October 06, 2005
Our friend The Father of Aardvarks has an interesting little piece drawing attention to a new report on Arab radio from the Arab Advisors Group; a very solid media advisory group founded a few years back (I should disclose that I know one of the founders, and have done business with him).
Our fine Father of Aardvarks, or Bou Aradvraak as I like to call him, largely concetrates on the public policy angle, which is important, but I find the business angle as interesting.
Regardless, in this case the two are fairly intimately tied.
First, of course, as he rightly notes, the Radio Sawa effort has pushed the emergence of competitor stations with a similar "more modern programming" mixed with less-turgid news reporting and sometimes little featurettes.
One might say that Sawa is doing a service in an odd way by pushing media liberalisation, which is a good thing in my mind, ceteris paribus, although I am not sure to what extent Sawa is a core driver or happening along at the same time.
But reflecting for an instant I am willing to throw Sawa a bone in regards to the Maghreb and in particular Morocco.
The radio market in Morocco is not brilliant but neither is it insufferable. There has long been a Franco-Maghrebine competitor, Medi1 (which has live webcasting as well: see Medi 1 Radio du Grand Maghreb, actually just about a decade (hmm, good lord time flies).
Medi1 is a very tolerable little station, decent music, decent news although it tiptoes on domestic news, interesting bilingual commentary programs although very much tending to the stereotypical francophone leftist-arty point of view.
Along comes Radio Sawa - not really all that different except (i) it's Arabic only (usually charqi dialect), (ii) its owned by America.
So let me put it this way, it's not part of the Franco-Maghrebine club.
Woo hoo. Suddenly the Moroccans get the gumption to roll out a competitor station in a quasi private format (2M) - not that the musical offerings of the various state stations are really all that terrible and some are even in the Berber langauges (Tachelhit, Tamazight, Tarift) which is very popular.
So, we do see a bit of Sawa kicking off a reaction (and liberalisation is promised soon, of course given the way the Makhzen grinds on in Morocco .... ) which might be said to be positive.
Still 2M is not a brilliant station.
Now, returning to the business question, it strikes me that unlike the Arab Sats, private radio have more space - given lower cost overall as I understand the business - to become more genuinely independent media outlets.
The question is how mature is the advertising market and how much advertising placement goes on commercial grounds versus ... well fucking with the competitors.
Long term readers may recall how I went to town on my old blog on a clueless git who took the news that al Jazeerah might be cut loose as "good news" because it was "freeing" (as I recall) the media from state influence - demonstrating in one fell swoop a childish concept of the media markets and the problematic issue of commercial versus non-commercial influenes in the Arab media markets - quite leaving aside the issue of government censorship and only taking into account the weight of the big private groups and interests and their capacity to utterly fuck with little guys dependent on say advert dollars.
That being said, pulling back I am willing to cautiously advance the hypothesis that if Sawa manages (just by its very existence as an American entity, something that can push some people to irrational reactions) to push forward the case for private radio and liberalisation, well it then is not a total waste.
Again, one of the problems in these economies is the cliquish networks, so from a business perspective (unlike the crowded Arab Sat market) it may be that Sawa might be just enough to set things rolling.
It's initial premise and rationale of course was utterly foolish, so this is more a sort of positive unintended consequence hypothesis.
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