Ramadan just wouldn't be Ramadan in the Arab world without the region's television channels each offering an attractive line-up of shows every evening after iftar.
It is during these 30 days when competition for viewers is at its highest – more viewers mean more advertisers, and resultantly, more money for the station.
Frankly, the holy month couldn't have come sooner for channel executives who are looking to make up for lost time due to the global economic crisis. Thanks to overall ad spend in the Arab world decreasing this year, it is anticipated that Ramadan programming will give a much-needed boost to the region's 300-odd channels and consequently, ad revenue growth.
"Ramadan is a very important time for TV channels, which is why there is competition to put out the best programmes for viewers," says Darwish Mohammed, General Manager of Dubai Racing – part of Dubai Media Incorporated, which also represents channels such as Dubai TV, Dubai One and Sama Dubai.
Mohammed, whose channel is offering exclusive coverage of the Marmoom Ramadan Camel Festival this holy month, continued: "Naturally, the best shows and features will pull in the biggest numbers of advertisers. This is a good time for the networks."
According to regional media buyers, such as Mediaedge:Cia and Mediacom, TV commercial rates for Ramadan programmes increase by an approximate 15 to 25 per cent, as previously reported by Emirates Business. Ad spots lasting 30 seconds can range between Dh9,000 and Dh130,000 in price, based on the rating of the TV station, the popularity of the programme and the expected viewership.
Despite the high rates, Ramadan ad spend continues to increase because top TV stations attract a large number of viewers. It is predicted that, on average, a big-name channel can attract a non-Ramadan viewership of 30 to 40 per cent of the region. However, that can increase up to 30 per cent more during Ramadan, as prime time viewing expands to the hours of 6.30pm to 3am.
The good news is that the GCC is by far the most attractive audience base for advertisers, with the Saudi Arabian market alone accounting for up to a third of all revenues.
According to media research company Ipsos MediaCT, Saudi-owned channels make up the top five for biggest ad revenue. These are MBC1, MBC2, Rotana Cinema, MBC4, and LBC Sat. Sheikh Al Waleed al-Ibrahim owns the MBC group, while Prince Al Waleed bin Talal is behind LBC-Rotana. Abu Dhabi TV and Dubai TV, meanwhile, come in at the sixth and seventh positions, followed by Spacetoon Arabic, Al Arabiya and Fox Movies.
In terms of Ramadan spend, MBC1 reportedly had the highest advertising rates last year, with a record Dh130,000 per 30-second spot during its Gulf comedy programme Koullouna E'yaal Qarya (We're The Children of the Village). Hit Syrian drama Bab Al Hara (The Town's Door) attracted sponsors worth $1.5m, as well as $500,000 in adverts during its 30-episode run.
Dubai TV's huge hit was Sira'a Ala Al Rimal (Struggle on the Sand), the Bedouin series based on and inspired by the poetry of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, which attracted Dh55,000 per spot.
So which shows will walk away victorious this year Emirates Business brings you a guide to what to watch on which channels.
WHAT'S ON THIS RAMADAN
Egyptian superstar Yousra's Ramadan series comes in the form of Khas Jeddan (Extremely Confidential), a socio-psychological drama, which was shot in Dubai and Cairo.
Another series to be aired is the Syrian drama, Zaman Al A'ar (The Era of Shame).
Historical drama Balkis, meanwhile, presents a biography of the Queen of Saba'a.
Other shows to look out for include season four of the comedy, Ghashamsham, starring Saudi star Fahd Al Hayyan, Egyptian show Haki Brakabti (My Rights are the Most Important) with Hassan Hosni and Magda Zaki, as well the first GCC sitcom Ajeeb Ghareeb (Should I Bring a Stranger).
And while Freej, the show about everyone's favourite grannies, is on a hiatus this year, creator Mohammed Saeed Harib has put together an English-subtitled quiz show called Freej:The Book of Riddles, for Dubai TV,Sama Dubai and Dubai One. Viewers from around the region can participate via SMS, vying for prizes totalling Dh500,000.
Dubai TV's Ramadan 2008 hit, Sira'a Ala Al Rimal aims to target the expat community this year on Dubai One. Sheikh Mohammed's epic, which dates back to the 18th century AD during the ruling of the Arabian Peninsula by the Ottoman Empire, has been subtitled in English.
Also for the expats, Freej returns with its third season – with English subtitles.
First up is Syrian hit drama Bab Al Hara, which returns with its third instalment.
The third season of Khaleeji comedy Bayney w Baynak (Between You and Me) returns, with scenes from the new episodes shot in both Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Abu Dhabi TV
A variety of shows will air throughout the month, including an Islamic programme hosted by popular scholar Amr Khaled, as well as the Egyptian comedy Ragel w Sit Sitat (One Guy and Six Women), featuring Ashraf Abd El Bakey.
The Emirati comedy Hana w Rana (Hana and Rana) features a group of stars from the UAE and Oman, while Emirati animation Sha'abeyat Al Cartoon (People of the Cartoon) returns this year.
Additionally, look out for Khoosa Boosa, a new cartoon covering different issues that concern both locals and expatriates in the UAE.
Al Hayat TV
Following its launch last year, this Ramadan is looking extremely promising for this Egyptian channel.
Two dramas to look out for include the historical Al Masrawya (The Egyptians), and Ismail Yaseen, which is a series showcasing the life of the tragic comedian.
The channel debuts the Egyptian version of Deal or No Deal, called La'abet Al Haya.
Finally, for those wanting to relive a blast from the blast, Al Hayat has unearthed the 1990s classic puppet show, Boogie w Tamtam.
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