As Qatar’s economy has grown, so has demand for information, driving tremendous progress in the media industry and its related sectors. State-owned print and radio media first emerged in the 1960s and defined the market for several decades, but recently the sector has been dominated by the rise of Al Jazeera, an increasingly influential global force in the industry. Launched in 1996, Al Jazeera has grown rapidly, with its Arabic and English stations reaching a combined total of more than 250m households in over 130 countries, according to the broadcaster.
GROWTH FACTORS: The popularity and reach of the media has also had an impact on the advertising and communications industry, which has seen double-digit growth over the past five years. Supported in part by other national investments, sports viewership has played a significant role in this surge and is likely to be an area of expansion going forward. The rise of digital news and entertainment venues also provide tremendous potential, and journalism and media education initiatives through Qatar University and the Qatar Foundation will serve to further strengthen the local market, pointing to a positive future for the sector. To keep up with the rise of new media, the government is drafting a law that seeks to modernise the existing framework.
PRESSING PRINT: Qatar’s print media first emerged in the 1960s with the publication of Doha and Education magazines, produced and distributed by the Department of Information in 1969 and 1970, respectively. Private publications soon followed into the market, led by the Al Urooba Press and Publishing Organisation, which issued the nation’s first political weekly magazine, Al Urooba, in 1970.
The first monthly magazine in Qatar for women was issued in 1977, followed by a sporting magazine in 1978. Later, the Gulf Publishing and Printing Company printed the first English-language newspaper, The Gulf Times, which first was started as a weekly publication before it turned into a daily in 1981.
The market has grown steadily in recent years, with a number of outlets established in the country. A recent report from IREX, a US non-profit organisation for international education in academic research, professional training and technical assistance, indicates there are six active newspapers and nine magazines. The report also estimates the top five newspapers have a circulation of almost 100,000 copies per day. These include Al Raya (18,000), Gulf Times (18,000), Al Sharq (15,000), Al Watan (15,000), and The Peninsula. International newspapers and magazines, such as The Economist and Financial Times, are also distributed in Qatar.
TELEVISION & RADIO BROADCASTING: Television has been a media force in Qatar since the 1970s, but it was not until 1993 that Qatar Cablevision broke into the market with satellite broadcasting technology, ushering in the new era of cable television. This was the first time Qatar had access to international channels, such as CNN and BBC, but it was only in 1996 when Al Jazeera, the first non-government owned channel, aired via satellite.
Today television penetration is high: according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in 2004 Qatar had 421 television sets per 1000 people. In a more recent survey, carried out by the Arab Advisors Group in 2007, almost 95% of the respondents said they had a satellite dish.
Radio is also still a popular medium, with 12 radio stations and more than 800,000 receivers creating a broad network throughout the country that reached 58% of the adult population in 2011. Despite the rise of mobile and internet media, 88% of respondents to a survey in 2007 said they listened to the radio, with 49.3% said they tuned in on a daily basis. While the increase in connectivity, especially through high-capacity mobile phone coverage, will inevitably reduce the mass appeal of traditional radio, a study commissioned by the Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology (ictQATAR), the nation’s ICT policy and regulatory body, has shown that radio is likely to remain a popular source of news. According to the study, internet users in Qatar do not generally access television and radio programming online, indicating a slower shift away from traditional media sources. However, many stations are upgrading systems and expanding services to include internet streaming and sales through iTunes and other digital venues, increasing the global reach of Qatari radio. Qatar Foundation’s QF Radio, for example, streams its 93.7 FM channel online and also has a comprehensive set of sports and news broadcasts available through its website.
AL JAZEERA: Now a global household name and media powerhouse, Al Jazeera was established in 1996 after the BBC’s Arabic channel was taken off the air. At the time, the company aired a single channel with only six hours of content a day; today Al Jazeera broadcasts several 24-hr news and sports channels on air in Arabic and English in countries across the globe. Employing about 3000 people, including more than 400 journalists from 60 countries, the channel estimates that it reaches approximately 250m households in 130 countries.
As of 2009, Al Jazeera’s English-language service could be viewed in every major European market and is available to 130m homes in over 100 countries via cable and satellite. It is also the most watched news channel on YouTube, receiving 2.5m views per month. Its news programmes rotate around broadcasting centres in Doha, London and Washington, DC, enabling a global perspective set to be strengthened with the recent bureaus added in Chicago and Miami and plans to expand to Los Angeles.
Al Jazeera was established as an independent news channel. Maintaining that reputation, it transformed Arab media in the process. Reporting on controversial topics and airing views contrary to the Arab politic, Al Jazeera has upset both Arab and Western leaders. However, its commitment to uncompromised reporting catapulted it into becoming one of the world’s fastest growing news conglomerates.
