With a surge of independent newspapers, Morocco’s media landscape is gaining diversity as it tries to adapt its dispersed market to the growing weight of online news content. Internet-based products are becoming more relevant, as new daily and weekly Arabic print newspapers compete for advertising spend with francophone titles. The new radio audience measurement system is pushing established stations to adapt to an open market and revealing Moroccan listening habits established since the liberalisation of the sector. Television channels remain state-dominated, but foreign cable channels are competing for Moroccan audiences with televised products of pan-Arab appeal. New laws and regulations are important steps towards encouraging better-managed media ventures, as increasing literacy and economic development help to consolidate the country’s established media offering.

NEWSPAPER GALORE: With the transition from a sector dominated by newspapers associated with political parties or currents, to an open market of diverse titles, Morocco’s newspaper offering remains abundant. “The four best-selling newspapers are independent. The top one sells 100,000 copies a day, and the best-selling partisan newspaper sells 10,000 copies a day, so it is clear that the sector has transitioned into an era of commercial titles,” said Noureddine Miftah, the president of the Moroccan Federation of Newspaper Editors (MFNE). Although mostly independent, the market is also extremely fragmented. There are around 500 titles, including daily newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines, and Arabic and francophone biweekly reviews covering a wide range of subjects. However, the level of professionalism of media companies varies greatly. The MFNE estimates that only about 70 of existent titles are duly organised media companies.

RISING ABOVE THE REST: Competition for advertising spend remains fierce, which ultimately affects the final price charged for advertising spaces. “The official market figures claim that the total advertising investment in Morocco for all media in 2012 was just under Dh6bn (€533m), but even this is too high, because it does not take into account the discounts, free pages and regressive advertisement pricing that reduce real prices,” said Miftah, adding that spend on advertising is probably closer to Dh2.7bn (€240m).

Ultimately, this is linked to the still considerable rate of illiteracy afflicting the country. Despite the abundance of newspaper options, consumption remains small, with a total daily circulation of between 300,000 and 340,000 for all the country’s print titles combined. This underlines the need for some consolidation in the sector. And as a clear sign that Morocco is not immune to international media trends, early 2013 registered the end of Actuel, an established weekly news magazine.

The management of the title said in a press release that falling advertising sales for print media had made the sustainability of the magazine untenable. In 2011 Actuel sold an average of 3704 copies a week.

STEADY LEVELS: In fact, advertising expenditure on print media seems to have reached a plateau for the moment. It rose consistently from Dh874m (€77.7m) in 2007 up to Dh1.3bn (€115.6m) in 2010, but has remained between Dh1.2bn (€106.7m) and Dh1.3bn (€115.6m) over 2011-12, according to figures by the Advertisers Association of Morocco (Groupement des Annonceurs du Maroc, GAM).

Despite difficulties, this is still a market where good concepts can thrive, whether in paper or online. The end of 2012 was marked by the surprisingly quick emergence of Al Akhbar (“The News”), a new daily Arabic-language newspaper, edited by Rachid Nini, a former editor of the Arabic newspaper Al Masae who also spent a year in jail after being convicted of defamation against members of the security services. Launched in November 2012 it quickly became the second-largest title in terms of circulation, selling an average of 100,000 copies per day. Mid-2012 also saw the launch of another weekly Arabic title, Al An (“Now”). In an unusual move showcasing the market’s resilience in hard times, a leading news and current events website, Hespress, which attracts some 600,000 visitors daily, recently started publishing a weekly print magazine. “There is still room for good products in print media, and the success of some new Arab-language newspapers is a sign that the press sector in Morocco still has the potential to grow in the future with innovative products,” Mounir Jazouli, the vice-president of GAM, told OBG.

SPECIAL MARKETS: Additionally, the Moroccan print sector also includes a series of specialist publications. Three of them focus on female readers, such as Lalla Fatima, with circulation of 35,469, and Nissae Min Al Maghrib (20,096), as well as its French version, Femme du Maroc (11,193). There is also a magazine targeting food aficionados and the agro-industry, Food Magazine, a French monthly with a distribution of around 9000 copies. Some free publications are becoming part of the market, such as the weekly Sport Hebdo, a weekly review in French with a distribution of about 30,096 copies or the Agriculture du Maghreb, which puts out an average of 8000 copies with varying periodicity.

