant source of entertainment in the Middle East and North Africa by far."

Data sourced from The National; additional content by Warc staff