Major media players, including Pan-Arab Al Arabiya TV and Al Jazeera, voiced their concerns regarding the need for a serious effort to develop local content.
Represented at a panel discussion that marked the launch of the Arab Media Outlook 2009-2013 titled "Inspiring Local Content", they highlighted the importance of creating Arabic content that appeals to viewers in every Arab country and that offered more appealing and exhaustive researched entertainment programmes and documentaries.
The panel included Ammar Bakkar, Head of New Media, MBC Group; Rawan Al Damen, Senior Producer, Programmes administration at Al Jazeera TV; Ali Al Ahmed, Executive Vice-President of Planning and Strategy, etisalat and Ali Jaber, Dean of Mohammed Bin Rashid School for Communications at the American University of Beirut.
The session saw a hint of self-criticism among the media representatives, including government-funded Al Jazeera representative, Al Damen requesting governments to allow media organisations to tell the truth.
Al Damen who produced a documentary on Palestine utilising the available Oxford historical and political archives, said that the Arab World did not have proper archives while British archives from colonised Palestine were as expensive as €1,000 (Dh5,011) per minute. She added: "Arab media now report on bombings and killings, while broadcasters appear on TV with a smile, and reports are followed by commercial breaks that promoted leisure and luxury goods."
Bakkar's emphasis on the need for content that addressed all the Arab audiences. He said: "There is a gap between the Arab media and the audience. There is also a lack of understanding of the local culture and the concept of local stardom."
MBC Group has seen a substantial growth in Arabic dubbed Turkish, Indian and Latin drama. A major stir was created by one of the first Turkish series, Noor, which saw unprecedented viewership ratings up to 70 per cent in addition to dramatic social implications reported in Saudi Arabia including divorce cases.
In the meantime, the Arab Media Outlook defined local content as the content that is produced in the Arabic language and in the Arab World for a pan-Arab or even international viewer or reader.
Ali Jaber said there was a huge need for data in the Arab media industry. He said that Arab World was in need of every single effort in research, theory and data gathering to guide and empower its media industry.
Jaber added: "Our ultimate goal is to develop local production to meet the aspiration of the viewers in the region. At this point local production is still under-developed, despite many efforts to achieve international quality productions."
The Arab Media Outlook reported that 65 per cent of audiences responding to a Nielsen survey in Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the UAE preferred Arabic versions of international newspapers of which 47 per cent are from the UAE. Arabic is the preferred language for watching TV among 78 per cent of the respondents, while 62 per cent preferred Arabic as the language for browsing internet.
According to the Arab Media Outlook, the region's media industry, particularly the television and online media, have strong opportunities for growth over the coming years.
A key element of this growth will be based upon the generation of quality local content that will require not only finding new ways to generate value from content in the region, but also growing the talent pool, improving infrastructure and developing new business models, it said.
The report suggested that there is room for growth in the region, in terms of both the quantity of local content output and the level of investments in that content.
It estimated that an average of 30 to 40 per cent of total output is first-run original Arabic content across the top 15 pan-Arab channels. A further 30 to 40 per cent of TV content is imported from other markets (either subtitled or dubbed into Arabic) and the remaining 20 to 40 per cent of output is constituted of repeats and news programming.
Running a comparison, the report said that in the UK, which has a healthy and competitive local production market, the level of first-run original programming on the five main networks is close to 50 per cent of total hours.
Out of 11 countries with projects to develop media cities, only four had the infrastructure, it said.
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