New papers threaten the old guard

English and Arabic tabloid-sized newspapers in the UAE are starting to gain ground on their broadsheet rivals, according to new research.

Data from market research company Ipsos-Stat shows that despite the continued overall dominance of market leaders such as Al Khaleej and Gulf News, new entrants such as Emirates Today, its sister Arabic title Emirate Al Youm and 7Days are making their presence felt in what is an increasingly competitive and diverse market.

The figures, which show the percentage reach of the newspapers, were broken down into three categories - UAE nationals, all Arabs and non-Arab expatriates.

Arabic daily Al Khaleej is the most popular paper among UAE nationals (54%), followed by Al Ittihad (33%), Al Bayan (25%) and Emarat Al Youm (12%).

The most widely read English newspaper among UAE nationals is Emirates Today (3.7%), followed by Gulf News (1.8%) and Khaleej Times (1.2%).

The figures are roughly the same when it comes to all Arabs in the UAE, with Al Khaleej again taking the top spot (54%), Al Ittihad (29%), Al Bayan (23%) and Emarat Al Youm (11%).

Gulf News enjoys a substantial lead over its rivals with more than 50% of overall readership in the non-Arab expat category, followed by Khaleej Times (29%), Emirates Today (5.5%), 7Days (4.4%) and the Keralan newspaper Malayalam Manorama (4.3%).

Philip Jabbour, group director in charge of marketing and new business development for Starcom Media Group MENA, said that the market for English language papers would play host to a readership "turf war". He said: "Is Emirates Today powerful enough to compete with Gulf News and Khaleej Times - or is the arena going to continue to be a two-horse race?

"I'm sure that the Arab Media Group will spare no efforts to try to compete at the highest level, but it will be a tough challenge given the heritage of Gulf News and Khaleej Times."

Jabbour said that the UAE's dynamically changing demographics would present a challenge to newspapers looking to gain readership because new residents do not have a "preconceived disposition" to a particular newspaper, except for the formats they are used to in their home country.

"That will be the real turf war among the dailies, and collaboration with real estate companies and property developers will go a major way to gain share points vis-à-vis the competitive dailies," he added.

Tim Baker, client services director at Initiative Dubai, said that while media planners viewed Gulf News and Khaleej Times as the obvious choices to invest in, tabloid-sized newspapers had managed to attract readers in search of a quick "news fix".

"The big challenge today is not so much regarding title selection, but more about availability and positioning," said Baker. "With clutter likely to worsen as construction plans for new towers and hotels continues, we should question at what point these market leaders will reach critical mass in terms of advertising."

Baker said the newer, "challenger" tabloids had not "eroded" readership of the longer-established titles, but rather they had generated incremental readers at home and in the workplace.

"This idea of a daily quick fix of news is obviously proving a hit, particularly among Arabs," he added.

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