Elie Khoury: Are you sit­ting com­fort­ably?

As we step into 2018, Elie Khouri, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Om­ni­com Me­dia Group MENA, shares his thoughts on what the next 12 months will bring and prom­ises quite a ride

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It’s Jan­uary and this is the time of the year when we re­cover from fes­tive ex­cesses, grab a bar­gain or two, come up with a hand­ful of res­o­lu­tions that we won’t keep and make a few bets about what the fu­ture holds. There is com­fort in re­spect­ing tra­di­tions and even more in the cer­tainty of what awaits us. When times are tough, as they have been of late for our in­dus­try, we cer­tainly can do with some com­fort. Can we ex­pect 2018 to be kind?

Early signs aren’t too pos­i­tive. If you’re in the UAE and Saudi Ara­bia, the year has started with the in­tro­duc­tion of VAT. It is an ill-timed bur­den for busi­nesses and con­sumers alike. Granted, we’ll soon get used to it, as other coun­tries, in­clud­ing Le­banon, have be­fore us. Gov­ern­ments cer­tainly will need the ex­tra in­come if they are to meet their am­bi­tions and bud­get com­mit­ments to ma­jor projects and ini­tia­tives. The coun­try’s re­form agenda is promis­ing though and will go a long way in mak­ing the King­dom the re­gional pow­er­house once again.

The same can’t be said for Egypt though, which has suf­fered since its cur­rency de­val­u­a­tion over a year ago. The mood in our in­dus­try, fol­low­ing the in­di­rect na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of me­dia out­lets, the clo­sure of re­search com­pa­nies and the ban­ning of hun­dreds of sites, is turn­ing gloomy. The con­cerns are deep enough to push many pro­fes­sion­als to em­i­grate.

Ten­sions in Iran, the rift be­tween Qatar and its neigh­bours, and the con­tin­u­ing con­flicts in Syria and Ye­men do very lit­tle to in­spire con­fi­dence and pos­i­tiv­ity among ad­ver­tis­ers.

The tax re­forms in the US, on the other hand, pro­vide ma­jor brands’ own­ers with a boost and cash to in­vest. It is also a FIFA World Cup year and Rus­sia’s time zones will help bein Sports, the of­fi­cial broad­caster for the com­pe­ti­tion, garner strong au­di­ences. The par­tic­i­pa­tion of Saudi Ara­bia, Egypt, Morocco, Tu­nisia and Iran will cer­tainly con­trib­ute fur­ther to the ex­cite­ment.

All in all, we ex­pect the year to be less bad than 2017, in terms of in­vest­ments, maybe to the point of stag­nat­ing. This doesn’t mean there is much cause for cel­e­bra­tions for most me­dia. Dig­i­tal will con­tinue to grow and even­tu­ally over­take TV in scale. While the way the me­dia pie gets cut will con­tinue to favour Face­book and Google, there is also a grow­ing re­liance on pro­gram­matic as ad­ver­tis­ers are mov­ing bud­gets lower down the pur­chase fun­nel. Broad­cast TV is no longer on the pedestal it once was and as me­dia habits evolve, so do brands’ in­vest­ment pri­or­i­ties. Other me­dia will con­tinue to strug­gle, which may lead to merg­ers in the sec­tor.

Ul­ti­mately, it’s all about the abil­ity to de­liver per­for­mance and ac­count­abil­ity. TV au­di­ence mea­sure­ment is still lack­ing across most coun­tries so we must wel­come the Saudi Me­dia Mea­sure­ment Com­pany’s ef­fort to cre­ate a re­li­able sys­tem for ad­ver­tis­ers to jus­tify their in­vest­ments. The same ap­plies to dig­i­tal plat­forms. Af­ter the con­tro­ver­sies of 2017 around brand safety, fraud and viewa­bil­ity, both dig­i­tal gi­ants and the long tail will open up to more in­de­pen­dent ver­i­fi­ca­tion and pro­vide more trans­parency. This is an es­sen­tial step to main­tain the high level of trust and con­fi­dence that guar­an­tees brand in­vest­ments.

The big­gest threat on the hori­zon for the in­dus­try in gen­eral and me­dia own­ers in par­tic­u­lar is the grow­ing dis­af­fec­tion with paid-for ad­ver­tis­ing. When it’s not blocked, in­ter­rup­tive ad­ver­tis­ing is shunned in favour of some­thing more ‘gen­uine’, valu­able and rel­e­vant to con­sumers. This is why we’re see­ing a rapid growth in con­tent mar­ket­ing, par­tic­u­larly video and in­flu­encer mar­ket­ing, and in­vest­ments in data man­age­ment. The ac­cu­racy and ef­fec­tive­ness that can be drawn from pow­er­ful data an­a­lyt­ics is a mas­sive in­cen­tive for brands to make the switch from a mass ap­proach to some­thing much more mi­cro-tar­geted, per­son­alised at scale.

As tech­nol­ogy evolves and con­sumer be­hav­iours change, es­tab­lished busi­ness mod­els come un­der in­tense pres­sure. This means a deep trans­for­ma­tion of the way the in­dus­try op­er­ates, what it pro­duces and how, the mon­eti­sa­tion of its prod­uct and the type of peo­ple it em­ploys. Yes, there will be grow­ing au­to­ma­tion, yes al­go­rithms and ma­chine learn­ing will take some of the load and all this will force us to be more in­no­va­tive and ag­ile to re­spond to rapidly evolv­ing mar­ket con­di­tions.

Tra­di­tions have served us well but there is also enor­mous value in em­brac­ing change and chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo. There won’t be much com­fort in do­ing things the way we’ve al­ways done them. What we must stay true to, how­ever, is driv­ing value for our clients, con­nect­ing brands with con­sumers and cre­at­ing magic.

There won’t be much com­fort in do­ing things the way we’ve al­ways done them.. But there is enor­mous value in em­brac­ing change and chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo.

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