Saudi Arabian advertising wars go viral as broadcasters up their game for Ramadan

1 / 2
Khulud Abu Homos, executive VP – programme and creative services, OSN. (Supplied)
2 / 2
Updated 07 May 2018

Saudi Arabian advertising wars go viral as broadcasters up their game for Ramadan

  • Advertising pundits in the Middle East are hoping that the month of Ramadan will give a boost to what has so far been a lackluster year for the industry
  • According to a report from Google Think, Ramadan viewership on YouTube over the past three years has increased threefold

LONDON: Advertising pundits in the Middle East are hoping that the month of Ramadan will give a boost to what has so far been a lackluster year for the industry. Overall GCC ad spends have plummeted with an estimated 25 percent regional drop from 2016 to 2017 alone, data from Ipsos Stat showed.
Ramadan has traditionally been peak season for broadcasters, but a volatile regional economy, the introduction of VAT levies and a rise in digital consumption have compounded uncertainty in the industry, experts said.
According to a report from Google Think, Ramadan viewership on YouTube over the past three years has increased threefold in comparison to TV, while TV viewership remained flat.
Some major GCC advertisers are not spending on TV at all this Ramadan, which represents a sea change for traditional advertisers. “All in all, TV — especially Arabic TV — will see some ads but this Ramadan marks a significant moment in budgets shifting to digital,” Zaira Lakhpatwala, managing editor, Communicate, told Arab News.
Austyn Allison, editor of Campaign Middle East, said the advertising market is “leveling out.”
“Brands are spreading their budgets more evenly throughout the year, and they are also moving them away from television,” he said.
According to Allison, TV stations are “sitting planning their Ramadan grids right now,” trying not to give too much away to the competition and hoping that their Ramadan shows will catch more audience than their competitors.


 Allison said: “While they (TV stations) wait, they will have their fingers crossed that spend booms like it did five years ago as advertisers discover budgets down the back of the sofa. I suspect though that while there will be a bit of a rise, Ramadan has now ceased to be the month that saves the year.”
Wissam Najjar, regional managing director at media agency OMD, said he has witnessed a “delayed start” in advertising investments this year, with advertisers moving more budgets into the coming months, “particularly to focus on Ramadan and the FIFA World Cup, in which the highest number of Arab teams are competing at the same time.”
Najjar told Arab News: “Following the introduction of new taxes such as VAT, there has been a slow start to the year in Q1 and Q2. That said, Egypt has experienced a better beginning to 2018 than Gulf countries and there is better economic news on the horizon with rising oil prices. In Saudi Arabia specifically, the mood is lifting thanks to the reforms and the busy entertainment calendar. The expansionary budget will also boost both optimism and consumption.”
Najjar added: “This Ramadan will see the launch of a new TV channel, SBC. Together with other leading channels, such as MBC and some of the Egyptian stations, they will have an interesting line-up of programs to entertain audiences during Ramadan. We hope Ramadan will act as a turning point this year, marking the beginning of the upward trend in investments.”
Khulud Abu Homos, CEO of Dubai-based content and media agency Arab Format Lab, is also hoping this year’s Ramadan period will act as a “light at the end of the tunnel” for the industry.
“Call me an optimist, but I strongly believe that the market is going up from here. For the first time in three years of cuts in advertising budgets, I believe that this Ramadan will see a rise in spending. Saudi Arabia, and the UAE in particular, will be spending substantially on campaigns that explain the changes their governments are making in their interactions with citizens. Also, I believe that YouTube viewership and advertising will play a much bigger role this Ramadan,” Abu Homos told Arab News.
As the Holy Month approaches, competition between rival broadcasters is heating up.

The teaser campaign for a new Saudi culture channel to be launched for Ramadan has stirred up particular controversy.
The campaign centered on the Arabic word “ghasb,” meaning “force,” which began appearing in April on advertising boards, TV, radio and social media outlets with no further explanation.
It was revealed last month to be all about a new TV channel, SBC, owned by state-owned Saudi Broadcasting Corporation. The key hashtag associated with the channel, due to go live at the start of Ramadan next week, is “Ghasb Tehebaha” which translates as “you’re forced to love it” or “you have to love it.”
Reactions to the campaign on social media were mixed; while some were intrigued by the branding, others were less impressed.
“As for force, the time of coercion is over,” said another.
SBC’s campaign last week prompted a clever response from rival broadcaster Rotana, the Arab world’s largest entertainment company.
A counter advert, promoted earlier this month on Rotana Khaleejia’s official Twitter account, ran with the slogan “Alhob mu Ghasb”, meaning “Love is not Forced.”
“This is the beginning of the war of advertising between Saudi TV and Rotana,” tweeted Dr. Obaid Saad Alabdali, a former university professor and commentator on marketing culture in the Arab world.
“Could this be the beginning of allowing comparative advertising in the Saudi market?”
One of the main figures behind SBC is Dawood Al-Sharian, formerly anchor of the popular MBC show “Al-Thamina.” The show attracted a huge Saudi audience thanks to Al-Sharian’s hard-hitting presenting style, tackling hot-button issues such as unemployment and extremism. He was appointed as head of SBC in November.
SBC’s Ramadan line-up includes “Awalem Khafeya” (Invisible Worlds), starring legendary Egyptian actor Adel Imam, “Bedoon Filter” (Without Filter), starring Saudi actor Abdullah Al-Sadhan, and “Share Chat,” starring Hassan Usseiri, Fayes Al-Malky and Rashid Al-Shamrany.


Middle East Ads

Regional advertising spend fell by a quarter last year.

