What was I just watching: Living with the TV Commercials Syndrome of Ramadan

Hana Afifi , Tuesday 14 Jul 2015

Banned Fox ad
Banned Fox potato chips Egyptian TV commercial (Snapshot Youtube)

“You can watch the full episode on CBC’ website,” reads the pre-show statement, which appears on the screen and provides viewers with an online link they can go to later.

The channel's offer to viewers to go watch shows later on the internet is not made because CBC or other TV channels air only parts of their traditional after-Iftar Ramadan specials - in programmes or soap operas - on the small screen.

The offer is made because the channels know the way they air shows could be painful for viewers, as lengthy commercial slots - which saturate all air time during the evening hours of the Muslim holy month - make many lose track of what they have just been watching.

Though perhaps one of the channels with the highest number of commercials choking nighttime shows, CBC is hardly an exception on Egyptian TV channels during Ramadan.

'Nothing stops commercials’

There is no law to regulate either the number or duration of commercials which could run during a certain episode of a soap opera, Omar Aly Sherif, creative director at a post-production studio, tells Ahram Online.

However, Sherif explains, there are standard ethics in the profession, which set a certain limit on their duration: the 'breaks' should not exceed the duration of the chunk of programme it interrupts.

“We crossed the limit, we crossed it by far,” he says.

When episode 11 of CBC's popular multiple-year-running comedy El-Kebir (The Big One) aired two weeks ago, only to give an example as Sherif added, actual drama time was divided into four chunks of 5-7 minutes interspersed by a commercial slot which featured 24-25 commercials lasting altogether 14-17 minutes.

This means that the show, which officially runs between 7:06pm and 8:22pm, ran drama for 25 minutes and commercials for 51 minutes or double the airing time of the action itself.

The governmental Consumers Protection Authority is not concerned with the number of ads which are sold by channels to play during any one episode of shows, but with their quality, the Head of the Authority Atef Yacoub tells Ahram Online.

Ayoub added that the Authority’s media monitor found 1,250 commercials that do not match its announced criteria during the past year. The Authority found commercials that were misleading, others which incited hatred, or ones which violated established societal norms.

As for the number of commercials which air during episodes, he explained that "nothing regulates these, it is about supply and demand."

‘Commercials are thermometer’

Channels are rated according to the number of viewers they receive.

The higher the number of viewers, the more any channel's programmes attract companies who want to have their commercials aired on it. The quality and number of commercials on channels help determine their ratings.

“Ads are the thermometer of a channel,” states Sherif. 

"The more a programme attracts ads, the more successful it is deemed."

Privately owned MBC Masr, CBC, Al-Nahar and Al-Hayat attracted the highest number of commercials on programmes during Ramadan 2015 guaranteeing them the highest ad revenues in the industry.

Major TV channels charge high prices for ads, which they would air on shows that attract the most viewers.

Sherif explains that 'free channels', which do not require potential viewers pay a monetary subscription fee to satellite dish networks to log on, have to use commercial breaks in order to make any money. 

He added that the editors of all shows leave queues on their post-production end products for the channels in order to guide them on where to cut for breaks, mostly at quarter marks of episodes.

In fact, the channels need advertisement revenues to compensate for the prices they paid to show producers in order to air programmes and series, especially when it comes to big productions.

Cable TV channels, which provide a paid-for service and are known in Egypt as satellite dish channels, do not break for commercials in the middle of movies, for example, only before or after programmes.

However, in the case of the 'free channels,' Sherif says that the only party on both sides of the small screen which could complain that a TV series or programme is overdosed with commercials are its producers, not viewers who are enjoying a freebie.

“But most of the time, especially in big productions, the channel which airs a certain show is already a production partner in [commercials' overdosed] programme or series, Sherif explains.

"So naturally the channel will not complain about itself.”

Yacoub, of the Consumer Protection Authority, indicates that viewers of ad-heavy shows on 'free channels' have it easy.

“These viewers do not pay to watch those channels, so they can choose not to watch them.”

The business of ads

Many millions of Egyptian pounds come into play in the TV commercials business: channels buy the right to air programmes and series, ad producers pay channels to air their commercials around those programmes, channels make money.

A minute of commercial slot costs buyers on average between LE10,000 and LE60,000, according to estimates compiled by the independent news website Tahrir News.

Tahrir recently said that according to a copy of a document it has recently acquired, which spells out how much channels could charge companies for a minute of commercial time on air, the Saudi-owned MBC Masr channel came on top as the most expensive TV outlet for advertising, billing ad-time buyers LE40,000-60,000 per minute.

Tahrir said Al-Nahar TV channel followed MBC on the scale of ad costs, charging buyers LE20,000-50,000 per minute. Al-Hayat sells a minute for LE20,000-30,000 while Ten and CBC sell at LE20,000-40,000 per minute. 

The Egyptian state-owned television channel sells commercial slots for buyers at LE5,000-10,000 per minute.

Vetogate news website also reported the order of most expensive TV channel to buy ad-time on as MBC Masr, followed by Al-Hayat, then CBC, followed by Al-Nahar. The online-tabloid also claimed that MBC Masr could have charged companies as much as LE80,000-100,000 per 60 seconds of ad-time this Ramadan for the year's highest rating programme, the Ramez Galal action prank show.

“It is a deal between the agency and the client, and it depends on the package,” says Sherif, who could not disclose his information on current rates of TV ad costs per minute.

Many criteria come into play to help TV channels set prices, he says, such as the timing of the broadcasting of the commercials, which usually each last for 30-45 seconds; the number of different commercials companies ask TV channels to run - called ad campaigns; and how many commercials there are in any one campaign, and the number of times each ad runs per day.

Advertising starting in the evening, after viewers break their dawn to dusk fast, and lasting until midnight is the most expensive, Sherif believes.

Channels design special maps, which help them price commercials based on types of host-shows or timing of broadcasting.

“But you cannot judge [overall annual revenues for channels] by the number of commercials [channels carry] during Ramadan; it’s a high season,” says Sherif.

However, any creative director imagines that one day when everyone will turn to YouTube to watch almost-ad-free series, Sherif tells Ahram Online.

“There is already a need [in the industry] for a big production that only airs on YouTube in order to attract a lot of viewers to the medium because young people in the 13-years-old to the early 20s range of age have already moved to YouTube, Sherif added.

For now, YouTube remains an option for viewers who like to remember what show they just chose to watch.

Like TV channels, YouTube does carry commercials, but at least one has the option of hitting “Skip ad” to enjoy the show.


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