The ad industry in the Middle East has been dominated by major public-sector and private agencies, such as Al Ahram, Al Akhbar and Tarek Nour in Egypt; Tahama, Impact/ BBDO and Promo Seven in Saudi Arabia; Intermarkets and Publi-Graphics in the UAE; and Americana in Kuwait.
The dominance of those agencies owed less to the quality of their services than to large-scale financing, which enabled them to offer clients attractive payment schedules and ease of access to the major media.
In Egypt and Lebanon, efforts were made to introduce national styles of advertising, but many commercials still reflected a predominantly Western style. Western ideas, treatments and music prevailed in print ads and broadcast spots throughout the region.
Advertising research and audience analysis developed well by the end of the 20th century, but there was a need for further development, as well as for trained market researchers and advertising practitioners who understand how to use data generated by such research.
The Egyptian media played a leading role in the Middle East in the 1990s. Egypt was home to the region's largest news agency, and its major papers, widely read throughout the region, were important in forming regional opinions. Both radio and TV programs were very popular and conveyed the Egyptian dialect of Arabic throughout the region.
Egypt published 14 daily newspapers, both state-run and opposition, and 35 public and private weeklies for a combined daily newspaper circulation of 2.6 million. The country had one state-owned news agency and 27 publishing houses. Besides its own satellite broadcasting network, NileSat, which broadcast over six specialized stations across the globe, there were eight Egyptian state-owned TV channels that covered different parts of that country and seven public radio stations.
By comparison, Egypt's longtime rival for media dominance, Lebanon, published 14 daily newspapers and 28 weeklies for a daily newspaper circulation of 330,000 and had nine TV channels and 18 radio stations, both private and public. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. operates Lebanon's Future TV.
The main news source in the Islamic republic of Iran was the official Khabargozari-ye Jomhuri-ye Eslami (Islamic Republic News Agency). Iran had 17 daily newspapers, at least five of which had national circulation. The revival of advertising in Iran started in 1989 with the liberalized economic policies of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Under the Islamic fundamentalist regimes, advertising was considered antireligious, vulgar and symbolic of a capitalist economy. The state-owned TV network with its five channels posed a major challenge for advertising agencies in Iran. There were more than 1,000 advertising agencies in Iran and more than 80% of advertising spending went to TV, with the rest going to newspapers.
Saudi Arabia was home to 17 daily newspapers and 15 weeklies, two news agencies and 10 publishing houses in the 1990s. Daily newspaper circulation was 1.06 million. The two TV stations were state-run and, despite a ban on satellite TV receivers, a visitor to any urban center in the monarchy could spot thousands of dishes on rooftops, although there was no official estimate of the number.
In the late 1990s, Jordan produced five daily newspapers and 26 weeklies, for a daily newspaper circulation of 250,000. The country had one state-run news agency, two publishing houses and two public TV channels, one of which was broadcast throughout the region.
The most important news sources in Turkey in the 1990s were Anadol Ajansi and Akdeniz Ajansi. There were more than 340 daily newspapers, but the overwhelming majority were local papers with very low circulation. The most dominant daily was Cumhuriyet; other influential papers included Milliyet, Gunes and Tercuman. Families or individuals owned most publications. A number of radio and TV stations were run by Turkiye Radio & Televizyon Kurumu.
The local press in the United Arab Emirates was strong and quite independent in the late 20th century. There were 18 dailies, 16 weeklies, one wire service and three publishing houses. Daily newspaper circulation was 300,000. Public TV transmission began in 1969 and later expanded to eight channels. The Space Network of Dubai started in 1992 and covered all Arab countries and parts of Asia, nearly one-third of the world's population.
Kuwait had nine daily newspapers and 11 weeklies for a daily newspaper circulation of 655,000 in the late 1990s, as well as one state-run news agency and six publishing houses. The airwaves were all public, with four local TV stations and two radio stations. Kuwait's satellite TV channel began transmission in 1992 and was seen in the Middle East, southern Europe and East Asia.
In the late 1990s, Bahrain had three daily newspapers and seven weeklies, for a daily newspaper circulation of 70,000. It was home to a local news agency, seven publishing houses and four international TV channels. Oman had five daily newspapers and six weeklies, with a daily newspaper circulation of 63,000. The sultanate had one state-run news agency, six publishing houses and one state-run TV station.
Qatar hosted four daily newspapers and six weeklies, with a daily newspaper circulation of 80,000. It also had one national news agency, five publishing houses and two local TV channels. Qatar is also the home of Al Jazeera Satellite Channel, founded in 1996 by the Emir of Qatar as an all-news network and noted in the West for its controversial coverage of the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan as well as the turmoil in Iraq.
Regional and pan-Arab ad media
In addition to local print and broadcast media, the region had a number of regional media in the 1990s. These included Egyptian, Jordanian, Lebanese, Syrian, UAE and Qatari satellite TV networks; regional networks such as ART and MBC; and 14 weekly and 34 monthly regional newspapers. These media reached all the Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East.
Pan-Arab media in the region increased their consolidated advertising revenues by 10% from $511,521 in 1998 to $563,679 in 1999. This increase followed an even larger increase the previous year, when revenue jumped 73% over 1997. Pan-Arab media attracted close to one of every five ad dollars generated in 1998 by all Arab media combined.
The pan-Arab market dominated the Saudi and principal Gulf ad markets and exerted increasing pressure on local TV in those markets. The reason, apparently, was the unwillingness of local advertisers to invest a sufficient amount to reach consumers in the main Gulf markets. As a result, pan-Arab satellite TV slowly increased its market share at the expense of local media. In 1999, TV garnered 78% of the ad revenue generated by pan-Arab media, while magazines attracted 18% and newspapers and radio drew a total of 4%.
After three years of recession in the Middle East, total advertising spending, according to Interpublic Group of Cos.' TN Communications, Cairo, is estimated to be about $1 billion. Among the satellite channels in the region, London-based Middle East Broadcasting Centre has the greatest revenue from advertising, followed by Lebanon's Future TV and Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. Al Jazeera is No. 3.
In mid-February 2003, MBC introduced a new Arabic news channel, Al Arabiya, which was expected to compete with the older satellite services.