Advertising lull sees reduced investment in Ramadan TV

Some broadcasters have made significant investments in shows to be broadcast during Ramadan. MBC has made much of ‘Black Crows,' a 30-episode series that dramatizes life under Daesh rule. (MBC Group)
Updated 23 May 2017

Advertising lull sees reduced investment in Ramadan TV

DUBAI: Decreased advertising expenditure due to economic uncertainty has led to reduced investment in TV programming this Ramadan.
In what has traditionally been peak season for broadcasters, the quantity and quality of shows have been impacted by both reduced advertising budgets and changes in consumer behavior, experts say.
Economic downturns in traditional media centers such as Cairo and the ongoing war in Syria, another former production hub, have compounded the issue.
“2017 is another tough year after the drama of 2016,” said Amer El-Hajj, chief investment officer for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at Publicis Media.
“We are forecasting at least a 20 to 25 percent budget drop this year versus last year, and this drop is across all media, with a slowdown in growth in digital. Ramadan budgets will definitely be affected by this drop. It is obvious that not all stations have invested heavily in their programming line-up and content.
“I am expecting clients to focus on main stations/content, and not spread their budget thinly across many programs. In return, stations will show flexibility to clients and show more support during this period.”
Media agency Zenith previously forecast a 9 percent overall drop in advertising spend across the MENA region for 2017, following a 10.1 percent decline in 2016. And because advertising revenues are lower, broadcasters’ investments in content for Ramadan are too.
Importantly, other developments over the past few years have also impacted funding for Ramadan shows. These include a switch from content investment concentrated purely on Ramadan, with big series now appearing throughout the year, meaning market anticipation is lower. Viewing habits have also changed.
“In terms of viewing habits, consumers still enjoy iftar communally but then become much more individualistic in their TV viewing afterward, opting more and more for digital platforms, such as video-on-demand, laptops and mobile devices,” said Saleh Ghazal, business unit director at media agency OMD UAE.
While TV remains important for brands during iftar, digital investments — offering more precision in terms of targeting and messaging — are growing for the rest of the days and nights throughout Ramadan, while brands’ investments in TV are softening.
That does not mean broadcasters have not invested heavily in a number of shows this year. MBC has made much of “Black Crows,” a 30-episode series produced by O3 that dramatizes life under Daesh rule, while MBC Masr is rolling out “The Black Horse,” an action thriller starring Ahmed El-Sakka. Dubai TV is banking on shows such as “Sunset Oasis,” based on the book of the same name by Egyptian novelist Bahaa Taher but arguably the most talked about show is Abu Dhabi TV’s “Orchidea,” a $5 million historical fantasy shot primarily in Romania.
“Ten years ago, Ramadan used to make up 30 to 35 percent of our industry’s budget,” said El-Hajj. “In the past five years, it has not been exceeding 18 percent of the total yearly budget.”
El-Hajj said Ramadan coinciding with summer was one of the major contributors to this drop, following on from the recession of 2008 and the ensuing economic turmoil caused by low oil prices.
“I do not foresee an improvement in the market situation anytime soon,” he added. “The slowdown in our industry might extend for a couple of more years, hence clients and publishers need to get used to it and adapt.”
Some argue that broadcasters do not help themselves, given that even 10 days before the beginning of Ramadan some stations had not even finalized their TV schedules. Many will also not have commissioned, written or purchased some of their shows up until a few months before. This lack of forward-planning impacts a station’s ability to monetize its programming, some argue.
It also impacts a show’s ability to incorporate revenue-producing tools such as product placement, with speakers at the inaugural Discop Dubai in January — a television and film market designed to bring producers and broadcasters together — criticizing broadcasters’ haphazard working practices.
“The planning? There is no planning,” said Khulud Abu Homos, managing director of Arab Format Lab. “How can you do any planning for product placement if everything is done at the eleventh hour? There needs to be a change in the exposure of drama throughout the year and how we write dramas.
“The problem today (as of late January) is that, say, 50 dramas are now being produced for Ramadan. I can bet you that none of them can give you a storyline — a plot — from beginning to end. There is a big issue in the way we are producing. How can you talk about product placement if you don’t have a program to work with?”
“I’ll give you an example,” added Marwan Helayel, managing director of Trivium Media. “Two years ago, we were six weeks away from Ramadan and (the writers of a particular show) had only written seven episodes. That’s it. And those seven episodes were extended to 20. So you watch 20 episodes and nothing happens because it’s a seven-episode script. Imagine me as a brand or a media agency that wanted to involve my brand in that series. It would be killed if my brand was part of a script that was seven episodes stretched into 20.”


