Arab Idol, MBC1 and Al Arabiya top TV charts in the UAE

Ben Flanagan
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The entertainment channel MBC1 is the UAE’s most-watched station, while Al Arabiya has been named the country’s top Arabic TV-news service, according to data published today.

Figures by tview, which measures television audiences, show that almost 411,000 UAE residents tuned in to the final episode of MBC1’s Arab Idol, making the talent contest the most popular show of the year among Arab viewers.

Almost 411,000 UAE residents tuned in to watch Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf win the season two finale of Arab Idol. (File photo: Reuters)
Almost 411,000 UAE residents tuned in to watch Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf win the season two finale of Arab Idol. (File photo: Reuters)

“The biggest hit was Arab Idol,” said Christopher O’Hearn, general manager of the Emirates Media Measurement Company, which is behind tview.

“The final episode had a 67 percent share of Arab viewers. Of every three Arab viewers that were watching TV at that time, two were watching Arab Idol.”

MBC1 attracted 481 ‘ratings points’ in all UAE households between Oct. 1, 2012 and Sept. 30, 2013, according to tview. The Al Arabiya News Channel had 128.1 ratings points compared with rival station Al Jazeera’s 127.2. Both Al Arabiya News and MBC1 are part of the MBC Group.

“The regular news audience goes to Al Arabiya… and that’s why it ended up the most popular Arabic news channel over the year,” said O’Hearn. “Clearly they have programing that keeps people coming back.”

Rival station Al Jazeera tends to attract more “occasional” news viewers, especially when big stories break, O’Hearn said. He added that there is much channel-surfing between news channels.

Infographic: UAE's top TV stations


Television audience measurement is an emotive issue in the Arab media industry, with some pointing to flaws in viewership data, which is used to determine advertising spending.

Noura al-Kaabi, chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s media zone twofour54, last week told Al Arabiya that some measurement systems offer “unreliable” data.

Some systems of audience measurement rely on random surveys of consumers. But tview offers “minute-by-minute” data based on about 800 households by using set-top boxes that monitor viewership, O’Hearn said.

Mazen Hayek, MBC Group’s Official Spokesman and Group Director of PR & Commercial, said that the ‘people meters’ technology behind tview was ‘advanced’.

“This is yet another independent TV-audience measurement study, this time based on the advanced people meters technology, that puts most of MBC Group’s channels in the leading position and confirms, once again, the unparalleled performance of the group,” Hayek said.

“Clearly, MBC1 and MBC2 are in a league of their own, and Al Arabiya News Channel remains the number-one and most-preferred source of news, ahead of its closest competitor.”

Hayek said that the viewership patterns confirmed by the tview study in the UAE are likely to extend beyond the UAE and the Gulf region.

“This is a typical TV viewing pattern, not just in the UAE and GCC countries, but also in most countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. We truly value viewers’ loyalty to MBC channels and reciprocate with the same,” he said.

Kantar Media provided the television audience measurement (TAM) system in the UAE. CK Guntur, TAM director at Kantar Media, said the measurement was “as accurate as can be.”

“This is actual measurement of what people are watching, it’s not what people are telling you they have watched,” he said.

Guntur said Kantar was looking to win similar contracts in other Middle East markets.

“There are some discussions… Every country has its own tender process. And Kantar is actively involved in all the lead tenders.”

Talks are under way for audience-measurement systems in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Guntur said. A similar initiative has been considered in Egypt but “has not yet gathered momentum,” he added.

Several communications companies, including Abu Dhabi Media and the Sharjah Media Corporation, backed the formation of tview.

But MBC and the advertising-sales representative Choueiri Group, key players in the regional media industry, have not formally backed the initiative.

O’Hearn said talks between tview, MBC and Choueiri Group had been ongoing for about six months. He said he was “optimistic” that MBC would join the initiative.

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