New lease on life: A vibrant scene has emerged over the past year

As the Arab world’s largest media market, Egypt has long been at the heart of the region’s publishing and broadcasting scene. The past few years – and certainly the past 12 months – have seen a blossoming of new newspapers and television and radio stations that have added dynamism and competition to the sector, a process that has accelerated dramatically since the revolution of early 2011. Around 16 new TV channels have appeared in the wake of the changes, and independent newspapers have seen circulation and website hits soar. The Egyptian media sector is being recast, and should emerge stronger.

MORE INDEPENDENT: State-owned media – particularly television channels – have taken a serious knock over their positions during the revolution, and strong competition is springing up from a liberated private sector. If and how it recovers will be one of the factors to watch in the Egyptian media scene over the coming years. Few governments can do without state broadcasting and publishing, so the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) will still be publically owned, but it will have to make a concerted effort to win back some of the considerable credibility it lost. On the other hand, while the reputations of government newspapers such as Al Akhbar and Al Ahram have suffered, readership remains strong, despite the challenge of rising independent competitors (see analysis).

One of the reasons for the growth and proliferation of independent media outlets over the past two years is the desire for those with political ambitions to raise their profile and increase their influence in print and on the airwaves. This has not resulted in automatic success, and some of the new papers and channels may fall by the wayside. But those that have performed well are shaking up the industry as never before.

SEEING FAR: Television is the single most popular media in Egypt, though it accounts for a lower proportion of overall advertising spend than newspapers. Egypt thus has the region’s single largest television audience. Household TV penetration is 96%, according to the Arab Media Outlook 2011-15, published by the Dubai Press Club (DPC), comparable with the wealthiest countries in the Gulf. Television is very widely watched – around 40% of Egyptians watch four or more hours per day and less than 10% watch only an hour or less – while consumption is growing noticeably.

PRIVATE CHANNELS: Free satellite broadcasting is now the dominant platform in the Egyptian television scene. All 17 analogue terrestrial channels are operated by the state-owned ERTU and maintained a solid share of the viewer market and advertising revenues until recently. ERTU’s coverage of the revolution is widely perceived to have been biased in favour of the Mubarak regime, which has accounted for a drop in ratings from which it may be difficult to recover.

ERTU’s Channel 1 and Channel 2 are the major nationwide stations, supplemented by six regional channels and nine thematic run through the Nile TV brand. Nile TV is broadcast via NileSat, a satellite service provider launched in 1998, and includes drama, sports, culture, news, comedy, cinema and children’s channels. The government also has stakes in Al Mehwar and Dream, two largely privately owned satellite broadcasters which operate via NileSat. Other major private players include Al Hayat, owned by wealthy businessman and Wafd Party leader Al Sayed Al Badawi, and OTV, part of the Orascom group of Egypt’s richest man, Naguib Sawiris.

Only 9% of Egyptians subscribe to pay-TV packages, but this proportion hides the considerable number of people who will share subscriptions within households or groups of homes. Subscriptions are concentrated in sports (63%) and film channels (59%). Pay-TV subscriptions tend to be cheap, with the operators aiming to increase audiences to secure greater advertising revenue rather than earning revenue through fees.

Al Hayat TV was the most-watched channel in Egypt as of the first quarter of 2012, with a total of 213.12m weekly viewers, according to IPSOS. It was followed by CBC, with approximately 164.03m, Al Hayat 2, with 13.28m, Dream2 (117.25m) and Al Nahar (98.38m).

Of the top 10 channels, only two are non-Egyptian: UAE-owned Rotana Cinema and MBC2, of the Dubai-based pan-Arab MBC network. This reflects both a public preference for local content, and the strength of local broadcasters. Foreign-owned broadcasters do have a presence on the Egyptian market, including BBC Arabic, but have not always lived up to their potential. Aside from Rotana and MBC, one exception is Al Jazeera Misr, the local branch of the Qatar-based broadcaster that has made waves worldwide.

