(DENNIS B MALLARI)
Ali Asgar Mir has grown with the media here and has in fact been responsible for bringing in many firsts to the region. Today, he is on the brink of starting a new chapter as he intends to bring a Chinese television channel to the region.
“Discussions are at an advanced stage with one of the largest operators in the Far East to bring a Chinese channel to the region,” he said.Asgar has seen the media in the Emirates grow from the embryonic stage in the late 1970s to today’s multinational industry.
But he has not merely observed and adapted to all the changes that have occurred over the years – he has been responsible for leading many of them.
As chairman and managing director of Ikon Advertising and Marketing Services he has always kept an eye on the media and has introduced many firsts to his company and to the region.
Moving from conventional advertising to linking up with international publications was part of his strategy to seize opportunities in Dubai’s fast-growing media market.
His individualistic approach and personal marketing abilities have enabled him to secure major accounts and Ikon Advertising’s portfolio includes some of the best-known brands in the market – Mazda, Ajmal, Titan and Regal Textiles, among others.
“Way back in 1978 the local media was a bunch of photocopied pages stapled together in the form of a publication called The Recorder,” he said, recalling his early days in the UAE.
“This was brought out by the Allied group of businesses. Then came Khaleej Times as the first broadsheet in the country, followed by Gulf News, which was originally published in tabloid format.
“The media was obviously very different then. The market was different, readers were different and the needs and style of reporting were very different.”In the absence of any effective alternative to print media most advertising appeared in Khaleej Times as Gulf News had a challenging start.
There was only FM 92 on the radio and Channel 33 from Dubai TV to provide entertainment to the English-speaking audience, and advertising was restricted to special programmes. Weekend radio shows attracted a few ads and the Thursday night Hindi movie on Channel 33 was a big draw for advertisers.
“However, securing advertising material was not that easy,” said Asgar. “Companies wouldn’t invest in making ads because of the shortage of electronic media platforms, which in turn kept down the amount of advertising on TV and radio.
This was a catch-22 situation for the industry. And then came Dubai Media City,” he said. “This was the first centre of its kind in the region and, realising its potential, we were one of the first agencies to move in.
Media City brought another set of changes to the industry in the region – not just in the country. Media changed not only in the physical sense, it witnessed a transformation to international levels.
“The maturity level of the media received a boost from satellite channels and, understanding the potential of this, we shifted our emphasis towards electronic media and linked up with Sony TV, which was fast emerging as an alternative to Zee TV from India.”
Zee TV was well established among the Hindi and Urdu-speaking audience, so Sony had to find a niche. It evolved into an alternative for the young and demanding audience with competitions and reality shows that involved audience participation.
The link-up with Sony was Asgar’s first venture into electronic media and he soon opened a dedicated team to service Sony and other TV channels seeking media support in the region.
“Today 35 to 40 per cent of Ikon’s revenues come from electronic media and the proportion is growing fast.”
Asgar attributes the industry’s fast growth to an increase in the media spend for the Asian audience. He said: “As the channels’ business partners we not only sell their advertising slots but also assist in procuring content from the region.
Highlife Dubai was one of the first shows produced locally with regional inputs. “Today there are many such programmes on other channels and that is a compliment to our efforts.”
If his Chinese channel becomes a reality Asgar could well become a Chinese icon for the electronic media. After all, he is not just called Ikon Ali for nothing!
40: Percentage of Ikon’s revenue comes from electronic media and the proportion is growing fast.
Ikon in talks to bring first Chinese TV channel to region