The Arab Spring aside, the news and media industries in Middle East have been evolving at an incredible pace over the last few years. Last year, the take up of ICT reached record levels according to the Madar Research & Development Center and the growth in social media networks like Facebook and Twitter in particular has been phenomenal.
Following a recent chat with some of the big players in the broadcasting and digital media industries, NewsGame thought it would be useful to share some its thoughts. Below are a few of the Middle Eastern media predictions that we see as likely over the next couple of years:
- Egypt will continue to be preoccupied with national issues. Google’s search stats from 2012 revealed that Egypt’s top dozen searches related to national politics and the constitution. Given the current political turmoil this is likely to remain unchanged. The situation in other Middle Eastern countries is quite different with only 10% of top queries in Saudi Arabia and none in UAE directly related to local politics.
- Broadband penetration in the region will continue to grow with mobile broadband penetration dominating the local growth statistics in 2013. This is in line with the mobile industry predictions for the region and is reflected in the increased targets for both customer acquisition and revenue generation from the Middle Eastern customer base.
- As mobile penetration and app usage becomes more commonplace, both app developers and marketers will be more focused in their quest capture market share. These apps are likely to tie in with drive toward engaging customers to complete online purchase transactions. This is similar to the path followed in India in terms of first hooking customers into the ease of use and then getting the public comfortable with e-commerce transactions. NewsGame predicts that this mobile journey will likely be easier in the Middle East than in India based on the relative connectivity vs e-commerce transaction on the PC-based internet so far.
- Continued rapid growth in the Arabic Facebook and Twitter user base. The annual growth rate of the Arabic platform is currently over 175% which is almost double Facebook’s global growth rate. The English Facebook growth rate per annum is currently less than 45% (obviously not insignificant either but it’s interesting to observe the power of the localisation trend). A similar trend is reflected on Twitter with an estimated 17 Million tweets a day in Arabic since late 2012.
- As the Arabic platform for social media applications grows, so do the opportunities for marketers in both the mobile and internet space. Those marketers that do not capitalise on this trend and continue to assume that Facebook users in the Middle East are reflected by the somewhat ‘elite’ English speaking Arabs and expats will likely find themselves behind the media industry eightball sooner than they expect.
- The global trend toward the use of smaller, portable devices like smartphones and particularly tablets will be consistently presented in the Middle East. A recent survey by Spot On PR indicated that almost half of current internet users surveyed indicated an intention to purchase tablet device in the short term.
- The digital platform will become an increasingly important one for both bricks & mortar and traditional media companies. Whilst it may seem obvious to many that having a strong online presence is a no-brainer, large retailers and traditional media companies like publishing houses in the Middle East have lagged significantly behind when compared to their global counterparts. With the number of Arabic Facebook users exceeding the entire region’s newspaper circulation stats, these media companies and retailers are now (finally!) on a burning platform. Half-baked attempts at developing an online presence is likely to have a much more severe effect now than ever before and it is
- The demand for Arabic content will increase as usage of Arabic platforms increase. This has far reaching implications for both broadcasters like the BBC as well as the local formal and informal publishing industry. Niche blogging in Arabic, another area that we believe has lagged significantly behind its global equivalent will also become more prevalent. Certainly the popularity of Facebook’s Arabic platform will help promote much of this content and no doubt provide Facebook itself with numerous new revenue generating opportunities.
- Finally, it is important to remember the role of social media in both stimulating and sustaining the Arab Spring. The scope to initiate social change and protest is likely to continue in the region. An interesting trend to note in the region though is that rather than just pitting activists against the government, other forms of social change such as volunteering and community initiatives are increasingly finding their roots in social media. So take that to the sceptics that believe the only social impacts of the internet revolve around the negative effects of online gambling and porn – Facebook is proving more than capable in the Middle East to provide a platform for much positive social change.
Obviously as smartphones and tablets become ubiquitous in the Middle East, and the cost of broadband access continues to fall, the market will gradually move from an acquisition focus to revenue generation. Whether the reluctance to use credit cards etc online for purchases will be as prevalent in the Middle East as it has been in many other developing countries is debatable. One thing is for sure though, with the current growth rates, the region is a tough one for any of the broadcasting, mobile or social media industries to ignore.
Next week, NewsGame continues with its series on news website design as we discuss content accessibility and later the interesting area of monetization of news websites. To this end we will be conducting an analysis of some techniques used by a good website in an unusual space to gain some insights.