World Media 2006: Saudi and Pan-Arab

Saudi Arabia is an important consumer market with an entrepreneurial elite. But restrictions are so severe that media moguls have to look to pan-Arab channels based in more liberal states.

Few in Saudi Arabia were surprised when the death of King Fahd in August last year prompted Saudi TV, which is controlled by the state-run Broadcasting Service of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to clear its schedules to make way for intoned verses from the Koran.

The huge surprise, however, was the fact that his funeral was permitted to become a media event - the first time that a Saudi state occasion had been afforded such open and fulsome coverage. It reminded many observers that Saudi media - and, indeed, Arab media in general - has begun to evolve.

Pan-Arab channels such as Rotana (a satellite channel based in the neighbouring United Arab Emirates) put their salacious schedule of Egyptian and Lebanese pop videos on hold for the duration of the mourning period. This actually served to remind many observers just how raunchy the content on such channels has become in recent years. Though raunchy is, of course, a relative term.

The Arabian peninsula, and Saudi Arabia in particular, has become a focus for increased attention since al-Qaeda intensified its campaign of terrorist atrocities in 2001. Saudi Arabia is courted both by Muslim extremists and by Western strategists; and in media terms, a small television station from a small neighbouring state - the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera - has also emerged as something of an information power broker.

And, in fact, the very existence of Al-Jazeera illustrates the paradoxical nature of media life in this part of the world. Saudi Arabia is an important consumer market and its oil-rich ruling elite clearly has entrepreneurial instincts. But its media restrictions are so severe (commercial television is completely outlawed, for instance, and there have been no cinemas in the country since the 80s) that would-be media moguls have been forced to set up pan-Arab channels in more liberal neighbouring states if they want to satisfy their ambitions.

Of these neighbouring states, the UAE is by far the most important. Dubai Media City, an administrative and studio complex that is now home to the regional offices of many of the world's major media owners as well as a host of Arabic broadcasters, has become a true international media hub.

Media City's owners, Fujairah Media, now have ambitious plans to launch channels of their own.

ADVERTISING EXPENDITURE USdollars million at current prices. All years based on US$1= SAR 3.75. *Estimated Total TV News- Maga- Radio Outdoor Online papers zines 1994 394 124 168 102 0 0 0 1995 418 124 176 118 0 0 0 1996 488 146 191 101 13 38 0 1997 641 277 218 101 11 36 0 1998 789 411 237 103 9 29 0 1999 856 482 238 98 11 27 0 2000 1,006 583 276 103 17 27 0 2001 1,333 822 312 169 20 10 0 2002 1,629 1,026 356 181 25 41 0 2003 1,903 1,258 399 184 16 37 9 2004 2,462 1,717 510 120 19 78 18 2005 3,183 2,205 698 138 22 84 36 2006* 4,040 2,843 838 150 25 104 80 2007* 4,233 2,873 942 159 29 120 110 2008* 4,530 3,012 1,033 181 32 136 136 Adspend notes 1) Includes agency commission. 2) Before discounts. 3) Excludes production costs. 4) Excludes classified advertising. 5) Saudi Arabia has no cinemas and no commercial radio. 6) "Pan-Arab" includes Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and North Africa: Saudi is by far the biggest element and much "regional" advertising is simply overspill. 7) Outdoor does not include semi-permanent hoardings such as outsize hoardings and Unipoles 8) Advertising spend on pay-TV is not monitored. FACTFILE SAUDI ARABIA Highest circulating titles - Newspaper: Asshraq Al Awsat - Business magazine: Al Majallah - Consumer magazine: Al Jadeeda UAE Highest circulating titles - Newspaper: Gulf News - Business magazine: Al-Shuruq - Consumer magazine: Zaharat Al-Khaleej

THE LOWDOWN

Media topic du jour: Has Al-Jazeera become an embarrassment for the whole region?

Reigning media guru and why: Talal bin Waleed, the world's fifth-richest man, is an astute investor in media futures - he has significant shareholdings in AOL, Apple Computer, Worldcom and News Corp.

Media mogul to be seen dining with: Sheikh Waleed Al Ibrahim, the chairman of the satellite broadcaster MBC Group, which plans to launch a regional news channel to go head-to-head with Al-Jazeera.

Car to drive: Hummer.

Phone to carry: Nokia.

Whatever you do, don't say: The petrodollar trading system is due for a real shake-up.

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