e72d1850c198a210VgnVCM200000e66411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2010-08When families break their fast, advertisers join themd72d1850c198a210VgnVCM200000e66411ac____When families break their fast, advertisers join themBroadcasters need to go beyond their "seasonal" approach. They must adopt more accurate audience measurement systems and provide programmes that attract audiences all year round.<p>As millions around the world look to the holy month for spiritual fulfilment, television broadcasters see it as a powerful driver of their financial development. The television industry mobilises during the month to air its best shows when advertising rates reach their highest levels.
For television broadcasters, especially free-to-air channels in financial hardship, a Ramadan "big bang" programme strategy might be helpful in keeping them afloat in the short run. Yet, for the television industry to survive and flourish in the context of a global downturn, it needs to go beyond Ramadan by addressing its financial woes on a long-term basis.</p>
<p>A convergence of rising consumerism, social cohesion, and relaxation has made television a favourite companion in Ramadan, which is responsible for the remarkable surge in advertising and sponsorship-based television funding.
Since I began to fast as a religious obligation, I have vivid memories of growing urges within me to buy things, especially foodstuffs, as I fasted. The bad thing was that once I broke the fast with water and dates, those urges tended to vanish. The piles of food items my family bought no longer held my attention. The good thing, however, was that my day-time stomach struggles gave way to a stronger sense of family attachment.</p>
<p>Post-Iftar gatherings, defined by family bonding, were indeed a prime feature of Ramadan. Yet, after Taraweeh prayers, the purity and intimacy is no longer sustained when some family members seek company from their television. But of course, watching television is not always antithetical to the development of family bonds. The "tube" during Ramadan can help a family share in laughter and suspense.</p>
<p>If you are old enough to have lived in the 1970s and 1980s, you would have certainly been familiar with genres like Fawazeer Ramadan (Ramadan Quizzes), Musulsalat Ramadan (Ramadan serials) as well as the candid camera shows. In recent years, such programmes have given way to visually captivating and technologically complex genres but the close affinity between the holy month and television has endured.</p>
<p>The finest truly Arabian shows like the Syrian Bab al Hara, the UAE Shaabieyat al Cartoon and Freej, and a wide range of Egyptian drama productions all launch during Ramadan. These shows, produced months before Ramadan, also offer compelling social and cultural themes that Arab audiences always find highly relevant. For broadcasters, these shows do not only contribute to the enrichment of local Arab content, but also to hefty advertising revenues.</p>
<p>But no matter how high advertising rates get in Ramadan, they are not likely to substantially improve the region's overall ad spend, which falls below international standards.
In the UK, for example, the cost per hour of original content on the top channels is worth two to four times as much as the average Arabic series on the top 15 pan-Arab channels. The region's advertising spend, at just $22 per capita, is already very low compared to other markets around the world. The cost of a 30-second ad doubles during Ramadan and the improvement in the quality of production shows.</p>
<p>As the global economic downturn continues to cast its shadow on the region's television industry, it certainly takes more than one month to breathe life into financially fatigued operations. Prime-time airings of high-quality television shows in Ramadan would most likely render their repeat transmissions during the rest of the year the least attractive for both audiences and advertisers.
The 2010 Arab Media Outlook Report forecasts that advertising revenues will return to pre-crisis levels by the end of 2011. But when it comes to television broadcasting, especially on free-to-air channels, the picture looks bleak. Broadcasters need to go beyond their "seasonal" approach. They must adopt more accurate audience measurement systems and provide programmes that attract audiences all year round.</p>
<p><i>Muhammad Ayish is a UAE-based media researcher and adviser</i></p>