A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘advertising’ Category

taking the “advertising cake”: today’s Arab satellite channels

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 15, 2009

I’m not a big television watcher: I don’t even own a television. But I do watch the television industry – particularly that in the Arab world. This weekend, The National, Abu Dhabi’s well-funded English-language newspaper, published a very interesting piece on the current state of the Arab satellite television industry.

Here’s the article, with commentary:

ABU DHABI // Despite losing billions of dollars every year, many Arab satellite television channels continue to operate because their purpose is to push political agendas, a recent report says.

[I’m not sure about the idea that each of these channels is meant to advocate a political agenda. There are all kinds of channels on air: real estate channels, “environment” channels, children’s channels, music video/sms channels, movie channels, etc. I agree that most are not economically viable – but this doesn’t mean that all are operated for political reasons. Some seem to be more vanity channels than anything else – a sign of the owner’s wealth, or philanthropic outlook, or cultural orientation, or technological hipness, or … the list is endless. After all, who knows what someone rich enough to bankroll a satellite channel might want out of it – the delightful variety of buying something other than another sports car?]

There are 510 Arab satellite channels operating at a cost of nearly US$6 billion (Dh22bn) a year, according to the report from the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.

[Wow. in 2007, if I remember correctly, there were just over 300 channels. That’s a growth of 100 channels per year in the past two years – two years dominated by a major economic crisis. It might also help to think of this comparatively. The Arab world has an estimated 2009 population of nearly 340 million – which means that there is one channel for approximately 670,000 viewers. The United States has an estimated 2009 population of 304 million, which would mean by extension that we would under the Arab model have more than 450 channels. But our channels are meant to be profitable – and profits for them require viewerships in the millions.]

The combined annual revenue of those channels is less than $700 million, the report said.

[Wow, again. Operating costs: $6 billion. Revenues: $700 million. That’s an annual operating deficit of $5.3 billion. Even taking out the operating costs borne by state channels, think of how many sports cars and other luxury items that money could buy for these stations’ owners. The intangible benefits of station ownership must be very, very compelling.]

“That clearly means there are a number of satellite channels that are able to continue broadcasting despite their losses for more than 18 years,” said Ali Jaber, the dean of the Mohammed Bin Rashid School For Communication in Dubai.

“It also means that those who fund those channels despite their losses are governments and businessmen who have political pursuits.”

[Ummm. Here’s where we differ. I do agree that the clear non-viability of these channels means that they are being bankrolled by people who are indifferent to the cost – including governments running national channels. But I do not agree that all the private channels must be run for political gain – and I don’t think that Jaber has made his case for this argument.]

However, many of the channels have been unable to achieve the social and political change they had hoped for, researchers found.

“It’s true the number of channels has doubled and the quality of programmes has developed,” said Dr Mohammed Ayesh, a communications professor at Sharjah University.

“But the bigger question is how much they have contributed to political progress and cultural development. That is something that is still far out of reach.”

[Is that the standard by which television channels should be judged? I think there has been an elision here, between American and European ideas of public, non-profit channels and Arab-world channels that de facto bleed money. We do not ask whether NBC or HBO aid Americans’ political progress, or enhance our cultural development. I’m not sure that this is a fair standard to put on Arab-world channels.]

He said many channels were a source of cultural confusion because their programmes were not in harmony with the social norms of the Arab community.

[This is an interesting, but somewhat different issue.]

The report, which was published in the latest issue of Future Horizons magazine, found that Arab satellite channels account for two per cent of global advertising spending.

Most of that revenue, 95 per cent, is collected by fewer than 10 per cent of the channels.

[Advertising rates are incredibly low throughout the region, including print as well as broadcast media. I think these statistics show two things: that there are some highly viable channels broadcasting today, and that the others either have too few viewers to attract advertisers or do not make an effort to attract them.]

But the goal of many satellite channels is not to earn revenue, but to attract viewers to serve political agendas, Mr Jaber said.

“The advertising cake is known and its value is, at most, US$700 million annually, which is shared among the main networks, with small amounts left for small channels that revolve around the main ones,” he said.

[Um. First, I love the translation of “pie” as “cake”. Second: $700 million was the amount listed above as the total channel revenues. If this is the same number, I would like to know why other revenue streams – including mid-2000s revenue darling sms scrolls – have been excluded.]

