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.