Is there hope for the region’s radio industry?

Radio in the Middle East has an image problem. It is failing to attract significant advertising dollars compared to its rivals in print and television, and is held in disdain by many of the people who listen to it.

  • E-Mail
By  Tim Addington Published  May 21, 2006

Is there hope for the region’s radio industry?|~|andyhosie200.jpg|~|Dubai 92's Andy Hosie|~|Radio in the Middle East has an image problem. It is failing to attract significant advertising dollars compared to its rivals in print and television, and is held in disdain by many of the people who listen to it. Inane DJs, poor production qualities and woeful local news coverage are just some of the criticisms leveled against the medium. And that’s all before the subject of the adverts even comes up. The improvement of radio across the Middle East is the subject of a four-day conference being held in Dubai this week. With the percentage of advertising share on the medium failing to reach double digits, and the near universal lack of audience research and ratings, radio executives will be hoping they can glean some useful insights into how to make it more attractive to listeners and, at the same time, encourage advertisers to spend more with it. News that Virgin Radio is eyeing a move into the UAE market (Campaign, 14 May) must surely give the industry some hope. Mark Fisher, chief operating office at Virgin Radio International, which is behind the initiative, says the UAE is becoming an attractive destination to launch the Virgin brand and he has at least two media companies eager to establish it in the market. Liberalisation of broadcasting laws in many countries across the Middle East is paving the way for private radio stations to be established, and as internet penetration continues to rise, online radio station’s become more feasible. But why is radio lagging so far behind in terms of ad revenues and listener satisfaction? Ian Carless, managing partner of this week’s International Radio Conference, claims that its infancy and the variety of alternative entertainment options available to consumers is to blame. “What people forget when they look at the radio industry here is that it’s in its infancy,” he says. “When you look at the UK, commercial radio is 30 years old and in the US it is even older. Then you look at places like Dubai and it is what seven or eight years at the very most? There is a big learning curve for radio in the region to go through. “A lot of stations have got away with doing what they were doing for a long time. There wasn’t any real competition. “But look at the other forms of entertainment available now. Look at what there was to do in Dubai 10 years ago to what there is to do now — there are vast amounts of choice available to you.” Andy Hosie, programme director at pop music station Dubai 92, says too much importance is placed on sales targets, rather than developing the on-air talent. “There is not that drive here to build up the radio personality. The radio presenter is pretty much seen as the bottom rung, whereas sales is considered far more important than the people that are promoting the brand on air.” He also claims that radio presenters are poorly paid which ultimately leads them to become disheartened and disenfranchised. “There is not the incentive to push forward. In other countries, everybody strives to become the breakfast show presenter, which is regarded as the flagship slot. I don’t think that the incentives are enough here. Why should someone do breakfast if they are not going to be paid any more than someone doing a lunchtime show? In fact, you lose because you are expected to be out of bed at 4am, cut out your social life. You don’t get any extra benefit from that.” However, Raja Halabi, commercial director at Emirates Media Incorporated, which has five commercial stations in the UAE, including Emirate FM and English language channels Radio 1 and 2, says the industry is slowly moving in the right direction. “It is a developing market in the UAE. What we are seeing now is a very competitive market. The programming is changing. It is becoming more advanced in terms of standards.” And in terms of increasing ad revenues? Halabi says: “We are seeing a progress on that, but certainly it can do much better. It all depends on the content and programming strategy each radio station follows. But I can see in the years to come the radio will start to get a substantial share of the total advertising revenue in the emirates.” Bassam Ghorayeb, sales and marketing manager at Kuwait music station Marina FM agreed. “Percentage of advertising expenditure on radio is very low. It doesn’t exceed one or two percent. More needs to be done to attract advertisers to radio.” Calls for accountability and transparency in television and publishing have been vociferous over the last 18 months, but the same cannot be said for radio. But that needs to change according to Hosie. “At the moment we really don’t know who is listening to us, or the competition,” he says. “We have a fair idea but it is through word of mouth. If you have a breakdown of age groups, when they are listening, the number of hours they listen, then you can become much more effective in your features, competitions, advertising and client targeting. It would become much more efficient.” Carless argues that radio research is the most important issue facing the industry. “The most serious thing that radio needs to do at the moment is take a look at research and really have a good long look at who is listening,” he says. “I think that is the biggest area where stations fall down.” He adds: “In terms of advertising share, radio doesn’t seem to get a look in. But it doesn’t help itself because it has no figures at all as to who is listening and for how long. Advertisers are reluctant to put any serious money into it.” The coming week is a rare opportunity for those working in the radio industry to take stock, compare notes and assess how the medium moves forward in the region. It could prove to be the first step towards improving the medium’s image problem.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code