Ahmad Abdul Malik, a Qatari writer and a founder of Sharjah TV, said many Arab satellite channels failed to attract large audiences because they lacked quality programming and were seen as propaganda outlets for governments and other groups. “I think the Arab official satellite channels have been obsolete,” he said. “And I can list more than 16 official satellite channels that no one in the Arab World would want to watch because they lack the basics of television operation, and they were established for political propaganda.”

Mr Malik said only a few private channels attracted large audiences because they “deviate from the ways of the official propagandistic channels”.

The rest, he said, either claimed to be independent when they were really official “to the very core” or called for sectarianism and indecency.

[This man says quite a lot. There is a quality issue: many channels simply buy older, already-broadcast content, generally from the U.S.. People still refer to Friends, for example. There is also an issue of blatantly propagandistic channels, often also sporting poor-quality productions – like Al Hurra :D. I think his statement about what channels people choose not to watch needs to be parsed a bit further: channels people do not watch because their content is bad or not interesting, and channels people do not watch because they disagree with their political line.]

Mohammed al Mashnooq, another media expert, said channels had fallen into the “hands of governments” because they lacked clear media strategies. TV channels that met the demands of genuine democratic change, transparency and freedom were the ones that would flourish, he said.

[I like Al Mashnooq’s optimistic viewpoint, but again, I’m not sure that television channels should be expected to do all this.]

The report found that despite current losses, some advertising experts were predicting an increase in spending in this sector, because of the growing number of channels and a larger, more active advertising market.

Between 2004 and 2007, according to Arab Consultants Group, the number of Arab satellite channels grew by 270 per cent.

The number of channels owned by the private sector increased by 56, music channels increased by 54 and channels owned by governments increased by 38.

There are now 1,100 satellite channels registered in the Arab world, but only 510 are operational, broadcasting from three satellites: ArabSat, NileSat and NourSat.

[Goodness. 1,100 channels? I can’t even imagine.]

Some of the more popular channels are Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar; and Al Arabiya and MBC, which are based in Saudi Arabia but broadcast from Dubai.

[These are popular channels – actually, networks, with each having one flagship and several subsidiary channels. But Al Jazeera has historically had a very difficult time getting advertising – other than ads from Qatari state companies, that is. And I’m not sure that Arabiya does all that much better. MBC is the only network I see with a fully articulated economic model that pushes for a sizable advertising revenue stream.]

The UAE hosts 22 per cent of Arab satellite channels, the most of any country in the region.

[And most of these are Saudi-owned. Again – a very, very interesting article, about a complex, engaging topic.]

You can read the article, sans commentary, here.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Arabic, economics, television | Leave a Comment »

bar by consensus

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 14, 2009

Now that Lebanon has a government, its time to celebrate. But where to go to toast the new cabinet?

In honor of the consensus government, how about a consensus bar?

how about … mybar?

LOGO

Of course, there’s a catch: mybar doesn’t exist yet. That’s where all of you come in. And as with many things, all it takes is money.

Here’s what mybar’s board of directors has to say:

mybar is an innovative and exciting approach to bar ownership that provides you with a unique opportunity to fulfill your dream of owning a bar. You can choose to invest in one of four different levels of ownership. You decide how much you want to invest, and you benefit from all the perks of being a mybar owner. As a Barnote owner you receive a percentage of voting rights, weekly sales reports, and an annual dividend distribution. Simply put, mybar lets you… Own it. Live it. Profit.

I’ve actually never dreamed of owning a bar. And the main “perks” of ownership, at least at the low-end $2,000 “owner” investment level, seem limited to “access to weekly sales and cost reports” and “name engraved on plaque entrance”. (Let’s gloss over the weird grammar of this latter perk – I assume it means: “name engraved on plaque at mybar’s entrance”.) In any case, the fusty investor in me would like to point out that $2,000 would put you almost 60% of the way to a nice Berkshire Hathaway Class B share. Perks of that investment include an invitation to the annual shareholders’ meeting, which is not only a total hoot (and a real slice of midwestern Americana) but itself a pretty good provider of access to some very interesting, if old-school, investment thinking.

Oh, but wait. This mybar perk might truly tip the scales for some of you: If you invest now, before the first $1,000,000 has been raised, you will be eligible to vote on the three options being considered for mybar’s theme.

Actually, the three options are really more like two, plus a blank space.
Here’s option one:

Think of a London or New York loft with large windows, high ceilings and wooden floorboards styled for a sophisticated drinking and dining experience. A long bar crafted to host a selection of the finest cocktails. The sound of urban modern jazz playing in the background keeps your feet tapping but conversations going. You can choose to sit on the large plush leather couches and enjoy that whiskey on the rocks or a dry Martini, or choose the high chairs and bar tables for a round of shots.