Lebanon’s journalists suffer abuse, threats covering unrest

Updated 07 December 2019

Lebanon’s journalists suffer abuse, threats covering unrest

  • The deteriorating situation for journalists in Lebanon comes despite its decades-old reputation for being an island of free press in the Arab world

BEIRUT: Lebanese journalists are facing threats and wide-ranging harassment in their work — including verbal insults and physical attacks, even death threats — while reporting on nearly 50 days of anti-government protests, despite Lebanon’s reputation as a haven for free speech in a troubled region.
Nationwide demonstrations erupted on Oct. 17 over a plunging economy. They quickly grew into calls for sweeping aside Lebanon’s entire ruling elite. Local media outlets — some of which represent the sectarian interests protesters are looking to overthrow — are now largely seen as pro- or anti-protests, with some journalists feeling pressured to leave their workplaces over disagreements about media coverage.
The deteriorating situation for journalists in Lebanon comes despite its decades-old reputation for being an island of free press in the Arab world. Amid Lebanon’s divided politics, media staff have usually had wide range to freely express their opinions, unlike in other countries in the region where the state stifles the media.
The acts of harassment began early in the protests. MTV television reporter Nawal Berry was attacked in central Beirut in the first days of the demonstrations by supporters of the militant group Hezbollah and its allies. They smashed the camera, robbed the microphone she was holding, spat on her and kicked her in the leg.
“How is it possible that a journalist today goes to report and gets subjected to beating and humiliation? Where are we? Lebanon is the country of freedoms and democracy,” Berry said.
Outlets like MTV are widely seen as backing protesters’ demands that Lebanon’s sectarian political system be completely overturned to end decades of corruption and mismanagement.
Rival TV stations and newspapers portray the unrest — which led to the Cabinet’s resignation over a month ago — as playing into the hands of alleged plots to undermine Hezbollah and its allies. Many of those outlets are run by Hezbollah, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. These media regularly blast protesters for closing roads and using other civil disobedience tactics, describing them as “bandits.”
For Berry, the media environment worsened as the unrest continued. On the night of Nov. 24, while she was covering clashes between protesters and Hezbollah and Amal supporters on a central road in Beirut, supporters of the Shiite groups chased her into a building. She hid there until police came and escorted her out.
“I was doing my job and will continue to do so. I have passed through worse periods and was able to overcome them,” said Berry, who added she is taking a short break from working because of what she passed through recently.
Hezbollah supporters also targeted Dima Sadek, who resigned last month as an anchorwoman at LBC TV. She blamed Hezbollah supporters for robbing her smartphone while she was filming protests, and said the harassment was followed by insulting and threatening phone calls to her mother, who suffered a stroke as a result of the stress.
“I have taken a decision (to be part of the protests) and I am following it. I have been waiting for this moment all my life and I have always been against the political, sectarian and corrupt system in Lebanon,” said Sadek, a harsh critic of Hezbollah, adding that she has been subjected to cyberbullying for the past four years.
“I know very well that this will have repercussions on my personal and professional life. I will go to the end no matter what the price is,” Sadek said shortly after taking part in a demonstration in central Beirut.
Protesters have also targeted journalists reporting with what are seen as pro-government outlets. OTV station workers briefly removed their logos from equipment while covering on the demonstrations to avoid verbal and physical abuse. The station is run by supporters of Aoun’s FPM.
“The protest movement has turned our lives upside down,” said OTV journalist Rima Hamdan, who during one of her reports slapped a man on his hand after he pointed his middle finger at her. She said the station’s logo “is our identity even though sometimes we had to remove it for our own safety.”
Television reporters with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar and Amal’s NBN channels were also attacked in a town near Beirut, when they were covering the closure of the highway linking the capital city with southern Lebanon by protesters. In a video, an NBN correspondent is seen being attacked, while troops and policemen stand nearby without intervening.
“This happens a lot in Lebanon because some media organizations are politicized. No one sees media organizations as they are but sees them as representing the political group that owns them,” said Ayman Mhanna, director of the Beirut-based media watchdog group SKeyes.
“The biggest problem regarding these violations is that there is no punishment,” Mhanna said. Authorities usually fail to act even when they identify those behind attacks on journalists, he added.
Coverage of the protests also led to several journalists resigning from one of Lebanon’s most prominent newspapers, Al-Akhbar, which is seen as close to Hezbollah, and the pan-Arab TV station Al-Mayadeen, which aligns closely with the policies of Iran, Syria and Venezuela.
Joy Slim, who quit as culture writer at Al-Akhbar after more than five years, said she did so after being “disappointed” with the daily’s coverage of the demonstrations. She released a video widely circulated on social media that ridiculed those who accuse the protesters of being American agents.
Sami Kleib, a prominent Lebanese journalist with a wide following around the Middle East, resigned from Al-Mayadeen last month. He said the reason behind his move was that he was “closer to the people than the authorities.”
“The Lebanese media is similar to politics in Lebanon where there is division between two axes: One that supports the idea of conspiracy theory, and another that fully backs the protest movement with its advantages and disadvantages,” Kleib said.