April 24, 2017,   5:00 PM

Why Resilient Newspaper Ad Sales Are Good News For Digital In The Middle East

Klaus Schoenbach and Robb Wood


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Newspapers command a far larger share of the Middle East’s total ad market than any other region in the world – an estimated three times more than all spending on digital ads combined. Yet, citizens of the region cite the internet and television as important sources of news far more than they cite newspapers.

Why this gap between news audiences and revenues?

Newspapers are still profiting from their legacy as the best way to reach strictly national audiences. For example, governments, which spend more on advertisements than any industry category in the region and arguably have the clearest interest in nationally targeted audiences, spend nearly two thirds of their ad budgets on newspapers.

But many factors constraining ad spending on TV and the internet are changing, or about to change.

Satellite TV dominates television distribution in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) like no other region. That means ads are programmed into the broadcast by the channels, which are then beamed across the region/world – not exactly an ideal way to target a national market.

But, governments in the region are committed to a full transition to digital television. Once that happens, it will be possible and profitable to decouple the programming of TV content from TV advertising, and to place ads by region (or other demographic) regardless of the content that they appear between.

Expect the advertisers and sophisticated agencies to rush in.

If digital TV will essentially just enable ad buyers to target with TV the way they’re already able to do with, say, Google AdWords, why hasn’t digital ad spending taken off? First of all, it has taken off more than one might think.

Best estimates have digital ad spending doubling between 2012 and 2015. But still, despite having 6% of the world’s population, the Middle East accounts for less than 1% of the world’s digital ad spending. Why?

According to extensive interviews with digital ad sellers in the region, a major constraint on digital ad sales is simply a lack of comfort or familiarity with how digital advertising works.

Regional advertisers are still relatively unfamiliar with the latest mechanisms and measurements of digital advertising, and are therefore understandably uneasy pouring marketing budgets into them.

Sellers of TV and digital advertising (and content for that matter) should be thankful that newspapers keep absorbing so much of the region’s healthy ad budgets while time tips steadily to their favor.

[caption id="attachment_23212" align="alignnone" width="964"]schoenbach-klaus Klaus Schoenbach is Senior Associate Dean and Professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar. Robb Wood is Director of Strategic Partnerships and he spearheaded the NU-Q Strategy Workshops program.[/caption]

Opinions expressed by Forbes Middle East contributors are their own. 

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