Christopher O’Hearn

Whether you’re a Top 50 or Top 500 company, if you’re working in broadcast media in the Middle East you are being held back.

You may not even know it but there is no doubt that lack of effective, internationally recognized audience measurement is a major factor in the relatively small size of the MENA TV market, and that means less money going around for everyone – broadcasters, production companies, technology vendors and agencies.

So could 2015 be the year this all changes? Predictions are dangerous but there are signs that we could finally be reaching the goal.

First, because the international auditors appointed by the industry to examine the UAE system, tview, recommended at the end of 2014 that the industry starts to use the people meter data in preparation for a full transition. It still needs improvement but they’ve seen the trends and have confidence in the transparent process set up to improve the system.

It’s like being on a bus – when it’s passed the previous stop and is heading down your street, you don’t sit there questioning whether it will go to your stop or not. And you don’t wait until the doors are open before you get up.

The next piece of supporting evidence is Saudi Arabia. The parallel project in KSA is well underway and on track to be producing electronic data by Ramadan 2015. This will truly change the game.

At the moment, however good the UAE data, a planner or researcher has to look at recall data from other markets, notably KSA – they have one orange and a basket of apples. When they can look at electronic measurement from both KSA and UAE there will be enough to make orange juice and the balance will have shifted.

The weak point is still Egypt, the third big market in MENA TV. Some key players there have clearly been dissatisfied with the current system but they’ve focused on the operator not the methodology. At the time of writing they are looking at introducing a second CATI system.

The expression “Shooting the messenger” comes to mind. But having two conflicting messages is no better than one message you don’t like. It will not add to clarity, quite the opposite.

The problem for Egypt is that the market value is low compared to the population so the relative cost of running an electronic measurement system is high.

The risk however is that if KSA and UAE have data which starts to divert money into those markets the situation in Egypt will get worse. Now is the time for them to work towards an electronic system, and they are probably the market which stands most to gain if they can absorb the risk of the initial investment.

However the pressure is clearly building, and looking a little further down the line to 2016-17 once there is a critical mass of audience measurement in key markets, the others like Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain will have to follow very quickly in order to continue attracting advertising.

Less Spillover

The reason the other markets will follow is that there will be a fundamental change in the way advertising and to some extent programing is planned.

Currently everything revolves around KSA but not just because it is the biggest market. With limited information available it’s inevitable that people aim a shotgun at the biggest target and hope they hit something else along the way.

Once more precise data comes from multiple markets there will be a far more targeted approach and we are already seeing the beginnings of this with audiences leading the way.

One of the trends of the past year has been a shift by Emiratis to watch more local content on local channels like Abu Dhabi Media’s Al Emarat and Dubai Media’s Sama Dubai.

In 2014 more than half of the top 20 programs for Emiratis were on local channels with DMI’s seven just edging out ADM’s six and MBC providing the other seven, including three movies.

Compare that to 2013 when the situation was exactly reversed with just seven of the top 20 on local channels, one of which was a big Turkish drama and and none were from ADM Al Emarat.

2014 Program Channel 2013 Program Channel
Shabayet Al Carton Sama Arabs Got Talent (3) MBC4
Al King Wasl Sama Gulf Cup Final Abu Dhabi Sports
Wademah Wa Halemah Sama The Voice (2) MBC1
Ramez Qersh Al Bahr MBC1 Arab Idol (2) MBC1
Habet Raml Al Emarat Shabayet Al Carton (8) Sama
The Voice (2) MBC1 Harem Al Soltan Dubai TV
Taghteya Khasa Dubai TV Freej Sama
Drive Angry MBC2 Tareq We Hayona MBC1
Tamasha (5) Al Emarat Halfat Omri MBC1
Basmet Manal Sama Wi Fi MBC1
Howa Wa Hi Wa Heya MBC1 Ser Al Hawa Dubai TV
Kasr Al Khawater Al Emarat Al Beet Beet Abona MBC1
Rehlet Omr Al Emarat Chatur Singh Two Star Zee Aflam
Wathaaqy Sama Etr Al Gannah MBC1
Hotel For Dogs MBC2 Vacancy MBC Max
Ek Thi Daayan MBC Bollywood Never Back Down MBC Action
Al Hob Soltan Al Emarat Shabayet Al Carton (8) Dubai TV
Thoraya MBC1 Summer 2007 Zee Aflam
Kaas Raees Al Dawla Dubai Sports Harsh Times MBC2
Daket Al Fareg Al Emarat Freej Dubai TV


At the end of the day this is all about the viewers, and it’s encouraging to see that there is the demand for local content if it is supplied.

That will benefit local production but allow more space for competition based on narrower interests and some major advertisers are already noting that there is less spillover in their campaigns.

I’m not going to predict the end of the pan-Arab market but we could be seeing the continued emergence of several competing markets.


Small Data

It’s the availability of detailed information which allows us to focus on smaller targets and defined markets.

Data is a great spotlight when used correctly and in the last year tview has conducted a relatively large survey of more than 1200 homes, with more updates to come in 2015.

The questions cover very specific areas related to television, with some interesting results (note that the figures refer to % of total population, excluding labour camps)

TV Set Ownership

  • 19% of Emirati homes have four or more TV sets
  • 28% of Asian homes have no TV, and 65% have just one
  • For expat Arabs the most common number is one (71%) with another 20% owning two

Pay v Free

  • About 40% of people have free TV only compared to 44% with Pay TV of some kind (the gap is others and those with no TV)
  • 35% have cable TV, made up of 30% Etisalat and 5% du
  • OSN (incl Pehla and TFC) takes around 17% of total population
  • BeIn and Abu Dhabi Sports take around 16 and 18% respectively


  • Laptops and smartphones are the most popular device in households both with 83%
  • 48% said they had a tablet or iPad but only 24% had a desktop computer
  • In terms of viewing, 5% said they exclusively used broadband for viewing TV content.

This last figure is an interesting one, as a question which always comes up in media and at conferences is about the alleged shift to online viewing.

It would be wrong to assume it means 5% of people watching VOD and streaming of local channels. It’s quite possibly expats using the internet to watch TV from their home countries, and therefore something fairly unique to this region.

From the evidence in other markets the online shift and particularly use of You Tube and social media gets far more attention than it deserves in relation to audience share.

In the UK for example one of the most popular shows of the year “I’m A Celebrity…” had nearly half a million tweets in the final episode. That sounds impressive until you realise it had viewing of more than 10 million, and that’s an average. So the equivalent of 10 million people watched the entire program from start to finish, while 500,000 wrote a single 140 character message.

The evidence from this market tends to support the idea that linear live TV is still very dominant and will continue to be.

In Ramadan for example the three top TV shows – all scheduled late at night – had their repeat episodes in an earlier time slot the following day also in the Top 20 programs for the month. That’s despite all of them being available as VOD content for viewers to watch any time they pleased.

There’s no doubt a growing trend towards watching content on other devices but it is still very small.

In the future TV measurement will certainly evolve into video measurement across multiple platforms, but in the next five years there is no need to rush for the metrics. Let’s get the basics right before we take the advanced route.