The pre-downturn environment was difficult enough, but the leaner, more efficient industry it has created should be in a better position to deal with the challenges of 2010, old and new alike.
As the end of 2009 approaches, most TV executives will be glad to draw a line under a torrid 12 months. The question now is whether we go into the New Year with a dull sense of trepidation or with a renewed sense of vigour.
Some unfortunate companies will have that decision made for them with previous commitments and a lack of flexibility rendering them unable to adapt to the difficult circumstances. We have already seen this in 2009 and there will be more casualties in 2010.
There will also be more success stories. Many pundits have been quick to draw similarities between the effects of a recession on industry and that of a forest fire – the deadwood is burnt away and the strongest, most resilient remain and can benefit from fertile grounds left behind. Whether this is the exact situation the Middle East media and broadcast industry will find itself in remains to be seen.
Ad dollars will aggregate around the most reliable and established entities. Those that remain will more than likely be running at near maximum efficiency and far lower operating costs than 12 months before.
The soaring cost of living endured in many Gulf states has levelled-off, giving employers a breather from the annual pay rises needed just to keep staff satisfied, let alone motivated.
This rationalisation is happening in other areas of the industry too.
Optimisation of bandwidth usage, a more deliberate technology selection process, more scrutiny for the business case behind each new enterprise, all in all a more mature, sustainable industry should emerge. We have seen the brakes put on DVB-H rollouts, pay TV operators have allied, even state broadcasters have looked to cut costs and trim back their – often unwieldy – operations.
Online-based revenue opportunities are being exploited with increasing frequency. Advertisers are being offered a growing number of quality Arabic websites to sink their budgets into and investment in new media content creation is only going to encourage this further.
This does not mean 2010 is going to be rosy. The external conditions are unlikely to be that different from 2009, however most companies should now be in a far superior position to deal with them than the same time last year when the recession snuck up on the region.
In the meantime, the same old threats to revenue remain. The economic downturn does little to discourage file sharers or diminish the popularity of competing forms of media entertainment – legal and otherwise. The next challenge is to combat the same conditions that were choking the industry before the recession, against today’s bleak economic backdrop.