Market Insight

Middle East broadcasters gear up for Ramadan

July 11, 2013

Constantinos Papavassilopoulos Constantinos Papavassilopoulos Principal Research Analyst, Service Providers & Platforms
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Dubai Media Incorporated (DMI) is re-vamping its online services in an effort to take advantage of the media-consumption habits of the Arab population during the holy month of Ramadan (July 10 - August 8, 2013). DMI, the Dubai Government-owned broadcaster, is launching a new portal which gives access to all DMI channels and radio stations. The portal provides catch-up TV services and includes an EPG for all DMI channels, plus it provides an overview of all Ramadan shows and TV series to be aired by the broadcaster. Furthermore, it contains electronic applications made to allow users to interact with the service and help them to upload media materials. DMI also is re-launching its VoD service with a new interface offering around 16,000 videos. The VoD service is accessible also through iPads and smartphones.

Discovery Networks' recently acquired Fatafeat food channel has launched four new programmes starting from the 24th June 2013. The channel, which was formerly owned by Takhayal Entertainment and currently forms Discovery's first investment in the MENA region, has produced four new shows (Houriat Al Matbakh, Matbakhna Al Arabi, 100 Lahma and Wala Bil Ahlam) exclusively for Ramadan. All shows revolve around Arabic cuisine recipes and gastronomic propositions being delivered by a selected team of well-known chefs.

Oman TV satellite channel will air a 3D animated show aimed at children for this year's Ramadan. The show is a production of the Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Sultanate of Oman and will comprise 15 30-minutes episodes. The TV program, which will be broadcasted entirely in Arabic, will utilize a quiz format in order to teach the children "good religious behaviour, morals and values".

The month of Ramadan constitutes one of the most important holidays for all those practising the Islamic religion. Although the link of Ramadan with fasting is well documented, its link with television is less known. Yet this month is perhaps the most important season for television broadcasting in practically all of the Arab States in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Traditionally, the average Arab family used to fast from dawn to sunset and in the evenings to gather around the table for dinner with the main TV set on. The consumption of TV content during Ramadan is among the highest, if not the highest, in MENA. Reports from the UAE indicated that in 2012 the average Emirati TV viewer spent five hours and 12 minutes a day watching television, a figure which was nine per cent higher than the previous year (2011). UAE is the only MENA country where a TV audience measurement system, tview, has been established just a few months before last year's Ramadan. Its findings were rather impressive: the viewers in the Emirates watched TV for an average of six hours and nine minutes a day during the first ten days of Ramadan. That figure was 32 minutes above the average for the first six months of 2012. Unfortunately, the absence of TV ratings systems in the majority of MENA countries is denying from the market players, and primarily broadcasters and advertisers, the most valuable quantitative and qualitative tool for measuring the effectiveness of advertising messages.

Advertising revenues also grow during Ramadan. It is not uncommon for the big FTA commercial channels to earn around 20 to 30 per cent of their total annual advertising revenues during the 30 days of Ramadan. It has been reported in the Arab Media that MBC1, the flagship general entertainment channel of the MBC Group and the most popular channel among the Arab public in general, generates about 25 per cent of its annual revenues during this period. IHS MENA Intelligence indicates that Al-Nahar TV in Egypt (one of the biggest free broadcasters in the country which operates five satellite channels, four of them in HD) generates around 25 per cent of its annual advertising budget during the holy month. The broadcasters tend to inflate the advertising rates during this period as a strategy of generating more revenues and it has been reported that ad rates can increase up to 150 per cent, depending, of course, on how popular a channel or a special programme is.           

Broadcasters know that the safest method for attracting high advertising revenues during Ramadan is through attractive (and hence rather expensive) content. When drafting out their annual budget plans, all major broadcasters, keep for airing during Ramadan the most promising TV programmes. Out of a total of 160 TV drama series produced in Arab countries in 2012, it has been reported that around 60 per cent was created exclusively for Ramadan. Between one fourth and one third (and sometimes even higher) of a broadcaster's programming budget is estimated to be spent for TV shows that will be aired during Ramadan. Easily digestible family-oriented content forms the norm and the most preferable content genre is Arabic Drama, followed by foreign (mostly Turkish) Drama TV series, religious shows, soap operas, comedies, animated series and quiz shows. The average drama TV programme lasts for exactly 30 episodes (so that it fits perfectly the daily scheduling needs of the broadcasters, one episode per each one of the 30 days of the holy month), but lately some producers have extended their shows to 60 episodes so that even the month following Ramadan is adequately covered.

In 2012 MBC1 has invested around 30 per cent of its annual programming budget to broadcast seventeen new shows during Ramadan, some of them produced internally while others commissioned to third party producers. MBC Drama, an MBC channel airing exclusively drama TV series, has transmitted six new programmes during the same period. Abu Dhabi Media Company, an operator which manages FTA as well as encrypted channels in the MENA region, plans to air this year twenty programmes stretching from historical dramas to modern-life comedies and animated children's shows. Pay TV operators have also strong motives to invest for Ramadan: with TV viewing rising during this period, pay TV operators have a two-prone goal. First to reduce churn, which is always higher in the summer season, and second to invest in quality local (Arabic) content as a recipe to establish a closer relationship with their Arabic clientele. OSN, the most diversified of pay TV operators in the region, has created during the last eighteen months three new Arabic-language channels (OSN Ya Hala, OSN Ya Hala Shabab and OSN Ya Hala Arabella) targeting the Arabic youth and offering general entertainment and drama series. In 2012 OSN had broadcast eight new shows exclusively made for Ramadan, four of which were produced internally by the operator. For 2013 OSN is placing its bets on a particularly popular Turkish drama show (Magnificent Century) for which the operator has secured the rights for its third season.

Broadcasters and pay TV operators frequently resort to staging special events (like the actors' parade dressed in 15thCentury Ottoman costumes at Dubai Festival City, organized by OSN to advertise the Turkish show) as well as organizing galas and other ceremonies to unveil to the Media and the TV viewers their exclusive programming for Ramadan. They also tend to advertise their Ramadan offers by running broadcasting promos on their channels from as early as May.

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