Here’s option two:

Inspired by Las Vegas and Miami night clubs, this concept boasts large spaces that allow you to let loose and absorb the lights and sounds of upbeat progressive music.  Whether you are on the dance floor or chilling out on the surrounding bed sized couches this concept will provide the perfect venue for a night of debauchery.

Excellent. The last time I went out to bars on a regular basis was around 2004, which means that I will feel right at home in either theme. In other words: yawn.

Which brings us to option three:

mybar – 1344 Park Avenue,  Beirut, is situated in the heart of the Beirut Central District. If you have a concept or an idea of what the next trendiest bar in Beirut should look like then start a thread on the wall describing it and see if your fellow Barnote owners agree with you. If so, your idea might be chosen as one of the three final concepts that Barnote owners vote on.

Please save mybar from being invaded by people who think that lychee martinis are hip. If you invest, please help your fellow barnote’rs and submit a new theme along with your investment application. Think of it as working toward a new consensus :).

Posted in advertising, Beirut, economics, nightlife | Leave a Comment »

“Call me back”: Alfa’s $.09

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 3, 2009

This morning, H sent me the link to a new service that Alfa, or rather “Alfa Active Light“, is offering its pre-paid customers. Called “Ehkineh“, its basically a missed-call service for those with balances too low to send a SMS, who think that a missed call won’t send the right message.

It sounds like a joke: an April Fool’s Day gag, or a Qnion piece. But it isn’t – and that’s the beauty of it for me: its yet another workaround that helps people navigate the country’s many dysfunctional telecomm issues.

Here’s what Alfa has to say:

About the service

Out of credit or you have less than $0.09 in your balance, and your line is still in the active period? Now you can use “Ehkineh” a free service from Alfa, to send up to 40 Free predefined “Ehkineh” SMS per month asking an Alfa user, whether Prepaid or Postpaid, to call you back for urgent matters.

How to use the service

In a text message, compose the letter “E”, followed by the 8 digits Alfa number of the person you wish to send the SMS to, & send the SMS to 1339 for free.

Alfa in return, sends “Ehkineh from Alfa: Please Call me Back” request through SMS on your behalf to the person you are trying to reach.

Note: Once the SMS is sent, you will receive a confirmation message & the remaining number of free SMS you can benefit from.

Useful tips

  • You can only benefit from the service when you are out of credits or you have less than $0.09 in your balance, and your line is still active.
  • Ehkineh” Service is:
    • Automatically renewed and absolutely free of charge
    • Available exclusively for Alfa Prepaid subscribers,
    • Every month you get 40 Free new “Ehkineh” SMS, which you cannot accumulate from one month to another.
    • Not functional outside Lebanon. However, if the destination number is abroad and subscribed to Roam-In service, he will be able to receive the SMS.
  • Happy haka’ing, Alfa pre-paid users :).

    Posted in advertising, Arab world, economics, Lebanon | 2 Comments »

    hummus: where satire and reality blur

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 25, 2009

    Have you ever heard about someone reading an article from the Onion and mistaking it for a genuine news article?

    Today J sent me a genuine AP article whose headline made me wish the reverse were true:

    Lebanese to Israel: Hands off our hummus!

    Ah yes: another bizarre Lebanese food contest. Poor Zeina Karam, having to report on this.

    BEIRUT — Lebanese chefs prepared a massive plate of hummus weighing over two tons Saturday that broke a world record organizers said was previously held by Israel — a bid to reaffirm proprietorship over the popular Middle Eastern dip.

    “Come and fight for your bite, you know you’re right!” was the slogan for the event — part of a simmering war over regional cuisine between Lebanon and Israel, which have had tense political relations for decades.

    [I agree that having Israelis and pseudo-Israelis try to correct my pronunciation of “hummus” as “KHumus” – say it with extra phlegm for full effect – is beyond irritating. But claiming a dish by cooking an obscene amount of it? And being PROUD of this? And creating an embarrassingly lame slogan – in English, no less? Good God.]

    Lebanese businessmen accuse Israel of stealing a host of traditional Middle Eastern dishes, particularly hummus, and marketing them worldwide as Israeli.

