World Media 2007: Saudi and Pan-Arab

Though in a region renowned for conflict and censorship, Dubai embodies the new-found spirit of democratisation that is making the Middle East one of the fastest-growing world economies.

The Middle East is characterised by wealth and war. Boasting some of the most oil-rich countries on the planet, including Saudi Arabia with 25 per cent of the world's known oil reserves, it unsurprisingly exerts a formidable influence over much of the rest of the world. But the conflicts across the region make it an unpredictable and unstable territory.

Saudi Arabia took its first step towards democracy with municipal elections in 2005, but political parties are banned and opposition is organised from outside the country.

The region has many media restrictions. In Saudi Arabia, there are restraints on coverage of the royal family, religion and government. There are no commercial TV stations and no cinemas. Newspapers are created by royal decree and subject to censorship. The state has invested heavily in systems to block websites, said to range from those with religious content to others featuring swimwear. Many other Middle-Eastern countries have similarly restrictive media regimes, though there is some liberalisation in progress.

Whatever else, there is significant media growth in the region, which looks set to continue. In the first quarter of 2006, WPP announced that the Middle East was its fastest-growing region. The media mogul Antoine Choueiri predicts that Middle East adspend will reach $10 billion by 2010, rising from what he believes are over-estimates of $5 billion for last year. In December, he said population growth and a better relationship between advertiser, agency and media was required. The Pan-Arab Research Center offers some media measurement tools, but there are gaping holes in media research across the region.

Local TV still outperforms pan-regional TV, but the pan-regional media are expanding. Last year, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera launched an international TV service. MBC confirmed late in 2006 that it was finalising plans to launch an English-language news channel, while Reuters is set to launch an Arabic language sports service. The Dubai-based media holding group Tower Media is launching a pan-Arab infotainment channel called Al Aan TV. Meanwhile, the publisher ITP, which has 40 titles in the region, is planning a pan-Arab business newspaper.

Dubai has made itself a centre for pan-Arab operations. Dubai Media City opened in 2000, and since then, major media companies have set up - including Reuters, BBC World, CNN, Sony and Abu Dhabi TV - lured by tax benefits and relaxed visa procedures.

USdollars million at current prices. *Estimated
Total Newspapers Magazines TV Radio Outdoor Online
2000 1,006 276 103 583 17 27 -
2001 1,333 312 169 822 20 10 -
2002 1,629 356 181 1,026 25 41 -
2003 1,903 399 184 1,258 16 37 9
2004 2,462 510 120 1,717 19 78 18
2005 2,823 695 161 1,810 22 99 36
2006 3,924 963 206 2,522 25 128 80
2007* 4,310 1,136 218 2,676 29 141 110
2008* 4,737 1,343 231 2,840 32 155 136
2009* 5,214 1,589 245 3,014 35 171 160

Adspend notes 1) Includes agency commission. 2) Before discounts. 3)
Excludes production costs. 4) Excludes classified advertising. 5) S
Arabia has no commercial radio or cinemas. 6) "Pan Arab" includes S
Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and N
Africa: S Arabia is by far the largest element and much "regional"
advertising is simply overspill. 7) Outdoor does not include
semi-permanent installations such as outsize hoardings and Unipoles. 8)
Adspend on pay-TV is not monitored.

Best new TV format: Daliyah Siyarak (Pimp My Ride)
Circulation: Pan-Arab Research Center
Readership: Pan-Arab Research Center
TV viewing: Pan-Arab Research Center
Newspapers: Saudi Research & Publishing Company
Magazines: Saudi Research & Publishing Company
TV: MBC, Al Jazeera, Rotana


- Media topic du jour

When will Project Illumination, the much-anticipated answer to media accountability in the Middle East, actually happen?

- Reigning media guru and why

Joseph Ghossoub is the world president and chairman of the International Advertising Association and the chief executive of The Holding Group, and has successfully promoted the region's creative and media business around the world.

- Media mogul to be seen dining with and why

Antoine Choueiri, one of the most powerful men in the Middle East, is the chairman of the Choueiri Group, which controls the sales of advertising on most of the region's major TV channels.

- Car to drive: Ford Mustang.

- Phone to carry: Nokia 8800.

- Whatever you do, don't say: We want to "Arabise" another Western format.


There was a great buzz when Hummer H3s were placed in the Ski Dubai indoor snow dome and on the bottom of various swimming pools (as life-size stickers). The multimedia campaign by Starcom demonstrates that the cars really aren't too big for city driving.