A long-awaited system to monitor TV audiences in the key advertising market of Saudi Arabia is expected to launch by September next year.
Television is the dominant medium in the Arab world, and accounted for 62 per cent of the region's total advertising spending last year, according to the Pan Arab Research Centre (Parc).
Yet there is no accurate way to measure TV audiences in Saudi Arabia, the region's third-largest advertising market, according to Parc.
A system is currently in development in the UAE, and advertisers expect a similar initiative to launch in Saudi Arabia next year.
"We would expect that to land [about] or just after Ramadan next year … in terms of live ratings being available to the market," said David Porter, the media director for the Middle East and North Africa at Unilever.
Mr Porter is also a board member of the Advertisers Business Group (ABG), a membership-based organisation of key advertisers in the Gulf region.
He said ABG had been in talks to participate in Saudi Arabia's planned TV-measurement system, initiated by the ministry of information. The consultancy firm Oliver Wyman is also involved in the process, he added.
Advertisers have long called for reliable statistics on TV audiences. The introduction of such a system on a pan-Arab basis would boost regional advertising spending by US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) within five years, according to a report issued last year by the management consultancy AT Kearney.
Mr Porter said it was unlikely spending would rise by such an amount, but the "people meters" initiative would help "grow the market".
"Because we know where we are getting our value, it will allow us to invest in winners in terms of stations, and programmes and times of day," he said. "And it will allow the stations to raise their game and their product, so it will improve viewership generally. So that will grow the market."
There are no accurate statistics about the size of the total advertising market in Saudi Arabia. According to Parc, the total domestic spending across all media amounted to $1.2bn last year, but that did not take into account the large amount of discounted or free advertising.
Mr Porter said the introduction of the system would also help TV broadcasters plan their programming.
"What's sorely missing in the TV industry in the region is great, professional programming scheduling. And you just can't do that without virtually live ratings," he said. "The vast bulk of most stations' programming budgets is spent in creating Ramadan schedules. Not to have any idea of your return on investment in terms of audience, yet alone ad revenues, must be debilitating for most TV stations. I think that is one of the driving forces behind this [initiative]."
Fellow ABG board members said they would welcome the launch of a TV measurement system in Saudi Arabia.
"The best thing that could ever happen for us is to be able to understand where we are putting our money, and what we're getting out of it. It's not about investing more or investing less," said Raef Labaky, the communication and marketing services director at Nestle Middle East.
The ABG, which has 33 members, recently voted in a new board. Fadi Ghosn, a member of the board who is also the chief marketing officer at GM Middle East, said the group had four priorities.
These include encouraging the measurement of TV audiences in the region, working on the regulation and measurement of outdoor advertising, and helping to establish a code of conduct for the advertising industry.