Dividing the media will help it to conquer

"Fragmentation" of the media presents an opportunity for Middle Eastern operators to fix some of their biggest problems, industry experts said yesterday.

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"Fragmentation" of the media, which can be troubling for companies in developed markets, presents an opportunity for Middle Eastern operators to fix some of their biggest problems, industry experts said yesterday. Fragmentation is the term used by media experts to describe the splitting of media into multiple platforms such as the internet, mobile phones and satellite dishes, among others. In the past, media were coralled into single platforms such as newspapers, terrestrial TV and radio, where advertisers could reach mass audiences.

"Digital is an opportunity exactly because it will fragment the audience," said Karim Sarkis, the executive director of broadcast at the Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC). "It allows us to go back and address individual markets and extract value from those individual markets based on measurable performance." ADMC is the owner and publisher of The National. Middle East television stations have been trying for years to figure out a way to slice up the region's audience so they can make more money from advertising. Sam Barnett, the chief operating officer and general manager of MBC Group, which runs several of the top-rated television channels in the Arab world, said one possibility could be to break up the pan-Arab satellite beam into smaller beams covering individual regions, such as the Gulf or the Levant.

But he, too, was more interested in the possibilities the internet and mobile media offered in addressing one of the core problems of the Middle East television industry. "We get 106 million viewers a day on one of our channels but we are only able to monetise a small number of those." But while media companies want to localise their digital products in the Arab world, telecommunications operators are imploring them to collaborate to create content that is tailor-made for the Web.

"What we need from the media partners is not only a matter of creativity, it's commercial creativity," said Ali al Ahmed, the group chief strategy officer for Etisalat, the biggest UAE-based telecommunications operator. "What we need really is that if we open more pipes, open more windows, I believe there's no skills yet right now to put that content in those new windows." Osman Sultan, the chief executive of du, the UAE's second-largest telecoms operator, said the region needed to take a "leap of faith" to rise in the digital age.

"There is not one single digital destination in every Arab country that comes from the Arab world," Mr Sultan said. "Is the Middle East going to miss this digital era? We missed the steam revolution and the industrial era. We buy technology, we use technology but we do not develop technology." @Email:khagey@thenational.ae dgeorgecosh@thenational.ae