OMAN - Telecoms & IT
CEO, Muscat Press & Publishing House, SAOC
Ahmed bin Essa Al Zadjali is the CEO of Muscat Press & Publishing House (MPPH), SAOC, one of Oman’s most successful and fastest-growing media companies. The Times of Oman, Al Shabiba, Thursday, Hi, Sabbat Ayam, Faces, and Black and White are among the publications produced under the Muscat Press & Publishing House banner. He was educated in Business in the US, and began his entrepreneurial journey in 2001, becoming the CEO of MPPH.
In 1974, an English newspaper was perhaps just a dream for the people of Oman. The Times of Oman would not have come into being if a telex from Singapore had not reached the late founder, Essa bin Mohammed Al Zadjali’s desk, while he was serving as Director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The much-talked-about telex came from a company called Flying Tiger Corporation based in Los Angeles, US, asking for over-flight permission and, as the director of the department, it was Essa Al Zadjali’s duty to give permission to commercial, military, and individual flights flying over Oman. The telex sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was addressed; “Muscat, Oman, Saudi Arabia.” Infuriated by the way the telex was addressed, Essa Al Zadjali had three days of soul-searching without taking any action on the request made in the letter. Soon, he convinced himself that it was not the mistake of the sender, but that something ought to be done to make the country known to the outside world. Of course, in the 1970s there were neither any radio nor TV stations. Essa felt that it was the absence of an English newspaper that kept Oman in obscurity. The idea of the Times of Oman germinated from this incident. Essa Al Zadjali contacted the concerned authorities and in 10 months’ time, the paper was out on the stands. Oman witnessed the birth of the Times of Oman, the country’s first English-language newspaper, in an exciting tabloid format on February 23, 1975. Having started off as a weekly, it grew to become a daily.
The print media is in disarray across the world. But that is not the case in Oman, at least. It is true that the readership of the printed version of newspapers has been declining over the past several years. Yet, the Times of Oman, the most endearing newspaper in the Sultanate for decades, has been ruling the media scene. The newspaper, to say it with utmost humility, has defined news, set benchmarks, and reset the norms of journalism in Oman. The Times of Oman leads the market and its leading position has not changed since the day it was launched nearly 40 years ago. We, at the Times of Oman, enjoy the largest share of advertising revenue in this country. In the coming years, we aim to grow far ahead of the market. We would like to have much higher ratings with our readers.
Our newspaper continues to attract mostly expatriates, for obvious reasons. For most of them, the Times of Oman is a source of local information, announcements, and a way of connecting with this country. This factor has remained unchanged for years. But now, what is heartening is that we have more young readers and a lot of new generation Omani readers. We are moving well and are perfectly poised to reposition ourselves as demands change. We now consciously put out news that is of interest to local readers, too. We are focused on being reader-centric and building lasting partnerships with them, and continue to be the most preferred source of information. In more ways than one, the Times of Oman was, is, and will remain the official chronicler of the Sultanate.
We have experienced journalists from across the world working with us. Until now, English journalism in Oman has been dominated by expatriates. This is slowly changing. With many of the local universities and colleges offering graduate and post-graduate courses in journalism and media studies, many young Omanis are showing keen interest in working in this sector. Plenty of opportunities are there for young Omanis aspiring to work in this industry. We are keen on providing a platform for aspiring journalists to start their journey in the field of journalism.
Like in other parts of the world, the coming of the internet that has affected the newspaper. People have more ways of accessing and disseminating information now than at any time in history. The boom in internet usage has given people the ability to focus on specific topics of interest and avoid spending time sifting through more generalized news presentations, thus fragmenting the audience. But in Oman, as of now, people still depend on newspapers for local news and announcements.
Online and digital news usage continues to increase, with many more people opting for news on their phones, tablets, or other mobile platforms. The most spectacular change in the news environment has been the rise of social networking sites. To combat this, we have increased our presence on these platforms. But we must say that it has not affected our advertising revenues, because the Omani market has yet to begin using the internet platform for advertising. But then, if people do start advertising there in the coming years, we are ready, since we have a solid presence in the web world.
timesofoman.com has hard news as its core offering and interactivity as its key component. Along with it offering a plethora of mobile- and multimedia-enabled content, timesofoman.com is a true multi-platform offering that provides viewers/users an opportunity to contribute to the news process and interact with it. The website is supported by a team of professionals and experienced newspersons. The Times of Oman is the only newspaper in the Sultanate to have an online e-paper, timesofoman.com, which has a huge readership. Both the e-newspaper and timesofoman.com are hugely popular, especially among Omanis living outside the Sultanate.
We can proudly state that we have always had a clear growth strategy and a strong execution infrastructure. The fact that we went in for an international look for the paper in 2010 proved exactly that. In a fast-changing world where developments occur rapidly, making every new technology obsolete within days, change is unavoidable and rudimentary, especially in print media. That is why the Times of Oman decided to go in for a redesign. The change that we wrought was comprehensive, as a group of internationally acclaimed designers made the switchover happen seamlessly. The Times of Oman, in its new shape and dimension, has become perceptibly sleeker and smarter. It was devised not only to grant the newspaper a distinct look and individuality, but also to keep in mind the readers’ point of view, as well. It is now much easier to hold, read, and turn pages when the readers are in crowded or narrow places. The change has been widely endorsed by all our patrons, friends, and advertisers and, most importantly, our readers, whom we consider our partners, more than receivers. The daily, in its new avatar, offers far better readability, both in terms of its look as well as content. Today, we are living in an age of internet and satellite televisions, where people get news and information much faster and significantly earlier. The Times of Oman, instead of catering only to news and information, now aims to offer in-depth analysis of the news and comments to expand our readers’ perspectives. We are proud that we were able to rise to the occasion, successfully meet the challenges of time, and adapt to changing dynamics. We shall leave no stone unturned to keep pace with change and evolve in tandem with the times to keep up our relevance for years on end as we move into the future.
© The Business Year – November 2013