"When we put together our global offer, it's obvious we want to have access to as many people as we can, but we realize we are subject to distribution requirements around the world," said Kay Delaney, exec VP-sales, Turner International. "If the product is not wanted, we will not be there," she said.
In Saudi Arabia, a ban on dishes is part of a plan to limit foreign programming through the creation of a government-controlled cable network. The bigger concern is that the trend will spread. And according to an executive from a leading Middle Eastern ad agency, Bahrain and Kuwait are next expected to set up similar government-controlled networks.
BBC World Service Television, which has expansion plans for the region, said it is studying the implications of the Saudi moves but would not compromise editorial control.
"We will brook no interference on this. One of the BBC's great strengths is that it is an impartial information source. Obviously we would be foolish to let this be tampered with in any way, and would withdraw the service if it was," a spokesman said.
But at least one advertiser, Unilever, welcomes the Saudi plan as a more professional alternative to the currently available terrestrial Saudi TV channels 1 and 2, where advertisers have little or no control over ad placement.
John Pawle, Unilever head of marketing services in Dubai, said the new cable network of up to 18 new channels will mean advertisers can select their time slots and no longer be forced to take what they get in broad blocks. For companies such as his, global buys on satellite channels are not a replacement for advertising within one country.
"So I don't think it's such a bad thing for advertisers," he said.
Nor does Mustapha Assad, chairman of Publi-Graphics, a leading agency in the region, and outgoing world president of the New York-based International Advertising Association.
"This could be a positive step" in increasing ad revenues, he said. "It could be good for advertising," and not in conflict with the IAA's ongoing campaign for freedom of commercial speech.
"It would be more a kind of self-regulation which we at the IAA welcome because we believe it is a kind of discipline that we must impose on our industry," Mr. Assad said.
An estimated $87.5 million in TV advertising was spent in Saudi Arabia in 1993, according to the Pan Arab Research Center, a Dubai advertising monitoring service. Of that $54 million went to the government's Channel 1. Middle East Broadcasting Centre's MBC channel took in $21.4 million.
Some industry executives say the moves were prompted more by monetary concerns that the government may lose ad revenue than by protecting citizens from objectionable programming or advertising.
Others disagree, perceiving the moves as unwelcome steps towards censorship.
"It's a negative move, obviously," said the director of one ad agency in Saudi Arabia. Robert Kennedy, deputy chief executive of MBC, one of the biggest TV players in the Middle East, believes it's a good business decision for countries desiring to keep ad revenues within their borders as well as for the protection of cultural and religious beliefs.
The Saudi plan involves an investment of $200 million to install a cable system, transmitting programs to viewers only if they "match the kingdom's religious and social values." It also bans the importation and local production of satellite dishes.
Violations warrant fines of up to $133,000, but punishment is not not expected to be enforced until the new system is operating next year.
About 15 satellite channels are available including MBC; CNN; the Star channels out of Hong Kong, which includes BBC; Dubai Satellite (EDTV); Egyptian Satellite Channel (ESC); Arab Radio & TV (ART); and Orbit's channels.
MBC stands to gain from the changes. The company has been given the assignment of introducing four new channels, and its parent company, Riyadh-based ARA International has been awarded a contract to develop, install and operate the network.
Because Saudi Arabia already has strict rules regarding advertising, no changes in are anticipated, said Tareq Wafa, media director of Bahrain-based ad agency Fortune Promo Seven, a McCann-Erickson affiliate.
A Saudi government spokesman said that ads will be treated in the same way as programs. If they offend religious and cultural standards they will be cut, he said.
Current regulations forbid alcohol and tobacco ads because these products are not permitted under Islamic law. There are also strict dress requirements for women in commercials, such as no bare arms.