By Layla Tamim, Head of Ad Sales and Brand Partnerships, MENA at Discovery Inc.
Netizens is a portmanteau word meaning citizens of the net who habitually use the internet.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve witnessed radical changes in consumer behavior globally – with a rippling effect in the Middle Eastern market.
Our reality became virtual; everyone gravitated towards producing and consuming content digitally. The creation of the Metaverse and its skyrocketing growth to becoming a buzzword evinces this. The region’s fast-paced and tech-savvy consumers certainly didn’t fall behind on this trend. In fact, they were ahead of the curve. A 2021 report published by PwC highlighted that more than 40% of consumers in UAE and KSA shop using their mobile devices (compared to 33% globally), and that an estimated 70 billion dollars will be invested by MENA countries to enhance mobile infrastructure between 2019 and 2025.
Two years into the pandemic, the digital citizenry seems to be growing at an accelerated pace, so what does this mean for the media and entertainment industry?
Socio-economic landscapes are evolving and, in parallel, consumers and their preferences are changing too. It’s critical – now more than ever – that broadcasters constantly have their finger on their audience’s pulse.
Understanding where your audiences are dwelling
This region’s netizens are up to speed with every digital trend and don’t miss a beat. They’re constantly on the lookout for streaming platforms with new and unique content. Demands for Video on Demand (VOD) content have spiked since 2020, and this demand for VOD persisted in streaming platforms like YouTube. Viewers are actively seeking new videos to stream as a form of escapism. In 2021, the UAE alone had seen 87.40% of its population flock to YouTube for content – this is also attributed to the country’s access to faster connectivity with 5G, which was launched as part of UAE’s Vision 2021, and sought to enhance the Emirates’ business and cultural landscape.
Podcasts, too, saw an accelerated growth during the pandemic, especially with the region’s ‘always on the go’ consumers. The audio platform’s greatest strength is that its listeners can juggle multiple tasks throughout their day while being entertained. Moreover, the story-telling nature of podcast content is also more intimate and organic, allowing consumers to truly connect with the host.
Despite the digital world offering great opportunities to brands to tap into the region’s netizens, it doesn’t come without challenges. Cutting through the noise is arduous, and jumping on a key trend at the right time can be an uphill struggle. The most effective way to navigate is by listening to your consumers directly. To help with our 2022 strategy, at Discovery, we conducted primary customer research to stay up to date on the needs of our consumers. We found a greater demand for digital content with increased accessibility and flexibility through different platforms. Considering YouTube and podcast’s regional appeal, we decided to launch two of our most popular TV channels via these platforms. We are currently working on a dedicated TLC YouTube channel this year, which will feature regional favorites including Arabic subtitled VOD content. We also partnered with one of the region’s fast-growing audio streaming platforms, Deezer, to launch the first-ever Fatafeat podcast channel.
User-generated content is king
User-generated content (UGC) is foundational to creating a loyal consumer base and retaining their interest. UGC builds brand credibility, it fosters a sense of community by offering content that target audiences can not only enjoy but also contribute towards its creation.
UGC works especially well in the Middle East market, as it caters to consumers who are keen to share and express their culture through the content exchange. TikTok, for example, is rife with talented creators from all over the region who proudly weave their culture into the content they create. I believe in the importance of empowering consumers and providing them with a platform where they can authentically engage with brands. In fact, one of the key findings from our Discovery consumer research is that our consumers are keen to consume quality content and partake in creating it, specifically for Fatafeat, the pioneering food network for the Arab region. This inspired us to work on revamping our Fatafeat website this year and give our fans a platform where they can create their own content, share them, and engage with a like-minded community.
Hunger for home-grown content
For many years, the Middle East market has been at the receiving end of international content which, over the years, has bridged cultures and enabled Arab audiences to venture into the world through their screens. However, the current entertainment consumption trends highlight the importance of resonance and connection, now more than ever. Many have underestimated the power of cultural representation of Arabs. And the disparity between the Arab population and Arabic content is a testament to this.
A recent report by Kearney shows a third of Saudi’s population prefers to consume local content, and 63% of the Saudi population is willing to pay for high-quality Arabic content. These figures are expected to grow, in alignment with the Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to make the country one of the largest content hubs, producing home-grown content. In keeping with this, we recently partnered with regional streaming giant STARZPLAY, to locally produce the first Arabian edition of our iconic Say Yes to The Dress franchise. The show was filmed in Dubai, featuring Arab talents hailing from MENA countries. Yet another step in this direction was our decision to partner with a new media representative, Rotana Media Services (RMS) for Fatafeat. Partnering with a strong-growing local brand like RMS gives us the opportunity to develop more bespoke offerings and deliver enhanced brand experiences for our audiences.
The rising appetite for localized digital content poses limitless opportunities to tap into the Arab market, and brands who overlook this will be missing out on building strong brand communities in the region. To sustain continued success, find where your consumers are and are headed towards. Conduct research and strive to understand what brews their interest as netizens, and tailor your content to reflect what inspires them. The returns will certainly surprise you in the best way possible.