ONLINE AND MOBILE MEDIA: Internet and telecommunications service delivery and infrastructure are still vastly dominated by Qtel, the former government-run Qatar Public Telecommunications Corporation. Qtel introduced internet services in 1996 and became a publicly traded company in 1999 when its listed on the London Stock Exchange. The company has grown significantly since then and has an ambitious goal of being “among the top 20 telecommunications companies in the world by 2020”. The company already has a presence in 17 countries and has plans to expand in the Middle East and North Africa region and South-east Asia. Globally, the company provides coverage to a population in excess of 560m people, with 57.5m consolidated subscribers.
Driven by an affluent population and a still undeveloped market, Qatar’s online and mobile media market presents tremendous opportunities for businesses. Content distribution is made easier through a high rate of internet and mobile phone connectivity. World Bank data shows there were more than 1.2m internet subscribers and over 2.3m mobile phone subscribers 2010. Furthermore, a large portion of the population is increasingly linked into social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. According to data from Born Interactive, a media agency, an estimated 34% of the population had a Facebook account in 2010, behind only Bahrain and the UAE among the Gulf countries. The purchasing power of this population is huge, representing a vast market for online and mobile advertising and sales.
Businesses are also increasing their web presence, though smaller local businesses lag behind in this regard; while 95% of large businesses with over 500 employees have a website, only 40% of medium-sized businesses (under 100 employees) and 6% of small businesses (under nine employees) have one, according to the “Qatar Digital Media Landscape 2011” study commissioned by ictQATAR. Within this context, the number of business service providers that host and design websites, develop mobile applications and provide online advertising is also growing.
STAFFING: The number of ICT employees supporting this growth in the private sector is also growing, with an estimated 24,000 people working in the sector in 2011, up from 20,000 in 2009. However, demand still vastly outnumbers supply, especially for specialists trained in digital media services. While the limited availability of digital media professionals is likely to be a constraint in the short term, the government has invested in programmes to develop the required skills through Qatar Foundation and Qatar University. As the “Digital Media Landscape 2011” report concludes, “the country’s digital media industry is in the initial stages of development: the basic foundations are in place and a level of sophistication exists on which to build the sector to reach the levels found in more mature markets”.
BANKING ON SPORTS: The year 2011 was ushered in with the announcement from FIFA awarding Qatar the winning bid to host the 2022 World Cup. The bid was part of a broader government strategy to build Qatar into a centre for sporting events in the Gulf region and the broader Middle East. Al Jazeera alone airs a total of 10 sports channels, most of which focus on football leagues in Europe. The network has also invested heavily in buying broadcasting rights for major global sporting events. Recent deals with Arab Radio and Television have made Al Jazeera the leading sports broadcaster in the region, opening a very large market for subscriptions, advertising, and other related sports content (see analysis).
ADVERTISING: The explosion in content provision through print, radio, online and mobile media in Qatar is driving corresponding growth in advertising revenues. According to figures from the Pan Arab Research Centre, advertising expenditure in the Middle East as a whole grew by 24% in 2010 to reach $13.7bn, with the Qatari market growing by 16%, from $402m in 2009 to $467m in 2010. The next year, however, saw these figures fall in Qatar by 3% to $445m. This might be explained by lower government expenditures, which dropped from $189m in 2010 to $154m in 2011, most likely because of decreased spending after the 2022 World Cup bid.
Despite the overall decrease, media and publisher advertising in newspapers and television almost doubled from $6.6m in 2010 to $10.8m in 2011. The recent expansion of sports coverage, especially the World Cup 2010 and 2014 broadcasting rights, and increased global interest in the regional market will likely drive these numbers up in the coming years.
Al Jazeera’s global reach and broadcasting rights for premium content allow the network to command significantly higher advertising rates than local channels. For example, a 30-second advertising spot broadcast during a prime-time show on Al Jazeera’s English news channel costs $5175, according to q.media, the state-owned media house with sole representation of the Al Jazeera network, Qatar TV and Qatar Radio. This compares to QR3105 ($853) on Qatar TV’s English news channel.
Following the broader trend in the sector, sports channels command the largest viewership and therefore the highest rates. Peak rates for ad spots during regular broadcasting on one of Al Jazeera’s sports channels can cost up to $7000, but this figure is dwarfed by the $35,000 charged during premium events such as UEFA Champions League games. These revenue streams are expected to decrease Al Jazeera’s dependence on public funding, but are unlikely to cover the total cost of operations.
However, while spot rates in print and radio are lower, advertising in newspapers is still the dominant avenue for companies in Qatar, accounting for $368m in 2010 and $347m in 2011. Outdoor advertising on billboards and in public spaces is a significant market, but one which is shrinking, accounting for $62m in 2010 and falling to $55m in 2011. This might drop further as the government considers enforcing restrictions on ads that are not in Arabic. Advertising on radio stayed roughly level at just over $5m.
