From tape to tapeless, SD to HD to 4K and beyond, and the rapid rise of the cord-never generation, she has witnessed it all during her seventeen years in the broadcast industry. Meet Ream Abdullah, Senior Planning and Scheduling Manager at Asharq News.
How did you come to be working in the broadcast sector?
I began working in the broadcast media industry in 2005, progressing through several roles that allowed me to gain experience in a variety of functions, but it wasn’t until later that I realised my true passion was specifically in programming and planning. In 2007, I joined MBC Group as a planner in charge of Al Arabiya, and later took charge of MBC1. I worked my way up to the senior management team over the years, eventually becoming the group’s senior planning manager for all Arabic channels. It was a challenging yet fun experience that involved many technical requirements, where part of my role was to understand the audience and their habits and ensure that we have the best offerings at the best time, as well as to research any competitors and set up workflows to ensure smooth operations.
In 2019, I joined Asharq News as senior planning and scheduling manager, which was a great step forward in my career development. In a nutshell, my path started with a passion and evolved into an expertise.
What does your role at Asharq News entail?
My responsibilities are divided into two parts: planning and scheduling. The planning section is primarily content-related and in charge of the channel grid offering. It ensures that compelling content is offered at the appropriate time, based on target audience consumption habits and market research. But most importantly, I have to ensure that the grid designed is appealing to our intended audience. In terms of scheduling, it gathers all the efforts from different departments and displays them on one screen to ensure that the channel looks appealing and smooth.
How has the broadcast industry evolved over your career?
When I first started in the broadcast industry, all our material was provided on tapes; but we gradually transitioned into a tapeless phase, which was a huge technical and operational shift. There was also a shift from having TV and radio as the primary broadcast platforms to transitioning to digital platforms. Over the years, broadcast regulations have changed in a way that we have been able to align with audience consumption habits, therefore impacting the way we provide our content. One major challenge has been to keep up with the latest technical and digital transformations and developments.
For example, people now use various platforms to select the entertainment content they want to consume at their preferred timings. Therefore, entertainment channels faced and will continue to face challenges in the coming years. However, this is not the case for news-based channels, which will have a rather different formula mostly due to the fact that people will want to watch live news most of the time.
At Asharq, the distinguishing factor is in how the business news and general news programming is delivered. Being a multi-platform news service, we cater to the needs of this rapidly evolving era and understand the need to provide content and news via digital platforms for viewers and users alike to consume at their leisure, according to their preferred times and lifestyles.
What techniques in broadcast scheduling have you mastered over the years? What are your biggest takeaways from being in this industry?
Building a content grid for channels is something I have mastered over the years, as is setting workflows to facilitate work between departments and ensuring efficiency and optimisation in work processes. I was privileged to work with Asharq News prior to the launch date, where I participated in setting technical workflows. Generally, working at a channel is unpredictable and there is no such thing as a systematic offering. Hence it is important to be able to adapt to changes, keep agility in our mindsets and stay up to date with all technological offerings, always one step ahead of the competition.
How has the pandemic influenced broadcasting and scheduling, and programme evaluations? How do you think such changes determine the future of broadcast?
There is no doubt that the pandemic has altered people’s habits, which in turn has influenced their interests and how they consume content. People have shifted away from watching television or free-to-air (FTA) channels in favour of online platforms that provide a wide range of content. Today, FTA channels face a challenge in enticing people to watch television when they can choose different, faster and easier ways. That is why Asharq News offers special dedicated content on both digital and social media platforms, balancing between the content we provide on TV and digitally (whether it’s online, on social or through catch-up service).
What big challenges have you faced during your career? How did you overcome them?
Every industry has its challenges. I think what drew me to the media and broadcast industry is my passion. Looking back, one of the challenges I faced at Asharq News was launching a new channel during the pandemic, a time when the rest of the world was shut down while we had to be working around the clock to meet the launch date deadline. The other obstacle during that period was not having the team around physically in the office to deal with multiple technical issues that arose. Nevertheless, we overcame this as a team, with great support from our leadership to facilitate a positive environment in which every member of the founding team contributed to the success of the launch.
Drawing from my experience, and during my time at MBC Group, I can recollect a very challenging situation. I was tasked with launching new channels in a very short time span. It was a new genre and offering, and I had no prior knowledge nor experience in that specific field. I did a lot of research and competitive analysis to come up with the best programming strategy that would allow us to compete in the market, as well as work with the complexities of the technical requirements for such a project. It was very successful.
Today, our main challenge is how to meet our target audience’s expectations. Whether that be from the actual content or technical offerings, it is always essential to keep content appealing and relevant, irrespective of where the content lives on linear or digital.
What challenges do you face as a woman in your role, and how does the industry treat women?
Irrespective of gender, we all face challenges. At the start of my career, I had to prove myself and my abilities. When others see women working in technical fields and are given a fair chance to prove themselves, it pays off. For me, the gender-related challenge no longer appears to be the obstacle here.
Have you experienced gender bias within the industry? How has this influenced your drive and subsequent work?
It is uncommon to find females in technical fields within the broadcast industry. That kept me on my toes with a need to prove myself and my capabilities all the time. It wasn’t an easy journey at first, but with time and experience I was able to grow without being judged because of my gender. Throughout my career, I have also been fortunate to work with supportive leaders and managers that provided me with a fair chance to shine without bias.
Any message for other women aspiring to join the broadcast market?
This is one of the most rewarding fields to work in, due to its dynamic nature. Working outside your comfort zone is something that moves you forward. It is those moments that develop and grow your character and strengthen you with maturity and experience. The broadcast industry is demanding and competitive, but it can also be very fulfilling. I am proud to say that our CEO is a woman and that our leadership team is also made up of women, proving that gender does not matter, but competence does.
What attributes do you see women bringing to the organisation?
I believe that men and women in any organisation have equal opportunities to prove themselves and add value based on their qualifications and experience, rather than their gender. There must be an equal opportunity for all.
Do you make a conscious effort to hire women in the industry?
I don’t hire based on gender; instead, I give equal opportunities based on job skills and candidate potential. If I want the world to be fair to women, I must be fair to everyone else. There are no double standards here.
What is your next challenge within Asharq News?
As a one-year-old channel in the market, we have our work cut out for us. Our first phase, the channel’s launch, is now complete, and it is time to focus on achieving our goal of becoming the region’s leading source of economic news for Arab viewers everywhere. This is a mutually shared challenge with the entire organisation and the leadership team, and collectively we speed ahead to achieve it.