    “Lebanon is trying to win a battle against Israel by registering this new Guinness World Record and telling the whole world that hummus is a Lebanese product, its part of our traditions,” said Fady Jreissati, vice president of operations at International Fairs and Promotions group, the event’s organizer.

    [Ah yes, the Guinness World Record: a world-renowned battleground.What, the UN Security Council wouldn’t hear their case?]

    Hummus — made from mashed chickpeas, sesame paste, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic — has been eaten in the Middle East for centuries. Its exact origin is unknown, though it’s generally seen as an Arab dish.

    [Ooooooooooooh. An Arab dish. Zeina, did you warn your AP editors about the flow of Phoenician hate mail that’s about to start flooding them?]

    But it is also immensely popular in Israel — served in everyday meals and at many restaurants — and its popularity is growing around the globe.

    The issue of food copyright was raised last year by the head of Lebanon’s Association of Lebanese Industrialists, Fadi Abboud, when he announced plans to sue Israel to stop it from marketing hummus and other regional dishes as Israeli.

    But to do that, Lebanon must formally register the product as Lebanese. The association is still in the process of collecting documents and proof supporting its claim for that purpose.

    [I can’t wait until someone tries to register olives. We could witness a full-on Mediterranean war.]

    Lebanese industrialists cite, as an example, the lawsuit over feta cheese in which a European Union court ruled in 2002 the cheese must be made with Greek sheep and goats milk to bear the name feta. That ruling is only valid for products sold in the EU.

    Abboud says that process took seven years and realizes Lebanon’s fight with Israel is an uphill battle.

    Meanwhile, he says, events like Saturday’s serve to remind the world that hummus is not Israeli.

    “If we don’t tell Israel that enough is enough, and we don’t remind the world that it’s not true that hummus is an Israeli traditional dish, they (Israelis) will keep on marketing it as their own,” he said Saturday.

    [Someone needs to tell this man that in the United States, the hummus contest is not between Lebanon and Israel. Its not between Lebanon and anyone. Hummus here is sold by nationality as Greek or Israeli, and by region as Arab or Mediterranean. No Lebanon. No cedars. No national dish awareness whatsoever.]

    Some 300 chefs were involved in preparing Saturday’s massive ceramic plate of hummus in a huge tent set up in downtown Beirut. The white-uniformed chefs used 2,976 pounds (1,350 kilograms) of mashed chickpeas, 106 gallons (400 liters) of lemon juice and 57 pounds (26 kilograms) of salt to make the dish, weighing 4,532 pounds (2,056 kilograms).

    It was not clear what the former Israeli record was, and organizers gave conflicting reports on when it was made.

    But chefs and visitors broke into cheers and applause when a representative from the Guinness Book of World Records presented Abboud with a certificate verifying Lebanon had broken the previous record. The plate was then decorated with the red, green and white Lebanese flag.

    A similar attempt to set a new world record will be held Sunday for the largest serving of tabbouleh, a salad made of chopped parsley and tomatoes, that Lebanon also claims as its own.

    *Sigh*. So much food in one short weekend. But again, a bit misguided. Before Lebanon can claim tabbouleh, it needs to take it back from all the U.S. cooks who think of it as a bulgur-based side dish.

    Since I’m now in mourning at missing my chance to attend an all-you-can-eat tabbouleh fest, I’ll let my friend B have the last word. B found Al-Manar’s take on the hummus-a-thon, which described it as “mark[ing] a new victory on Israel” and noted that “organizers have hailed this event as “a patriotic event of national scale”.”

    Finally, B noted, Mughniyeh is at peace.

    Posted in advertising, Arab world, food, friends, Israel, Lebanon | 8 Comments »

    window-shopping the want ads

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 21, 2009

    Most days I love my current job – just like I love each and every pair of shoes in my closet. But just like with my beloved shoes, I’m always on the lookout for a new pair of heels – er, job – to love.

    Hence I eagerly scroll through the job postings that AME Info sends my way. I’ve never seen a job that I would actually 1) qualify for and 2) be interested in, but I do love reading the descriptions.

    The latest featured position – that of general manager of a Saudi Arabian radio station – caught my eye at once:

    Our Client in KSA is urgently looking for a General Manager for their radio station. The general manager would be reporting directly to the CEO of the Media Group. Salary will not be a bar for the right candidate.

    “Salary will not be a bar for the right candidate”? Since when did radio become such a lucrative field?

