The Middle East's entertainment and media industry is set to grow by more than 10% and emerge as the sixth fastest growing market over the next five years, according to management consultancy PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PWC).
Overall, the global entertainment and media industry region is expected to grow at 5.7% annually for the next five years to reach USD2.1-trillion.
"Global spending on entertainment and media (E&M) rose 4.9 percent in 2011 – a little faster than the 4.5 percent increase in 2010, but still below gains in previous growth years," notes PWC. "This reflected a hoped-for pickup in economic momentum that did not materialize consistently around the globe, and we expect E&M growth to continue to lag nominal GDP growth, principally because of the ongoing shift from higher-priced physical distribution to lower-priced digital distribution."
The growth will exceed the Middle East North Africa's economic growth, highlighting the sector's prospects.
Not surprisingly, much of it will be driven by digital. PWC says that while the entertainment and media business have separated the digital and non-digital business, in the 'new normal', companies will move away and pursue and integrated operation to drive profitable, reduce costs and develop common platforms.
"To realise these benefits, companies will have to tackle challenges around rights, royalties and piracy – areas where many E&M companies are often burdened by rigid, complex, bespoke legacy systems There are additional issues in leading and marshalling the talent and culture of innovation, needed to make digital implementation a reality, particularly in meeting the distinctive employment needs and expectations of the Millennial generation," notes the PWC.
The media and entertainment is registering blistering growth. According to Arab Media Outlook, advertising in the region is set to grow at 8.4% each year till 2013, to reach USD6.3-billion. The UAE will be the largest market with USD1.18-billion and Saudi Arabia a close second generating USD980-million in advertising revenues, as both economies post impressive growth both in oil and non-oil economies.
And the Middle East is just getting started. The Arab region ad spend per capita is a measly USD22, compared to USD30 for Asia Pacific and USD63 for Latin America.
"In the Arab Region, discussions with industry stakeholders suggest that online advertising currently constitutes around just 1% of total advertising," the Arab Media Outlook report notes.
"This is, in part, due to the low penetration of broadband in many Arab countries, as was discussed at length in the Arab Media Outlook 2008-2012. However, it is also due to the structure of online advertising spend in the region, whereby the strongest sector in other markets, search advertising, is largely underdeveloped in the Arab world. While online advertising is forecast to become the fastest growing sector in the region, over the projection period it will remain a small proportion of total advertising spend, unless disruptive technologies emerge in the next few years."
However, internet penetration figures are changing.
As Alifarabia.com reported in a recent report on Middle East Information Communications and Technology (ICT) sector, the Arab States' mobile broadband subscription stands at around 10%, compared to a global average of around 18%, and a fair distance away from global leader Europe which has 54% mobile-broadband penetration.
However, Gulf states stood out as extremely well-connected hives of voice and data. Kuwait emerged as the 12 most mobile broadband-connected country in the world with a penetration rate of 63.5%. The UAE (58.4%) and Saudi Arabia (57.8%) were not far behind and were also among the most connected economies in the world.
International companies are paying attention. The arrival of Sky TV and Zee news in the region underlines the explosion of TV channels.
Sky News Arabia is available across all multimedia platforms from launch with apps available for iPads and smartphones as well as a rich content website, according to the company.
Nart Bouran, head of Sky News Arabia, said: "The key objective of any news organization is to provide accurate, independent breaking news 24 hours a day to widest possible audience. With these distribution deals Sky News Arabia can deliver on that promise, online, on mobile and tablet devices and with the widest reach on television.
"Our fresh, fast paced, continuous rolling news coverage and our completely integrated multimedia offering means our viewers get the breaking news first, whenever they want, in the format they want it."
The Arab Spring is also giving rise to a raft of new channels with niche target audience. The launch of Maria, the first ever channel run by niqab-clad women in Egypt shows the range of platforms that are on offer in the crowded field.
The power of the media came into sharp focus during the upheavals in the region last year. The number of free-to-air (FTA) satellite channels in the Arab World increased by 19.3% between April 2011 and March 2012 to reach 642 channels (fully operational channels reached 565 from 501 in April 2011). Arab Advisors Group research shows that most of the channels were privately-owned.