Regular print and sale figures of the main print newspapers are published by the Circulation Audit Bureau (Organisme de Justification de la Diffusion, OJD), which is composed of media companies, advertising agencies and advertisers. The bureau was created in 2004, and despite bringing some clarity to a multi-layered market, a more enhanced system adding total readership to print and sales figures would do much to help gauge the weight of each title in the market.

ARABIC VS. FRENCH: Most newspapers and magazines use either Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or French, and there is currently no publication in Darija (the spoken Moroccan Arabic, which is quite different from MSA). Despite selling more copies than French newspapers, Arabic-language titles generally attract less advertising spend. “It is a market paradox that reflects a country paradox. The elite are francophone, because the economy and the financial sector in Morocco speak French,” MFNE’s Miftah told OBG.

This vision is changing though, as sales of Arabic newspapers continue to increase. The four top-selling newspapers are in Arabic and they sell several times what francophone titles sell, added Miftah. Daily Al Massae, remains the highest-selling newspaper in the country, increasing sales from 40,816 copies in 2006 to 108,185 copies in 2012, according to OJD. Another Arabic daily heavyweight, Assabah, owned by the Eco-Média group, sells around 70,000 copies a day.

Of the French titles, L’Economiste, also owned by the Eco-Média group and is the top francophone business newspaper in the kingdom, with an average circulation of some 19,230 in 2012. Another French economic newspaper, the weekly Les Echos, sold an average of 15,413 copies daily that year. The weekly news magazine TelQuel, also in French, had a circulation of 18,377 over the same period.

CLICKING FOR NEWS: According to the latest government figures, around 16m Moroccans now have regular access to the internet. This is a promising figure for the online ventures that are changing the face of newspapers and other news delivery media in the country. Several print newspapers had already understood the importance of digital platforms and started to complement their print offer with online formats. The website for L’Economiste remains one of the most popular news sites in French in the country. The main daily Arabic titles also have associated online platforms. Arabic news sites dominate the segment, with Goud, Lakom and Hespress being the most popular.

EXPANDED OFFERINGS: A daily news site in French called InfoMédiaire was launched in 2011 to serve as a real-time news portal; it also boasts an associated video news service. In 2012 another daily online newspaper in English, the Morocco News Mirror, was launched to cater to expatriates by offering news features, analyses and daily reporting on a wide range of subjects.

Other projects are reconciling the rift between readers of French and Arabic. PanoraMaroc, an online platform that started operations in 2011, translates opinion pieces and editorials from the extensive choice of Arabic newspapers into French. It currently has 3500 daily visits, and its founder and editor, Aziz Boucetta believes that these figures could eventually climb to between 20,000 and 30,000 hits a day, in line with the spend (see Advertising overview). As further proof that the Moroccan media business is increasingly attractive to foreign players, news conglomerate Bloomberg announced it would establish a base for its African operations in Casablanca. Focusing on the Maghreb and francophone Africa, satellite channel Bloomberg-Afrique will be broadcast in French and be managed by Casablanca Media Partners.

The decision to ban live transmission of gambling games on state television by the minister of telecommunications and government spokesperson, Mustapha El Khalfi, after the arrival of the Islamic Justice and Development Party into government has been controversial. The new rules took effect on May 1, 2012 and were associated with other changes, such as a mandatory call to prayer five times a day on all state channels, and the growing substitution of French shows for Arabic ones. Liberal voices claimed this was the first step towards a conservative overhaul of the media sector.

COMPETING WAVELENGTHS: A new audience monitoring system implemented for the radio has made a clear impact. Since the liberalisation of the sector in 2007, the surge in private radios catering for specific listeners showcased the dynamic potential of the sector. But for years, there was no real way of knowing which ones were the most popular.

In March 2012 the media sector was able to gain real insight into the radio sector in Morocco as the Centre Interprofessionnel de Mesure d’Audience Radio, an industry group made up of radio stations, advertisers and advertising companies, published audience figures for all 17 of the country’s main radio stations between January and March 2012. The study, carried out by the global research agency Ipsos, provided a revealing portrait of Moroccans’ listening habits that surprised some advertisers and radio promoters (see Advertising overview).