Al Jazeera Arabic’s long history of anti-Semitism

Updated 21 May 2019

Al Jazeera Arabic’s long history of anti-Semitism

  • Experts: Chairman Hamad bin Thamer to blame as Qatari network comes under fire over ‘Holocaust denial’ video

LONDON: Al Jazeera came under renewed fire last weekend following the airing of a video branded as “Holocaust denial” on Arabic youth channel AJ+, which claimed that Jews exaggerated the scale of the genocide to help establish Israel.
This, however, is not the only incident in which the Qatari-owned news network was seen as being anti-Semitic and promoting such rhetoric. It has, time and again, proven to be a platform for preachers of hate, war and extremism.
Experts told Arab News that hate speech has been the cornerstone of Al Jazeera since its inception, saying the two employees fired for the recent AJ+ Arabic video were mere scapegoats.
If anyone is to blame, experts said, it is the long-term chairman of the Al Jazeera network, Qatari royal Hamad bin Thamer Al-Thani.
“If someone deserves the punishment, it would be him because of the channel’s history under his management,” said veteran journalist Abdellatif El-Menawy, who was until 2011 the head of news at Egypt’s national broadcaster.
El-Menawy said what happened at AJ+ is not surprising given that Al Jazeera’s reputation and history are “based on stirring hatred among people.”


RELATED: Qatari network Al Jazeera slammed over ‘Holocaust denial’ film


He added: “Proof of this is when the channel adopted, at a stage in its history, Osama bin Laden and his extremist speech that divided the world. There are also advocates of terrorism and discrimination who had TV programs for years, such as Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (who calls) for hatred of the other.”
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera English’s former international bureau chief, Mohamed Fahmy, told Arab News that the network’s editorial policy is “just as duplicit(ous) as the foreign policy of the Qatari government, which funds and drives the force of the daily coverage” of the channel. “One day they’re praising the Jewish community on their English-language channel directed at Western viewers, and the next day they’re promoting hate speech against the Jews on their Arabic channels, and allowing preachers like Qatar-based Yusuf Al-Qaradawi to endorse the killing of innocent women and children on Al Jazeera Arabic just because they’re Jews.”
Through his Al Jazeera program “Sharia and Life,” Egyptian cleric Al-Qaradawi issued religious edicts calling for the killing of Jews.
“Take the treacherous Jewish aggressors … They’ve spread too much tyranny and corruption on Earth. Oh God, take this Jewish Zionist band of aggressors and don’t spare a single one of them. Oh God, count their numbers, slay them one by one and spare none,” he said in a Jan. 9, 2009, sermon aired on Al Jazeera Arabic. In another sermon aired on Jan. 29 and 30 that same year, Al-Qaradawi said: “Throughout history, God has imposed upon them (Jews) people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was that of Hitler. What he did to them — even though they exaggerate this issue — he managed to put a limit to what they were doing. This was a divine punishment for them. Next time, God willing, it will be done at the hands of the faithful believers.”
Fahmy is engaged in an ongoing lawsuit against the network for negligence, and he is not the only one to have taken legal action. Shannon High-Bassalik, Al Jazeera America’s former senior vice president for programming and documentaries, sued the defunct US network and its former CEO Ehab Al-Shihabi for violating her civil rights and breaching her contract.




Hamad bin Thamer Al-Thani


Chairman of Al Jazeera Media Network since 1994

Government ties 

Cousin of former Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani


Under Hamad bin Thamer’s tenure, Al Jazeera was seen as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood and imprisoned former Egyptian President Mohammed Al-Mursi. Al Jazeera’s program “Sharia and Life,” with Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, was widely criticized for inciting hatred and anti-Semitism. Al Jazeera also aired “exclusive” Osama bin Laden tapes.


In one clause of the lawsuit, High-Bassalik said: “As ratings failed to live up to the expectations of management, Al Jazeera openly decided to abandon all pretense of neutrality in favor of putting the Arabic viewpoint front and center, openly demanding that programs be aired that criticized countries such as America, Israel and Egypt.”
Employees made inflammatory statements such as “Israelis are like Hitler,” and “anyone who supports Israel should die a fiery death,” the lawsuit claimed. “Rather than discipline these offending employees, the Company brazenly demonstrated its true feelings by terminating the employment of individuals who dared stand up to complain about such blatant discrimination, especially coming from an ostensibly unbiased news organization.”
While there are many examples that give a sense of the anti-Semitic rhetoric that flows through the network’s airwaves, its most recent video led to the suspension of two journalists, with the network’s top bosses washing their hands of the case.
“The video content and accompanying posts were swiftly deleted by AJ+ senior management from all AJ+ pages and accounts on social media, as it contravened the Network’s editorial standards,” a company statement said.
But El-Menawy said: “The decision to stop and punish those who participated in such a documentary is a bluff.” Al Jazeera representatives did not respond when asked by Arab News whether action would be taken against other employees at the network.
US Embassy cables acquired by UK newspaper The Guardian in 2009 prove just how interconnected the Qatari government and Al Jazeera are.
“Al Jazeera, the most watched satellite television station in the Middle East, is heavily subsidized by the Qatari government and has proved itself a useful tool for the station’s political masters … Despite (the government of Qatar’s) protestations to the contrary, Al Jazeera remains one of Qatar’s most valuable political and diplomatic tools,” the cable read.
Fahmy, who is now CEO of the Canada-based Investigative Journal, said: “Unfortunately, it’s a network that’s nothing more than an extension of Qatari intelligence. It’s not a conclusion based only on the content it airs, but mostly on the malicious news-gathering process and irregular and illegal practices behind the scenes, with individuals and terrorist groups — a process that can in no way be affiliated with the noble craft of journalism.”