Market View

The United Arab Emirates

2013/1/24 Thursday
Charlotte Sharwin, PR Director Zed Communications

For those who are unfamiliar, here's the UAE in an encyclopedic nutshell: the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven states formed in 1971 by the then Trucial States after independence from Britain. Since then, it has grown from a quiet backwater to one of the Middle East's most important economic centers. So let's take a look at the media landscape...

The Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have considerable media interests and the concentration of media is mostly confined to these two Emirates. Ten years ago, the only way you could get a good consumer magazine is if you bought it at the airport on your way back to the UAE. There was nothing. And if you bought it in the Emirates it was imported at three times the cover cost.

Things have changed and Dubai seems to be the regional hub with several publishing houses generating a number of diverse titles. ITP publishing, originally a British owner-run operation, publishes 75 weekly and monthly magazines and has a wide portfolio of market-leading digital properties. The publishing house organizes more than 50 business and consumer events and conferences each year. It also publishes the in-flight magazine of Etihad Airways, the catalogues, previews and daily show newspapers for all exhibitions organized by Dubai World Trade Centre as well as a host of specialist publications for major retail and financial organizations. Meanwhile, another major player is Motivate Publishing that publishes over 20 titles and over 300 books. The last two years has also seen the launch of US Conde Nast flag- ship titles including Vogue and GQ and the promise to bring Vogue and GQ cafes to Dubai in 2013.

When it comes to newspapers, there are really only three major players ? The National, The Gulf Times and the Khaleej Times. The story behind Abu Dhabi's The National is an interesting one. The government of Abu Dhabi decided to make a concerted effort to ramp up media standards and emulate newspaper coverage of that in Europe when they announced the launch of 'The National' newspaper in 2008. The paper, an English-language daily based in Abu Dhabi, published its first issue on April 17, under close scrutiny in the Middle East and abroad. With its pledge to emulate Western newspaper standards and to “help society evolve,” The National claimed to be an anomaly in the Middle East, where the government tightly controls most media.

The media industry in the UAE watched carefully as a fuel injection of global leading journalists were cherry picked to make the project work. Journalists trailed in from newspapers around the world, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Daily Telegraph of Britain. Martin Newland who was editor of the Daily Telegraph from 2003 to 2005 became editor in chief, and he took with him many former Telegraph employees. Let's be honest, it was a pleasure, the level of journalism was a pleasant shock to the system to those of us who were used to a diet of substandard editorial. But it darn well should have been good, in fact it should have been sublime, as the media industry incredulously found out in 2009 when somebody in the bowels of the fledging newspaper leaked the gargantuan salaries of 253 staff in no other than Wikileaks. And yes, you want to know? The editor-in-chief was on $53,000 tax-free per month...

In more recent times, The National has seen a brain drain. - there have been several high level resignations across the editorial team regarding spiked stories and the newspaper's impotency when covering stories on Abu Dhabi. The Saturday magazine 'M” mysteriously disappeared one day and rumors in the industry that the government had withdrawn a lot of funding due to a lack of advertising revenue and weak subscription rates. It's a shame really as it was a pleasure to read well written editorial with at least some point of view in a region of the world which is heavily controlled editorially.

As 'The National' seemed to ebb then so the UAE's old timer 'Gulf News' strategically underwent a brand identity tweak and changed from broadsheet to a Berliner (somewhere between a broadsheet and a tabloid). Seizing the chance, it adopted much more contemporary fonts and brightened up with new color palette. The newspaper, which was launched in 1978, has traditionally been the main staple newspaper in the UAE. Waiting in the wings and seeing it's flashy competitor 'The National' founder, it took itself off to design company Garcia Media for a makeover that came just at the right time.

The journalism is undoubtedly nowhere near that of The National ? point of view and any evidence of incisive reporting are absent and sometimes the English is distinctly wobbly and colonial speak. Those in the PR industry can usually be guaranteed that press releases are published verbatim without any thought of a story. But with a circulation of 113,000 (the UAE's largest), and below average journalism, the newspaper has gained hegemony, and is a money making concern with a ferocious advertising sales team who know how to close the sale.

Other newspapers on the English-speaking scene are versions of the British Daily Mail, FT and Times which are printed in Dubai with editorial content coming in from the UK. Daily Freesheets include 7 Days and The Express that publish gossip news stories and are very popular indeed, ostensibly as they focus very much on community based news.

In terms of radio the UAE has a diverse radio market with stations broadcasting in a variety of languages to cater for the cosmopolitan population. Last year even saw the launch of Radio Shoma that was launched by Arabian Radio Network (ARN), a key player, to reach the estimates 4000,000 Iranian expatriates in Dubai.

TV wise, the governments of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have effectively devolved state control to operate their media outlets like private companies. Abu Dhabi's television channels are operated by Abu Dhabi Media, while Dubai's national TV stations are run by Dubai Media Incorporated (DMI)

Social media is big in the UAE and it's getting bigger. In fact it's now making an impact on the print industry. Recent figures suggest that up to 40% of people are now accessing the news via the internet rather than more traditional print forms. Internet usage of the UAE ranked as the highest in the Middle East with a growth of 69% last year and current figures estimated at 5,148,664 (Source: Internet World Stats). The growth of digital is exponential and this is likely to have a greater and greater effect on the media landscape in this part of the world in the years ahead, so watch this space...