Qatar is a major player in the Middle Eastern and international media industries, thanks in large part to its status as the home of Al Jazeera. The country is also an important regional advertising market, particularly in regard to newspaper spend, and is emerging as a notable supporter of international cinema.
Internet has the greatest reach of any medium in Qatar, with 97% of residents having access to online content, according to the “Media Use in the Middle East 2017” report. As traditional forms of media increase their online presence, fewer respondents report consuming offline products. From 2013 to 2017 the rates at which people consumed media via offline newspapers, radio and TV fell from 62-39%, 64-56%, and 90-79%, respectively. Qatari residents also watch less offline TV than their regional peers, with 79% of respondents watching at least once a week according to the report, below the regional average of 92.7%. Newspapers maintained their position as the biggest advertising platform. According to the 4 International Media & Newspapers website, newspapers with the largest readership numbers include the English-language Gulf Times and The Peninsula Online, and as the Arabic-language Al Sharq, Al Watan and Al Raya.
The launch of Qatar-based, panArab news channel Al Jazeera in 1996 transformed the Middle Eastern media landscape. While numerous other pan-Arab news channels now compete with Al Jazeera, it remains the most-watched Arab news network, and the sixth-most-watched news network globally in 2017. The channel, which is owned by the Qatari government, quickly became known for hosting discussion programmes featuring a wider range of viewpoints than were traditionally available in Middle Eastern media.
Al Jazeera has since developed into a wide-ranging network of television channels and media outlets operating under the umbrella of the Al Jazeera Media Network. The channel’s first major foray came in 2003 when it launched Al Jazeera Sport, which has since expanded into a standalone sports and pay-TV network independent of the news network, known as beIN SPORTS. In 2006 Al Jazeera launched an English-language news channel, Al Jazeera English, followed by the Sarajevo-headquartered Al Jazeera Balkans in 2011 and the US-based Al Jazeera America in 2013, which closed in 2016. Other channels in the network include Al Jazeera Mubasher, or Al Jazeera Live, which broadcasts live footage of breaking news and events, and Al Jazeera Al Wathaiqiya, which broadcasts documentaries. The network also operates websites linked to its various television channels, as well as AJ+, an English-language online news platform, and a Turkish-language news site (and associated applications), Al Jazeera Türk, which was inaugurated in 2014.
Al Jazeera Sport formally separated from its original parent network and rebranded itself as beIN SPORTS in 2014. The breakaway network has expanded rapidly and now operates 60 channels across 34 countries. It continues to grow, both geographically and conceptually; most recently, in August 2016, the group bought Turkey’s largest pay-TV operator, Digitürk, having acquired US film studio Miramax earlier in the year. The former transaction occurred against the background of rapid growth in the Middle Eastern pay-TV market, with revenues across six countries in the region – Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the UAE – having more than doubled between 2010 and 2015, to $975.6m.
Another player in the pan-Arab media space is Qatari firm Fadaat Media, based in London. Unlike Al Jazeera, which is owned by the Qatari state, Fadaat is privately owned. In 2013 the company launched a pan-Arab news website, Al Araby Al Jadeed (The New Arab), followed afterwards by a print daily newspaper of the same name. In 2015 it also launched a television channel, the London-based Al Araby TV.
Founded in 2010, the Doha Film Institute (DFI) operates DFI Productions. The production company produces original content for television, radio, cinema and the internet, in collaboration with both foreign filmmakers and its own trainees, as well as work on behalf of other organisations in Qatar, such as businesses, NGOs and government entities. The institute also provides financial backing for independent film productions, through both a grants programme and a co-financing initiative. The institute has provided support for more than 300 films since its inception, and its co-productions are garnering growing critical acclaim, helping to put Qatar on the film-making map. In addition, the institute organises an annual event known as Qumra that gathers together established figures from the international film industry, such as producers, financial backers and festival organisers, and connects them with up-and-coming filmmakers seeking backing for their projects, as well as the Ajyal (“Generations”) Youth Film Festival. “The cultural scene of Qatar has always been vibrant, and has served as a driving force of the economy, attracting talent and resources from across the world,” Fatma Al Remaihi, CEO of the DFI, told OBG. “The focus on creating a cultural economy, as outlined in Vision 2030, is a perfect fit to the social and economic aspirations of the country and its people.”
Qatar is a particularly important regional advertising market, especially in the print media sphere. Despite the country’s small population, it accounted for 10% of Middle Eastern newspaper advertising outlay in 2016 – for a total spend of $177m – and 13% of expenditure on outdoor advertising, according to Northwestern University in Qatar and DFI’s “Media Industries in the Middle East 2016” online report.
While there are signs that online channels are gaining momentum for advertisers, newspapers are still the most important advertising platform in Qatar. Indeed, although the MENA region as a whole witnessed a downturn in ad revenues generated by newspapers of 13 percentage points between 2010 and 2015, according to the report, this trend was not observable in Qatar.
“Government entities account for the bulk of media spend,” Krikor Khatchikian, general manager of Grey Doha advertising agency, told OBG. “Some private and semi-government companies such as banks and telecoms firms are also major purchasers. There have been some changes in the profile of advertisers due to the drop in oil and gas revenues, which have also led to more conservative media budgets; nevertheless, state spending on advertising for major projects, such as infrastructure improvements and initiatives under the framework of Qatar Vision 2030, remain steady.”
While the pan-Arab news space is becoming ever more competitive, Qatar remains a leading voice in the region for coverage and analysis of news and current events. With extremely high levels of online connectivity, media consumption and advertising are set to gravitate more and more towards the internet, although print media appears likely to continue to dominate advertising purchases in coming years.
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