    At least with that job, the applicant knows the industry. Here’s a more mysterious want ad:

    CEO
    Location : Kabul – Afghanistan
    Salary:  $100,000 – $150,000 per year
    Applicants should have over 15 years experience and be prepared to be based in Afghanistan. This is a challenging yet rewarding role for a senior candidate.

    “Challenging yet rewarding” – I bet. Challenge number one: identifying just what you will be the CEO of.

    Finally, I took a peek at all the jobs currently listed with a “Lebanon” location. There were three:

    Finance Analyst – Dubai

    Senior Business Planning Analyst – Dubai

    Human Resources Manager – Lebanon.

    Um. Just to recap: I chose the “narrow by location” option and selected “Lebanon”. Guess the sour economy hasn’t soured the Lebanese on the Emirati exodus.

    Posted in advertising, Afghanistan, Arab world, Dubai, economics, Lebanon, radio | Leave a Comment »

    Tycoon Diamond

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 14, 2009

    Another morning, another sad email from a Hong Kong banker. These Arab investors seem to be – pardon me – dying like flies, and their bankers all seem to think that I should be the one to profit from their families’ loss. But this is the first email to delve into my psyche and my – heretofore unknown to me – financial acumen.

    FROM: Liu Yan Bank of China Ltd. 13/F. Bank of China Tower 1 Garden Road Hong Kong,

    I sincerely ask for forgiveness for I know this may seem like a complete intrusion to your privacy but right about now this is my best option of communication. This mail might come to you as a surprise and the temptation to ignore it as frivolous could come into your mind; but please consider it a divine wish and accept it with a deep sense of humility.

    [A divine wish? Are you sure that God gets personally involved in these types of things?]

    This letter must surprise you because we have never meet before neither in person nor by correspondence,but I believe that it takes just one day to meet or know someone either physically or through correspondence.

    [Ah: the love-at-first-sight-or-email approach to financial illegality. Super.]

    I got your contact through my personal search, you were revealed as being quite astute in private entrepreneurship,and one has no doubt in your ability to handle a financial business transaction.

    [Well – I don’t like to brag, but I do indeed know my way around a credit card purchase. And I’ve been very successful in selling off excess furniture and personal effects whenever I move.]

    I am Liu Yan a transfer supervisor operations in investment section in Bank of China Ltd. Secretariat of the BOCHK Charitable Foundation 13/F. Bank of China Tower, 1 Garden Road, Hong Kong. I have an obscured business suggestion for you. Before the U.S and Iraqi war our client General Mohammed Jassim Ali who work with the Iraqi forces and also business man made a numbered fixed deposit for 18 calendar months, with a value of (I will disclose amount upon your reply) in my branch.

    [There are two things I particularly like about this paragraph: First, the idea that this is an “obscured” business proposal – meaning what, exactly? – and second, that Mr. Liu is keeping the precise amount of General Ali’s deposit to himself until I demonstrate interest.]

    Upon maturity several notices was sent to him, even early in the war,again after the war another notification was sent and still no response came from him,We later find out that General Mohammed Jassim Ali and his family had been killed during the war in a bomb blast that hit their home.

    After further investigation it was also discovered that General Mohammed Jassim Ali did not declare any next of kin in his official papers including the paper work of his bank deposit. And he also confided in me the last time he was at my office that no one except me knew of his deposit in my bank. So, (I will disclose amount upon your reply) is still lying in my bank and no one will ever come forward to claim it. What bothers me most is that, according to the laws of my country at the expiration 3 years the funds will revert to the ownership of the Hong Kong Government if nobody applies to claim the funds.

    [Um, I can think of a number of things in this story that bother me most. Just FYI.]

    Against this backdrop, my suggestion to you is that I will like you as a foreigner to stand as the next of kin to General Mohammed Jassim Ali so that you will be able to receive his funds. I want you to know that I have had everything planned out so that we shall come out successful.

    [Oh yes – as with the last Hong Kong email, I think this sounds like a great idea. Baathist Iraqi general killed by U.S. forces somehow declared a non-Arab American women his next-of-kin. Who on earth would doubt this?]

    I have contacted an attorney who will prepare the legal documents that will back you up as the next of kin to General Mohammed Jassim Ali, all what is required from you at this stage is for you to provide me with your Full Names, private phone number and Address so that the attorney can commence his job. After you have been made the next of kin, the attorney will also fill in for claims on your behalf and secure the necessary approval and letter of probate in your favor for the transfer of the funds to an account that will be provided by you with my guidance.There is no risk involved at all in the matter as we are going adopt a legalized method and the attorney will prepare all the necessary documents.

