DUBAI: Media monitoring firms and ad agencies are at odds about advertising expenditure levels in the Middle East, as political instability and current measurement models throw estimates into doubt.

According to the latest figures from the Pan Arab Research Center (PARC), the insights provider, the Arab advertising market expanded by 4% last year to reach a value of $14.3bn.

PARC, as is the case for international companies like Nielsen, uses ratecard data, and thus does not take into account the discounts offered by media owners to advertising clients.

Ipsos MediaCT, another research group, suggested adspend in the Middle East and North Africa hit $17bn in 2011. Although this constituted a 9.5% lift on 2010, the addition of new channels drove such a trend.

"In some markets we have added a lot of new media that were not monitored in the previous year," Elie Aoun, Ipsos MediaCT's president, Middle East, Africa and Pakistan, told the National. "Overall, I would say that it's kept the same level of expenditure."

However, Eddie Moutran, CEO, Middle East and North Africa for Memac Ogilvy, the agency network, reported adspend in Arab markets may actually have been in the $3.5bn to $4bn range in 2011.

"There has been a drop of anywhere between 10% and 17%. Some companies don't like to invest in a volatile environment," he said.

"What you see is not what you pay for. In a market like this, negotiations become a lot more acute than before. So people get a lot more benefits for their dollars than in previous years."

Similarly, Elie Khouri, CEO of Omnicom Media Group for the Middle East and North Africa, argued the region had experienced a double-digit contraction compared with 2010.

"We see in 2011 a market that has shrunk, not expanded," he said. "We estimate that it has dropped by an average of 10%."

Elie Haber, managing director of Mindshare in the UAE, also pegged the decline at a minimum of 10%. "In Egypt, the Arab Spring is not over yet; Bahrain has a major impact on Saudi Arabia, where investors put on hold all their investments," he said.

Sami Raffoul, PARC's founder, said calculations such as $3.5bn clearly "contradict the magnitude of investments", adding: "We have been reporting the figures every single day since June 1976 using a methodology that is applied worldwide."

Data sourced from The National; additional content by Warc staff