DUBAI: The introduction of more precise media measurement tools will be essential to fuelling advertising growth in the Middle East, industry experts have argued.

According to Ipsos MediaCT, regional expenditure reached $15.3bn (€11.8bn; £9.8bn) in 2010, while the Pan-Arab Research Center pegged local outlay at $13.7bn.

However, Eddie Moutran, chief executive of WPP Group's Memac Ogily, believes these assessments are highly erroneous.

"I doubt if there's anyone who takes those numbers exactly as they are. Nobody in his right mind is going to look at those numbers and build a huge organisation to cater for it," he told The National.

"You can't just take the numbers and say we have a $10bn or $15bn industry - because we don't. I'd estimate that the real number for total ad spending in the MENA region is between $3.5bn and $4bn."

One major contributor encouraging such disparity is the use of ratecard figures which do not include discounts or incentives given to agencies.

Ali Jaber, of the American University of Dubai and a consultant for Dubai Media Incorporated, boasting brands like Dubai TV and the Al Bayab newspaper, agreed this was a core obstacle.

"The figure of $13.7bn is ridiculously inaccurate and based on silly accounting of ads," he said. "This is largely misleading and has been the source of the industry['s] predicament since the outset.

"Media can never grow in the Arab world as long as false, misleading numbers and lack of transparency continue to prevail."

Abu Dhabi Media Company, which runs six TV channels, produces five print titles and operates five radio stations, is also keen for metrics to improve.

"The numbers are inflated. I'd urge PARC and Ipsos to have a better look at the market. Before publishing those numbers you should have a greater sense of the market size," said Raja Halabi, executive director of the firm's commercial arm.

Sami Raffoul, PARC's general manager, suggested a "lack of cooperation" among media owners – particularly in the online and radio sectors – was hampering progress.

Elie Aoun, managing director for Ipsos MediaCT, similarly posited that problems are often a result of vested interests.

"Our figures are showing a total of $15.3bn for 2010 compared to $12.1bn in 2009," he stated. "It should be around $6bn to $7bn … For sure, it is less than half.

"The problem is coming from a lack of transparency from media, agencies and advertisers.

"They all want to report growth figures … Everyone wants to have those inflated figures. They want to show that they are getting more revenues."

An alternative spending projection issued by the Dubai Press Club and Value Partners last year forecast regional returns would hit $6.3bn in 2013.

Consultancy AT Kearney also asserted that rolling out enhanced TV audience measurement systems could drive up expenditure levels by $2bn.

Data sourced from The National; additional content by Warc staff