The study showed that during that period, the most popular radio station in the country was Mohamed VI of the Holy Quran Radio, a religious station with an audience share of 15.3%, which amounted to 3.74m listeners across the country tuning in for an average of two hours and 14 minutes a day. Second place went to the Tangier-based MEDI 1, which was able to claim a 15.1% share of the audience, equal to 3.69m listeners who spent an average of one hour and 57 minutes a day listening to its generalist content and strong news focus. In third place, with a 10.3% share of the audience which listened for an average of two hours and 16 minutes a day, was Idaa Al Watania, which focuses on cultural programming and Moroccan pop music.

Overall, private radio channels fared worse than stateowned stations, according to the study’s findings. The lowest-ranked state radio, Chaîne Inter, had an audience share of 1.02%, a total that might be explained by its exclusively French programming. Relatively established private radio brands such as MFM, Med Radio, Aswat and Atlantic all had audience shares below 5%.

Besides setting a ranking for best and worst performers, the survey on radio preferences clarified other unknown facts about how Moroccans listen in. First, it found that radio consumption is generally done individually, rather than as a family experience in the way of watching television. Further, contrary to previously help assumptions, “drive-time”, when commuters are either driving to or from work, is not when people spend the most time listening to the radio, and the biggest audience group consists of women staying at home. On average, Moroccans spend about 10% of their day listening to the radio. Many, especially youth, now do so on their mobile phones.

The new audience monitoring system will examine average listener numbers four times a year (once per trimester in addition to a special survey during the Ramadan period). Taken together, these four surveys involve a total of 52,000 phone interviews.

AGENCY NEWS: The rising availability of real-time internet news is expected to have an impact on the country’s only news agency. Maghreb Arabe Presse (MAP) has been operating since 1959 as a private business, and was nationalised in 1974. Employing around 300 journalists and 600 total staff, the agency has 32 regional offices within the kingdom and 34 production points overseas. Accounting for about 70% of the news content present in Moroccan newspapers, the MAP publishes in Arabic, English, French and Spanish.

Although it still relies on the state for about 70% of its annual Dh200m (€17.8m) budget, the agency is considering ways to increase self-financing and reduce its dependence on the state budget. News on the internet is boosting competition for MAP, which charges for its online services to about 1000 subscribers. In view of this, the agency is embarking on a restructuring plan that will see it redeploy its resources more effectively and increase its commercial activities. It is already investing more on video, audio and photography.

This move towards more audio-visual content might be strategically important for increasing the diversity of its news through new products so as to compete with existing online content. Furthermore, MAP and the country’s Association of Independent Television and Radio, which is made up of 11 independent chains, are negotiating to enlarge MAP services to include over 10 community radios across the kingdom from 2015. The strategy plan for 2013-17, aims to reduce the state contribution to its budget to 50% in the coming years.

A NEW CODE: A revision of the current press code is under way. A 14-person commission presided over by the minister of communication was established, with representation from the MFNE as well as from the Union of Moroccan Journalists. The new press code should establish a legal standard and guidelines for online newspapers. It will also create a new national council for press and ethics. Other pressing issues are to be included as well. In recent years, judicial cases against newspapers on defamation charges have resulted in heavy fines or even imprisonment of journalists. These instances have been contested as being too harsh for solving relatively simple cases like defamation charges.

“What we need is an equitable means of justice for the sector that is independent and professional, with laws that are democratic and in harmony with the new constitution,” said Miftah of the MFNE. “A defamation case, for example, can result in a €600,000 fine for the newspaper. This is a lot of money given the average size of media companies in Morocco.”

The new law would also allow non-Moroccan citizens to have up to a 30% stake in newspapers, replacing the current law prohibiting any foreign shareholders, however minimal. This should make Moroccan media companies attractive to foreign investors wanting to get a foot in the market. The MFNE expects the new law to be passed in parliament in the second half of 2013.

OUTLOOK: With the rising number of media ventures in different communication vehicles, Morocco’s media sector is setting the pace for continued growth. The rise of new print titles in an increasingly digitally driven sector shows that the Moroccan media business still has the capacity to absorb innovative products, particularly if they cater for the larger, Arabic-speaking public. Some consolidation might create stronger media groups that can make the move from single-vehicle investors to multimedia corporate ventures that could exploit synergies between online, print, radio and television outlets. Forthcoming legislation on newspapers is should also encourage international investment.