The Big Pic­ture of Egypt’s TV In­dus­try


Se­nior Pro­ducer and Di­rec­tor of Egyp­tian Ra­dio and Tele­vi­sion Union, Bas­sam M. Is­mail of­fers Arabad a glimpse into the Egyp­tian TV mar­ket based on ma­te­rial re­cently pre­sented at DISCOP an­nual con­fer­ence, which took place in Is­tan­bul, Turkey.

There is a war of a dif­fer­ent kind silently rag­ing in the ever-grow­ing Egyp­tian mar­ket waged by the ma­jor satel­lite chan­nel providers over mar­ket share.

The main for­mat of pro­grammes in Egypt started with the launch of these chan­nels thereby end­ing the mo­nop­oly of the gov­ern­ment’s ter­res­trial TV ser­vices. As word spread, a new idea emerged. In­stead of ac­quir­ing pop­u­lar in­ter­na­tional pro­grammes in their orig­i­nal for­mat and adding sub­ti­tles, adapt­ing these to the lo­cal lan­guage and shar­ing them with lo­cal com­mu­nity would be a much bet­ter op­tion.

Shows like MBC’S ‘Who Wants to Be a Mil­lion­aire’, Le­banon’s ‘Star Academy’, ‘Taratata’, ‘Fort Bo­yard’ to name a few, are per­fect ex­am­ples to that ef­fect.

Mean­while, in Egypt at the be­gin­ning of 2001, the pri­vate sec­tor stepped in and new chan­nels emerged such as Dream TV, Al Me­hwar and Al Hayat. These were among the first to chal­lenge the old gi­ant ser­vice provider, namely the gov­ern­ment-owned Egyp­tian tele­vi­sion. Such en­try had an im­me­di­ate im­pact on the mar­ket with chan­nels cov­er­ing new as­pects of pro­grammes and en­ter­tain­ment. As a re­sult, the threat in­creased with the in­tro­duc­tion of new chan­nels of­fer­ing a rich se­lec­tion of shows in var­i­ous for­mats. This drove the de­ci­sion mak­ers at the Egyp­tian TV to de­velop a new im­age and strat­egy.

In 2009, the Egyp­tian Ra­dio and Tele­vi­sion Union re­vamped its look. And, in just one year, ERTU pro­duced and broad­cast fam­ily ori­ented pro­grammes, quiz, singing and chal­lenge shows such as, ‘Don’t For­get the Lyrics’, ‘The Pyra­mid’, and ‘My Dad Is Bet­ter than your Dad’, all of which were an im­me­di­ate suc­cess.

Two years later, lots of things changed when the mar­ket ex­panded to ac­com­mo­date new net­works such as

Al Na­har, CBC, fol­lowed by the MBC group, which later ex­tended its lo­cal reach within the mar­ket with MBC (Masr). How­ever, not all suc­ceeded in at­tract­ing the Egyp­tian view­ers for a num­ber of rea­sons. Key among these are the bar­ri­ers to en­try, which in this case are in­ter­ac­tiv­ity with the stu­dio view­ers as well as mass par­tic­i­pa­tion of those watch­ing re­motely, an el­e­ment that was ab­sent from most pro­grammes pro­duced by the Egyp­tian chan­nels.

Another prin­ci­pal fac­tor is the bud­get re­served for the pro­duc­tion of such for­mats. Due to a strug­gling econ­omy, var­i­ous fi­nan­cial cut­backs had to be made driv­ing a num­ber of dif­fer­ent so­lu­tions. One ex­am­ple, which aimed at lever­ag­ing ad­ver­tis­ing bud­get cuts with the need to pro­vide au­di­ences with de­cent pro­grammes, led the Al Me­hwar chan­nel, pre­vi­ously en­joy­ing great suc­cess, to shoot 48 episodes in one go with a bud­get reach­ing 15 mil­lion EGP. As a re­sult, it lost the con­nec­tion it had with its au­di­ence. This re­al­ity be­came com­mon place to Egyp­tian tele­vi­sion fol­lowed by the pri­vate sec­tor, as bud­gets were spent with­out a de­cent re­turn. In ad­di­tion, the quiz shows, which were quite pop­u­lar be­cause they re­warded the au­di­ences with hefty prizes, could no longer do so ef­fec­tively. Oth­ers, such as Al Hayat, tried to put a dif­fer­ent spin on things by ac­quir­ing and adapt­ing ex­tremely old ideas such as ‘Wheel of For­tune’ but again, due to the new strate­gies that ap­proach also failed.

Another strat­egy de­signed to over­come the bud­get lim­i­ta­tion saw some chan­nels join­ing forces with re­puted in­sti­tu­tions such as Al Na­har, which be­gan record­ing two ver­sions of the same broad­cast in Egyp­tian and Le­banese. Fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar strat­egy, CBC is do­ing the same and shar­ing its pro­grammes with pay TV and OSN.

Other at­tempts fol­lowed that saw TV chan­nels buy­ing ready­made and pre­vi­ously broad­cast shows from Le­banon. Al Na­har, for ex­am­ple, de­cided to ex­per­i­ment with a show called ‘Heik Meng­hany’ and ‘Danc­ing with the Stars’. The rea­son­ing be­hind such a ‘safe’ move was based on an af­ford­able cost model, which al­lowed the in­sti­tu­tion to fill the gaps in their grid. Sadly, view­er­ship was min­i­mal com­pared to other music pro­grammes.

At that point, it be­came clear that ac­quir­ing the rights for a suc­cess­ful pro­gramme from one part of the world and in­tro­duc­ing them to the lo­cal au­di­ence will not nec­es­sar­ily guar­an­tee pos­i­tive re­sults.

And, when it comes to shows such as ‘Arabs Got Tal­ent’, ‘The Voice’, ‘X Fac­tor’, ‘Star Academy’ and ‘Arab Idol’ so­cial and cul­tural fac­tors come into play, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that all Egyp­tians like singing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the ac­tion. This also ex­plains why ‘Heik Meng­hany’ did not make it, as it was a mix­ture of multi lin­gual songs and cul­tures mostly ap­pre­ci­ated in other places.

Keep in mind that the an­nual ad­ver­tis­ing bud­get in Egypt is round $1.2 bil­lion EGP with 40 per­cent of that amount re­served for the month of Ra­madan. For that very rea­son, and due to the over­whelm­ing num­ber of Egyp­tian view­ers, tak­ing a closer look at au­di­ence de­mo­graph­ics is vi­tal in the plan­ning and pro­duc­tion of shows to en­sure op­ti­mal im­pact and re­turn on in­vest­ment rather than im­pos­ing the spon­sors’ taste or the ad­ver­tis­ers’ pre­frences.

On the flip­side, no sin­gle en­tity has a firm and re­al­is­tic un­der­stand­ing of the Egyp­tian mar­ket’s make-up, which is ex­actly why there is huge po­ten­tial to be had. Af­ter all, when it comes to the num­ber of view­ers, 60 mil­lion con­sti­tutes tremen­dous op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­ter­tain and profit.

In con­clu­sion, it has be­come clear that the best way to go with what lit­tle is known would be to cus­tom-tai­lour pro­grammes spe­cific to the Egyp­tian mar­ket that re­flect the thoughts, be­liefs and in­ter­ests of the view­ers. Only then can a TV sta­tion hope to grow, progress, and suc­ceed.

…ac­quir­ing the rights for a suc­cess­ful pro­gramme from one part of the world and in­tro­duc­ing them to the lo­cal au­di­ence will not nec­es­sar­ily guar­an­tee pos­i­tive re­sults.

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