It is likely that these advertising figures will start shifting as the market, in general, and companies and consumers, in particular, mature. This points to the potential for growth in the future of advertising in Qatar, not only for broadcasters who capture advertising dollars, but also in developing related marketing businesses and consultancies.
MEDIA LAW: Qatar is currently developing new policies for the media sector. Despite rapid changes in the local media landscape, Qatar’s 1979 press and publications law has never been amended though a widely anticipated new media law has been under review for several months. While Qatar’s government relaxed media regulations in 1995, recent moves towards drafting and implementing new media laws have reopened debate on the role of government in the sector. Additionally, the rise of digital news and entertainment venues further complicates the topic, with an increasing number of people turning to blogs and online sources for information.
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF), which was established in 2008, plays an important role in this debate and is one positive step towards ensuring the country builds on recent progress towards press freedom in Qatar and the region at large. The DCMF is administered by a board of governors chaired by Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, the chairman of Al Jazeera. The organisation is run by its director-general, Jan Keulen.
The draft law circulated in the press indicates that, moving away from the present rule, law enforcement agencies will not be allowed to detain journalists for questioning without a court order. It also allows journalists the right to protect their sources unless ordered to disclose them by a court order. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism will license all members of the media, but will not have censorship powers. Under the proposed law, all foreign journalists will need to hold a degree in mass communications and must be accredited by a committee to be set up by the ministry for the purpose of practising journalism. Similarly, Qatari citizens applying for a media licence will need to be at least 21 years old and have certain minimum education credentials. The DCMF, Qatar Foundation and Qatar University all have initiatives to increase the number of local journalists and professionals in the sector.
The vast majority of the media, including Al Jazeera, is dependent on public funding, creating a potential source of conflict of interest between government regulation and freedom of the press.
MEDIA EDUCATION: Convincing young students to enter the media and journalism profession has been challenging, but the field is increasingly seen as a viable career option. The government has identified the sector as a priority under its development strategy and has committed a significant amount of money to invest in education and training services.
Institutions in the country have established programmes to help train journalists and educate future participants in the local sector. Qatar University, for example, has courses in mass communication and information sciences. The DCMF also conducts training sessions for local journalists.
However, the big shift in recent years is through major investments by the Qatar Foundation, which brought international expertise directly into the country by inviting Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) to establish a campus in Education City in 2008. This is a tremendous step forward for the sector not only in Qatar, but the entire region. NU-Q is already working across regional borders, most notably through its holding of a conference that facilitates discussions on the role of media with representatives of Libya’s post-revolution government. The conference, initiated by the Libyan delegation and hosted in Doha, aims to enable Libyan efforts to develop its media practically from scratch.
The university is aware of the challenges posed by boosting interest in the sector. NU-Q’s dean and CEO, Everette Dennis, noted, “One of the main challenges [in the journalism sector] is that we suffer from a lack of awareness as well as a negative perception. Communications is too broad and can be potentially misunderstood and not taken seriously. The problem is that now media and communications has never been more important so there is a need to adapt to a changing media environment.”
EXPANDING THE SECTOR: In a bid to expand the media sector and related industry, Qatar is now planning on establishing a dedicated media and communications free zone called Qatar Media City outside Doha. According to the Qatar Financial Centre Authority, the project would be a joint venture between Al Jazeera, Qatari Diar and Qatar Media Corporation, and will eventually house over 25,000 media and communications professionals. Al Jazeera would hold a 50% stake in the initiative with the remaining 50% divided between the other two partners. The initiative is part of the government’s broader objective of building Qatar into a centre for news content development for the Arab world.
The final proposal is yet to be confirmed by the government, but NU-Q was recently asked to study the viability of the initiative. One major concern is the presence of over eight other media free zones that are currently operating in Egypt, the UAE and Oman. Al Jazeera’s global reach and brand name, however, is likely to help the newcomer quickly establish a presence and attract qualified professionals.
OUTLOOK: Qatar is well placed to continue expanding its local, regional and global media markets. Investments from the state into the sector have positioned the country as a regional and global leader in the industry, helping lay a foundation for private sector growth over the next decade.
Al Jazeera’s success has helped attract professionals from across the industry into Qatar. Content development in Arabic is still a nascent industry but is likely to expand quickly. In addition to establishing its presence in traditional print and television broadcasting, the country’s focus on developing the digital media sector through training in Education City and elsewhere will help build the capacity for expansion into new markets. Related investments in ICT infrastructure, including a high-speed fibre-to-home network will be particularly valuable as the local population rapidly shifts to online and mobile media.