Al Jazeera, Arab TV & State Funding
The final session opened up with a grilling of the guests on discrepancies in the funding of Arab channels. Citing numbers showing a wide disparity between advertising revenues and operating expenses, the moderator sought answers from the panel of advertising moguls and multimedia executives. How long can broadcasters continue to operate without a practical business model? Most Arab channels don’t rely on advertising to cover expenditures; they receive state funding, and according to Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Shammam, “under the table” finances.
Mazen Hayek of MBC Group pointed to the fact that his company was an exception, in that it relied entirely on advertising revenues. He underlined the need to view advertising as a means to developing a robust media community and described advertising models employing new media such as SMS messages. On the other hand, Abu Dhabi TV executive Ali Al-Ahmed stressed the need for significant government funding to cover ever-rising costs. He pointed out that Arab media companies ought to be forthwith about their government funding, since government subsidies and having a pro-regime agenda do not necessarily go hand in hand.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Shammam admitted Al Jazeera relies on state funding but approved of trend whereby Arab media channels are trying to develop a sustainable business model based on advertising. There is, however, very little reliable auditing of television viewers and no pan-Arab recognized rating system. Advertising mogul Antoine Shuoeiri blamed ailing television channels for obscuring audience figures. He suggested many broadcasters would be embarrassed by the low numbers of people watching their programs.