    [A “legalized method” for an illegal activity? Suddenly I have a new image of Hong Kong … ]

    Please endeavor to observe utmost discretion in all matters concerning this issue. Once the funds have been transferred to your nominated bank account we shall discuss the percentage issue on your reply.

    [Hunh. This whole proposal seems a little low in the numbers department. No disclosure of the deposit, and no disclosure of the percentages? I think I’ll go with the dead Saudi.]

    If you are interested please send me your full names and current residential address, and I will prefer you to reach me on my private and secure email address below and finally after that I shall provide you with more details of this operation.

    Best Regards Liu Yan

    [And my regards to you, Mr. Liu. You’ve made my day. I’m not taking you up on your offer, but I definitely plan to put my “ability to handle a financial business transaction” to use by doing a little online shopping!]

    Posted in advertising, Arab world, economics, Iraq, vanity | Leave a Comment »

    getting credit where credit is due

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 13, 2009

    Someone in Dubai thinks that I deserve more credit – and he (or she) evidently wants to help.

    I’m not used to this. What happened to the confidential business offers – minus 10% for expenses – that I’ve been getting? Am I now expected to earn my living through – gasp! – hard work?

    Here’s what my latest offer has to say:

    We arrange and assist with Letter of Credits – LCs

    [Great – didn’t know I needed one!]

    Are you a trader, exporter, importer, manufacturer?

    [Um, no. But I’m a very good purchaser, at least on an individual level.]

    General Trading? Trading in commodities? Bulk supplies?

    [Depends what you mean by “general”, “commodities”, and “bulk”. If you are referring to shoes, skincare products, and books, the answer is “YES”.]

    Milk Powder, Sugar, Oil Products, Metals, Fertilizers, etc?

    [What?]

    Trading in Middle East, Africa, Asia, South America?

    [My trading – again, on the “buy side” – has been largely limited to the Middle East, but I’m more than open to branching out :D.]

    We arrange LCs for more than 100+ countries world-wide :

    Discounting of LCs

    Confirmation of LCs

    Back to Back LCs

    Usance LCs

    Conditional LCs

    Sight LCs

    [I have no idea what any of this means. Is that a problem?]

    GCC countries, India, China, Western Europe, Russia, Countries of Africa, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Sudan, Yemen, Brazil, Argentina, etc.

    [Iran, Syria, and Iran? You clearly are not based in the U.S.!]

    Professional service and simple procedures. Lowest rates for foodstuff and medical supplies.

    [Well, I do think of skincare products as a medical necessity … ]

    Pls write us for pricing quote and other details.

    [Absolutely – I’m on it!]

    Posted in advertising, Arab world, economics | 1 Comment »

    nothing but blah blah blue skies

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 12, 2009

    I love posters, I love graphic design, and I love election campaigns. So its been killing me to miss out on all the fun that +961, Beirut/NTSC, QN, and others have been having with their photos of the various and varied electoral posters that currently pepper Lebanon’s highways and byways.

    Of course, I have been enjoying all the digital riffs I’ve received via email (not to mention those on which friends have been “tagged” on Facebook); my favorite, of course, is the Jumblatt’ed “Sois Beik et Pivote”. And last week I began to have the glimmer of a hope that I might have stumbled upon a new source for electoral ads: the Daily Star.

    But I’m not sure in the end that this is worth getting at all excited about. Here is last week’s political ad, courtesy of Mustaqbal:

    08_05_2009_003_003

    Ho-hum.

    Am I missing something here? Is there some deeper meaning to “blue sky”? I get that Mustaqbal’s color is blue, and that blue skies are tranquil. But in my memory, blue sky days are good not only for beachs and skiing, but also for a whole lot of less-than-tranquil ishtibakat’ing. If I were a voter, I’d like to see a detailed platform explaining how a Mustaqbal vote would encourage some blue-sky activities and discourage others.

    Sometimes simplicity is artistic. And sometimes its just unhelpfully vague. Blue sky. Yawn.

    Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, Lebanon, media, politics | 2 Comments »

    Arab American Comedy Festival:ها ها ها

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 9, 2009

    If you’re in New York this week, you might be interested in the Arab-American Comedy Festival, which starts tomorrow and runs through Thursday. (It got a nice profile on WNYC – the local public radio station – yesterday, which you can read or listen to here.)

