x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Internet overtakes television in Middle East

Online ad sales are growing at a faster rate "because that is where the eyeballs are".

Internet users in the MENA region spend more time surfing the web than they do watching television, prompting analysts to predict a rise in spending on online advertising. Between 1 and 2 per cent of total advertising spending in the region goes to digital media; a tiny amount compared with TV, the dominant medium.

But with the region's youth starting to turn their backs on TV in favour of the internet, this could soon change, analysts say. An online survey of media consumption habits found 88 per cent of respondents browse the internet daily, while only 70 per cent of those questioned said they watched TV every day of the week. Just 25 per cent of the respondents said they watched TV for more than three hours a day, compared with the 51 per cent who said they spent more than three hours a day surfing the web.

The region's internet users "have a preference to going online as opposed to [watching] television", said Brendon Ogilvy, the vice president of digital insights at Effective Measure, the audience measurement company that carried out the research. Ian Sanders, the lead partner for telecommunications, media and technology at the consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers Middle East, said while internet penetration was relatively low in the region, those who were online tended to be "quite active".

"The generation that's spending a lot of time online and on social-networking sites are tending to spend less time watching TV," Mr Sanders said. "And if they want to watch TV, they do so via non-linear sites like YouTube. This is an indication of what the future holds. You'll see online ad spend increasing." Avi Bhojani, the chief executive of the Dubai marketing and communications agency BPG Group, agreed that the increasing amount of time spent online could help boost digital advertising.

"Online ad sales are growing at a rate far faster than the traditional media because that's where the eyeballs are," Mr Bhojani said. Effective Measure questioned 2,587 MENA residents, most of whom were male graduates under the age of 30 who were holding skilled jobs. About 48 per cent of the respondents lived in Egypt and 38 per cent in the GCC. MENA has relatively low levels of broadband penetration and the survey is representative only of consumers who already have access to the internet.

Saudi Arabia, the most populous country in the Gulf, had an internet penetration rate of 38.1 per cent at the end of last year, figures from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) show. The ITU also found Egypt had a penetration rate of just 20 per cent. By comparison, developed countries such as the UK and Canada have internet penetration rates of 83.5 per cent and 78.1 per cent respectively.

While the Effective Measure survey is skewed towards a young, relatively wealthy segment of the population with good knowledge of the internet, it throws light on how media consumption habits in the region could change as more residents have access to the internet. Mr Ogilvy said "the amount of time spent online compared with other mediums was surprising", but he played down the likelihood that the time spent online by the region's consumers would see a drop in TV advertising.

"It doesn't necessarily mean the internet is more attractive to advertisers [compared with TV]. It should just be seen as another medium," he said. Mazen Hayek, the director of public relations and commercial for MBC Group, said TV would remain the dominant medium in the region for "the foreseeable future". "TV penetration is 95 per cent across the MENA region," Mr Hayek said. "What about PC penetration, or the literacy rates? TV remains the primary and dominant source of entertainment in the Middle East and North Africa by far."

But he added MBC Group was "increasingly thinking of multiple touchpoints" for the delivery of its content, including online and mobile.