On the surface, the significant transformation of the media landscape in the Middle East appears promising. With the increasing penetration of mobile internet, a growing demand for local Arabic content, and the rise of Over-the-top (OTT) media services, the region seems poised to reshape its media consumption habits. However, in contrast to this optimistic outlook, the global media landscape tells a different story. Major publishers like Vox and Condé Nast are announcing significant layoffs in light of declining ad revenues. This trend suggests challenges that even emerging media markets might face, sending companies back to the drawing board in terms of financial models and scalability.

The Current State of Media in the Middle East:

According to Mordor Intelligence, The Middle East Media and Entertainment Market size is expected to grow from USD 39.05 billion in 2023 to USD 61.23 billion by 2028, with a significant shift towards digital media including social media usage, digital news platforms, and streaming services. Furthermore, the report adds that “paid and digital media evolutions have created new rationales for investments.” Giving media players a chance to review their business models, and explore investments in local content. 

However the optimism is not without caveats as the industry faces many challenges. Market leaders who dominate the landscape often have government ties or support. For instance, Al Jazeera in Qatar and Saudi Broadcasting Authority in Saudi Arabia are notable. As Government Influence rains heavily on the industry the media in many GCC countries is subject to government oversight and regulation this can impact the type of content that is produced and distributed.

Digital Disruption and Market Adaptation in Kuwait’s Media Sector:

Local Media Outlets in Kuwait have felt the burden of digital disruption for some time now. In 2019, four out of the five major dailies in Kuwait agreed to suspend production and circulation on Saturdays (weekend) citing global decline in advertising spending and competition from digital outlets that publish for free. According to sources, most news media outlets backed by wealthy individuals pay out of pocket to cover losses at year’s end. Local newspaper Alqabas which experimented with a subscription model for premium content in 2019 quickly abandoned the paywall  model a couple of years later, switching to a social first advertising strategy and diversifying into production for OTT services. This trend illustrates the broader challenges and adaptations required in the digital era.

Navigating Intellectual Property Rights in GCC Media:

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) present a formidable challenge in the region. The widespread issues of piracy and unauthorized content distribution, coupled with enforcement challenges and consumer attitudes, make implementing subscription models difficult. Lebanon’s Annahar Newspaper stands as a rare example of a successful paywall for premium content, highlighting the challenges of converting users to paid subscribers in the Arab World. So where does that leave us?

Scaling Success in Media: The Power of Effective Metrics

In a landscape where social media is increasingly dominant, monetization and revenue generation are key challenges for content creators and media companies. Platforms owning the audience and changing algorithms impact strategies and ROI.  Thus selecting the right metrics is crucial to support growth and achieve a higher return on investment (ROI).

First and foremost is Audience Engagement. Across social and digital media, metrics such as page views, time spent on site, video views, followers, and interaction rates (likes, comments, shares) provide an indication on whether the content is resonating with the audiences. Metrics such as  click-through rates (CTRs), and conversion rates help in understanding the effectiveness of digital content and social media strategies.

Such metrics help newsrooms and media outlets understand user behaviour and improve the content over time to service their needs. In order to compete in today’s world many organisations have set up so-called “news labs” embedding data analysts into newsrooms. Those analysts are responsible for providing metrics and analysis to help educate the newsroom in real time about the content being produced or published, assisting in the decision-making process on what stories to follow up on and possibly monetize and on what stories to kill.                 

Secondly, to set up a media outlet that is independent of government backing or wealthy donations, the focus on Ad Revenue Performance is critical. In the age of traffic, content monetization is highly competitive with a high failure rate, however smart positioning and servicing a business niche could help in securing audience engagement to generate sufficient ad revenues. CTR, impressions, conversion rates and overall marketing ROI is especially important in the GCC where advertising is a major revenue source for media and given the evolving landscape, tracking new initiatives is critical to staying ahead.

In summary, the media landscape in the Middle East, particularly in the GCC, is evolving rapidly, presenting both opportunities and challenges. Adapting to these changes, leveraging the right metrics, and navigating the complexities of IPR and digital transformation are crucial for media companies aiming for growth and a higher ROI in this dynamic environment.