    The design for this year’s festival is a hoot:

    nyaacf

    I’ve got tickets for some of the events next week, and I can’t wait. This past week was a doozy – time for a few laughs.

    Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, humor | 1 Comment »

    security blanketing the Internet, Shami-style

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 7, 2009

    Last week, I came across an interesting article in Friday’s New York Times, about how people in Iran and other countries known for their aggressive Internet censorship, have connected with various “open net” sites that enable them to surf unrestricted (and with the subjects of their searches unrecorded by their governments – a key fact that the article does not mention). And on Monday I saw a Reuters story about what at least one media tracking organization sees as increasing censorship over the past year:

    Syrian authorities have tightened their “mighty grip” on the media and Internet since ties improved with the West last year, the author of a new report on censorship in the Arab country said on Sunday.

    “With Syria breaking free from its isolation, the need is greater than ever to ease the mighty censorship and grip over the media, which have only contributed to spreading ignorance and corruption,” Mazen Darwich, head of the Syrian Media Centre, told Reuters …

    The report, entitled “Syrian pens fall silent”, said 225 Internet sites were blocked last year, up from 159 in 2007. The sites include several Arab newspapers and portals, Amazon, Facebook and YouTube.

    Twenty one percent of the sites banned were Kurdish — Syria has around one million Kurds, including tens of thousands without citizenship — and 15 percent are run by Syrian opposition groups.

    Bans on a few sites, such as the Arabic language Wikipedia, were lifted, but the Internet remains under the monitoring of the security apparatus, Darwich said.

    “We are a long way away from a free cyberspace, but at least supervision should be in the hands of the government, not security, and subject to a law,” he said …

    [Please click on the link above for the remainder of the article.]

    In Syria, the government uses a company called Platinum, Inc. to manage the proxy system through which users access the Internet through government servers. Platinum, whose motto is (somewhat oddly, for a company that focuses on Internet access and network computing programs) “Beyond the Network”, offers a proxy service called “ThunderCache“. I can’t quite believe that this is a product designed in Syria, but nothing on either site indicates what company did develop it, or where. (I remember reading a press release some time ago that to me suggested that the company in question is actually a U.S. firm, but I can’t find any current confirmation of this. And I guess I wouldn’t be too quick to advertise if my software were being used to further the censorship goals of the Asad regime, either.) On the other hand,Platinum’s representative to last July’s ICT Security Forum in Damascus was a man named Erik Tetzlaff, which – if you’ll forgive my shameless stereotyping – doesn’t sound all that Syrian to me.

    In any case, here’s what Platinum has to say about ThunderCache, or “Tundercache”, as it is spelled on the bottom of ThunderCache’s website:

    Speed, Stability, Security and low cost became the main factors in Web World:
    That is our promise. Make it real, by using ThunderCache web proxy.

    How can you control internal users from inappropriate Web surfing, opening back doors for viruses through Web based email or instant messaging, prevent spyware, or consuming network bandwidth and storage with P2P file sharing and video streaming?

    [Hmm. I see a whole host of concerns bundled together in this paragraph: users surfing “inappropriately”; users allowing viruses or spyware to enter the network; and users taxing bandwidth by streaming videos and other high-load content. Wonder which one(s) worry/ies Platinum’s government client more than the others?]

    The solution is to use a proxy device-such as the ThunderCache series of high performance proxy appliances Systems-designed specifically to provide visibility and control of all Web communications. Acting on behalf of the user and the application, the ThunderCache does not replace existing perimeter security devices; rather, it complements them by giving organizations the ability to control communications in a number of ways that firewalls and other devices can’t.

    [“Acting on behalf of the user” – how nice. And yes, let’s not bother with firewalls – so unhelpful in their strict focus on the dangers of viruses and spyware, rather than on the more insidious dangers of ideas.]

    ThunderCache helps organizations make the Web safe and productive for business. ThunderCache proxy appliances provide visibility and control of Web communications to protect against risks from spyware, Web viruses, inappropriate Web surfing, instant messaging (IM), video streaming and peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing while actually improving Web performance.

    [I’d like to know more about Platinum’s definition of “Web performance”.]

    I’m not a fan of censorship, Internet-filtering or otherwise. And if Syria must police its population, I personally would be much more supportive if its efforts focused on the truly dangerous, soul-destroying, society-weakening sites: those that offer pornography.


    Posted in advertising, Arab world, internet, Syria | 1 Comment »