Among the 16 new launches since the revolution are CBC, a general entertainment and current affairs channel owned by media magnate Mohammed Al Amin and launched in July 2011; Al Nahar, a group of general entertainment channels (launched June 2011); and the Muslim Brotherhood-backed 25TV, which was started to broadcast the protests in Tahrir Square in January 2011. CBC has proved particularly popular with young women. The new entrants have been strikingly successful. Al Nahar achieved the second-highest viewership in Ramadan 2011, after just two months on air.

NEW MODELS: While the wave of new channels has largely been led by domestic investors, in May 2011 Rotana launched Rotana Misirya, a general entertainment channel tailored for the Egyptian market.

Amany Aboul Fetouh, the media director at the PR agency TRACCS, told OBG that the new stations are helping shake up the Egyptian media scene. “CBC is one of the most viewed and most credible channels in Egypt,” Fetouh said. “It has recruited stars to create a ‘mega-channel’, it has invested in people and technology, and it has a new, sophisticated business model integrated across media, including online. It is leveraging integration in a way we’ve not seen before.”

Some are concerned that the likes of CBC and Al Hayat are now so strong that they are becoming dominant, absorbing much of the sector’s advertising revenue, talent and the best programming, with the support of their powerful backers. But the injection of competition into the marketplace, and the introduction of more forward-looking media models are making the sector more dynamic and helping the domestic players hold their own against international rivals.

While private channels are flourishing, ERTU seems to be languishing in the wake of the revolution, in which its pro-Mubarak stance was criticised. The blows to its reputation are far from the only issues with which ERTU has to contend, Aiman El Kaissouni, the media manager at global market research firm IPSOS, said. It is an over-staffed organisation in which wages are high and which has had a culture of sinecures for some time. Recent times have seen it rely on re-runs to lower costs.

But the broadcaster remains a very useful asset for any government, given its nationwide reach. The recently elected government is unlikely to sell it, and will probably preserve it as an important organ of the state and the nation for the foreseeable future.

PROGRAMMING PREFERENCES: The DPC survey ascertained that the most popular shows in Egypt are news, films and drama. The period after the revolution has seen an explosion in the popularity of political programming, particularly chat shows. Al Hayat Al Ayoum (“Life Today”) has made waves; it is arguably Egypt’s single biggest television programme. A political and entertainment talk show, it draws even greater audiences if there are special guests. However, several people in the industry told OBG that more than a year after the revolution, Egyptians were beginning to tire of politics, and were returning to drama. “There’s a sense of fatigue with endless political coverage,” said IPSOS’s El Kaissouni. “Now people want to get away from it and are tuning into soap operas and films again.”

The proportion of foreign productions on TV is relatively low. Egyptian programmers prefer to buy the rights to formats of foreign shows and then produce local versions. For example, Lebet El Hayat (“Game of Life”), the local version of Dutch firm Endemol’s Deal or No Deal format, has proved a great hit in Egypt since its launch in 2009. But foreign productions still have considerable appeal. As well as the standard Hollywood fare, Turkish dramas have proved popular, as they have across the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, and the “Korean Wave” of programmes has had an impact.

Foreign imports may increase in the future, as making programmes in Egypt is not always cheap. Mohammed Helmy, a reporter-producer at Dream TV, said that the top series can cost LE40m ($6.7m) to make, with top stars earning an additional LE10m-20m ($1.7m-3.3m), pushing final prices for broadcasters up to LE60m ($10m) or more. This is another reason that resource-rich outfits like CBC and Al Hayat have been able to gain ground, pricing others out of the market.

RADIO: Egypt’s radio stations are continuing to diversify. While declining in some developed markets, radio remains a large and important part of the Egyptian media scene, accounting for 13% of advertising spend in 2012, according to the DPC.

In 2006 almost 80% of Egyptian households owned a radio, according to the UN’s International Telecommunications Union. Commuters who spend hours in heavy urban traffic are a core audience, while new stations appeal to the younger population. Sources differ on the exact number of stations in Egypt, as there are a range of local, national and international players.

The segment has historically been dominated by ERTU, which started broadcasting in 1934, complemented by international networks such as the Arabic-language arms of the BBC and Voice of America.

