Arab ad industry is ‘corrupt’ says head of Abu Dhabi’s twofour54

Ben Flanagan

Published: Updated:

The Arab advertising industry is ‘corrupt’ and deals in unreliable audience data, according to the chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s media zone twofour54.

Noura al-Kaabi, speaking to Al Arabiya on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi Media Forum, said that Middle Eastern advertising executives and TV channels are essentially “fooling” people with their claimed viewership numbers.

“We are in a region where the media market, from an advertisement perspective, is corrupt,” al-Kaabi said.

“We have the advertisers that are monopolizing the market, and showing that there are certain channels, certain programs that have a bigger share,” she added. “The data is basically something that they get from unreliable measurement systems.”

Al-Kaabi did not single out any one advertising group or media firm in her criticism of the industry. But she did say that several players in the market knowingly peddle unreliable data.

“It’s whomever is working in the field of advertisements: the agencies, the buyers. And the channels, of course, will always say that their show is the best,” she said.

However, other industry executives had other views regarding the advertising industry.

Elie Aoun, the president of Ipsos MediaCT, which supplies data about the media market, said he “totally disagreed” with al-Kaabi's statements.

“We stand by our figures,” Aoun told Al Arabiya. “Wherever you are in the world, when you do audience measurement there will be people who are not happy. It’s not really our problem.”

For his part, Mazen Hayek, MBC Group's Official Spokesman and Group Director of PR & Commercial, said the industry cannot be labelled as “corrupt”, adding that most if not all of the MENA region's top advertisers and agencies abide by stringent corporate governance and auditing measures.

“The region’s trailblazing advertisers are savvy business companies and individuals,” said Hayek.

“They look for the best in terms of return-on-investment and they rely on indispensable media and top-rated shows when it comes to delivering their brand messages, creating the desired impact and forging strong business-to-consumer connections.”

“At all times, we consider advertisers as ‘business-partners’. Commercial advertising is the lifeline of media and its most transparent source of revenue. Undoubtedly, advertising is a "reward" for strong and successful media... We firmly believe in advanced and credible TV audience measurement and are supportive of any initiative, in any Arab market, that brings more of the research industry's global best-practices to the region.”

Al Arabiya News is a part of MBC Group, which is the largest private media conglomerate in the MENA region. It is believed to capture the lion's share of commercial revenues among all Arab satellite-TV channels.

Al-Kaabi insisted there is more transparency about TV-audience viewership in markets outside the Middle East.

“In the U.S. and the UK, you understand the ratings, you understand when the audience say they hate the show,” she said.

The UAE government was involved in an initiative called ‘people meters’, an attempt to provide reliable TV-audience numbers by installing boxes in select viewers’ homes that monitor what channels they watch. Twofour54 is also part of the UAE government.

Al-Kaabi said the people meters initiative was already providing different results to other industry data.

“It’s working in the sense that at least we… do see different results. It records what people are watching. Still, we need to see how it will look by the end of next year. And I understand that Saudi Arabia is also looking at it,” she said.