Advertising lull sees reduced investment in Ramadan TV

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

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.”