In 2003 the private stations Nile FM and Nogoom FM were launched, bringing a new dynamic to the rather staid market. English-language Nile and Arabic Nogoom focus on music and entertainment, and are targeted at the young, particularly the middle class and affluent – Nogoom has done well at attracting listeners from the 15-24 age group, especially in Cairo.

The newcomers have helped reinvigorate the radio market, increasing audience numbers and advertising revenues, though the stations have lost listeners. In response to the upstarts’ success, in 2009 ERTU launched Radio Misr in partnership with private investors. Misr is an Arabic-language station that aims to offer similar music and entertainment content as Nogoom, but targets the less-well-off. As a part state-owned station, it has the right to broadcast news, and it broadcasts countrywide, unlike the private players.

In 2010 two new radio stations were started: Mega Radio, which broadcasts content provided by the UAE’s Rotana, and Hits Radio, which broadcasts content provided by Melody, an Egyptian media firm. The most popular radio station by a large margin is Al Qur’an Al Karim, a religious station, with a remarkable 400.09m listeners a week, followed by the private Nougoum with 224.56m, Arabic music station Izaat Al Aghani (56.08m), Al Chark Al Awsat (50.68m) and Nile FM (41.53m).

MAGAZINE: Egypt’s magazine market is relatively small and not particularly dynamic. Advertising spend was estimated at only $23m in 2011, 4.5% of the total, and is forecast to grow at an annual average of just 0.5% to 2015, partly due to the shift towards online publications. The segment is small even by regional standards, perhaps because of the strength of the rest of the print media, news, current affairs, sports and TV information, are available in mainstream newspapers at cheaper prices. Fashion, a major topic for magazines worldwide, does not rank highly as an interest for Egyptian print media readers, according to the DPC.

The most popular periodicals are Al Waseet, a classified advertising publication read by 15.8% of readers, followed by Akhbar Al Hawadeth (12.9%), Akhbar Al Nogoom (9.9%), Akhbar Al Youm (9.4%) and Al Hawadeth (8.4%). Whereas some emerging markets have seen an influx of international titles in local-language translation (for example, Cosmopolitan and National

FILM: Egypt has a long tradition of film-making, and once had one of the world’s largest film industries. It has the advantage of a large domestic market, as well as being fairly cost-competitive. Film-makers from the Arab World and beyond often work in the Egyptian Media Production City, a 35m-sq-metre complex that includes television and film production studios, as well as broadcast systems and other media services.

From the 1990s the Egyptian film industry faced strong competition from Syria, particularly for Ramadan viewing. However, Egypt has re-asserted itself, partly as it tends to have better funding (including capital from the Gulf) and partly due to the increased media freedom in the country following the revolution.

With Syria politically unstable and through much of 2011 and up to the time of research in mid-2012, Cairo has attracted Syrian talent to its own studios. Long-term competition seems more likely to come from the Gulf countries, which have greater resources to support studios and film-makers, as well as TV channels with global reach to broadcast their productions.

Given the popularity of films in Egypt, there are few conventional cinemas, with only around five screens per million people. In India, the ratio is eight, in Lebanon 45, and in the US, 127. Plans to expand cinemas were put on hold during the uncertain times of 2011, but are expected to restart in 2012. Even though demand for Egyptian screenings is good, government limits on the screening of foreign-made films may be holding back growth of cinemas and the development of a cinema-going culture. In the DPC’s assessment, Egypt has considerable potential for cinema growth, which will also benefit the local filmmaking industry by broadening audiences and increasing box-office income.

OUTLOOK: Egypt’s media sector has long been a regional leader, both due to its large domestic market and the international reputation of some of its publishers and broadcasters. The country has lost ground to the Gulf as a cultural exporter, but is reasserting itself. The revolution has had a huge impact on the industry, with independent TV channels and publications gaining ground in the new environment of openness and competition. The best newcomers are now setting the pace with innovative content and intelligent use of new media. They are showing the way toward the nation’s media future.

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The Report: Egypt 2012

Media & Advertising chapter from The Report: Egypt 2012

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