Not surprisingly, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are home to the highest number of FTA satellite channels in the Arab World.
"The number of Free to Air (FTA) satellite channels targeting the Arab region continues to grow. The FTA landscape had a major growth of 542% in the number of FTA satellite channels between January 2004 and March 2012," said Arab Advisors Group.
Meanwhile, four satellite Pay TV operators broadcasting from the region offered 143 channels, according to AAG.
Orbit Showtime Network (OSN), Al Jazeera Sports+, Abu Dhabi Sports and Al Majd. Expectedly, Al Jazeera Sports+ offers the highest number of sports Pay TV channels with 16 sports channels.
"By February 2012, the four Pay TV providers offered 143 channels. OSN had the highest number with 100 channels (including the 3 pay-per-view channels and On Demand channel), Abu Dhabi Sports came in second with 18 channels, while Al Jazeera Sports+ provided 16 channels dedicated for all sorts of sports events. Al Majd TV provided 9 encoded channels." Mr. Zaid Abawi, Arab Advisors Research Analyst wrote in the report.
"Despite the promotions of Pay TV operators, most of the Arab World remains tuned to free-to-air satellite TV channels. Economically, many viewers seem to favor the free content of FTA channels rather than paying for TV content". Mr. Abawi added.
PWC REPORT: KEY TRENDS IN GLOBAL MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT:
• Global entertainment and media spending on digital advertising and consumer formats increased by 17.6 percent in 2011 compared with only a 0.6 percent rise in non-digital spending. Digital's share of total spend will grow from 28 percent in 2011 to 37.5 percent in 2016, and digital spending will account for 67 percent of total E&M spending growth to 2016.
• Digital maturity varies widely at a segment level. For example, global spending on digital recorded music formats will overtake physical distribution in 2015, reaching 55 percent of total revenues in 2016. And global spending on online and wireless video games will overtake console and PC games revenues in 2013. By contrast, the digital component of consumer magazines will account for only 10.4 percent of spending by 2016, up from 3.1 percent in 2011.
• Global spending on music rose 1.3 percent in 2011, the first gain in many years, thanks to growth in the concert and music festival market and a slower decline in recorded music. Rises in digital music spending mean that overall, global spending on recorded music will finally begin to increase in 2013.
• Mobile internet access subscriber numbers, a key driver of digital spending, will more than double during the next five years to 2.9 billion by 2016, of which almost 1 billion will be in China. In India, mobile internet subscribers will increase from a low base at a compound annual rate of 50.8 percent to 2016, making it the fastest growth market for mobile internet in the world.
• By 2016, global mobile internet advertising revenues of $24.5 billion will grow at 36.5 percent compounded annually, to almost match the size of the classified internet advertising market. However, paid search at $78.1 billion and banner/display at $46.6 billion will retain the lion's share of the market in 2016. China's mobile internet advertising market will grow at a compound rate of 68.4 percent to reach $6.2 billion in 2016, making it the second largest market in the world behind the United States at $9.4 billion.
• The newspaper publishing segment illustrates diverging trends across mature and growth economies. There will be ongoing declines in some territories such as the United States (declining 1.4 percent compounded annually to 2016, and expected to be worth 43.8 percent less in 2016 than 2007), but strong growth in countries where the digital infrastructure is less mature, such as Argentina (11.9 percent growth compounded annually to 2016), Indonesia (11.2 percent), and India (9.6 percent).
• France passed the United Kingdom and Germany in 2011 to become the second largest TV subscriptions market in the world behind the United States, driven by a 76 percent rise in IPTV households. In the TV advertising segment, spending in Russia surged by 20.2 percent in 2011; by 2016, Russia will overtake the UK, Germany, Italy, and France to become the largest TV advertising market in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa).
• In the worldwide filmed entertainment market, over-the-top/streaming services will grow at a 21.0 percent CAGR to $11 billion in 2016, and will overtake spending through TV subscription providers in 2012.
The Middle East's regional media and entertainment is market is exploding. But that means not all efforts will succeed. Original content and exclusive information will continue to determine the success of channels. And while the regional media and entertainment business landscape will change dramatically over the coming years – content will remain king.