Magazine article Variety

Nets Needed for Mideast High Wireless Act

Magazine article Variety

Nets Needed for Mideast High Wireless Act

Article excerpt

Content providers target the region's huge population of connected millennials

The Middle East conjures many images - from oil-rich sheikdoms to the exotic spires of Riyadh to the uprising in Tarhir Square. But perhaps a more uniform image should be that of hoardes of hip youths completely and wirelessly connected to the rest of world.

The Middle East is among the world's youngest regions, with a median age that hovers in the low- to mid-20s, fostering the highest density of digitally enabled youth on the planet, a whopping 48% of the local population, dwarfing the 25%-26% in the U.S., the U.K. and Russia, China's 31% and an average 34% everywhere else, including Latin America.

The numbers come from a recent study unveiled by Viacom at the October Abu Dhabi Media Summit, marking the first time Viacom's MTV ran analytics on the region.

To better tap into this highly connected but woefully underserved 160-million-strong Generation Y, MTV, YouTube and many smaller content providers, some of them local, are aiming to churn out more region-based content. The study says that more than 80% of Middle East millennials stay connected to the Internet wherever they may be. In fact, given a choice between going on vacation with no access to the Web or staying home and being connected, 55% of Egypt's millennials (those born in 1981 and later) say they would rather stay local. In other words, in millennial bulge areas like Cairo, Riyad, Abu Dhabi or Amman, opportunities abound for savvy content providers.

One digital driver has been politics and the Arab Spring.

Millennials "have a stronger (affinity for) digital because it gives them parallel access to new things, and allows them to read the deep changes going on around them," says Viacom executive VP Antonio Campo Dall'Orto.

At the media summit, YouTube global head of content Robert Kyncl pointed to the 420% rise of video uploads in Tunisia as the revolution launched and continued in 2010. More recently, its CitizenTube channel has become a key outlet for anyone wanting an update on the latest bombings in Syria Jordan-based Karabeesh, which means "scribbles" in Arabic, has been scoring millions of YouTube hits with cartoons satirizing either toppled leaders Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But politics is just one digital driver in the region for Mideast millennials.

In entertainmenthungry Saudi Arabia, where movie theaters are banned by conservative clerics, YouTube has the highest average consumption in the world, an average 90 million video views per day, followed by Egypt and Morocco. And Kyncl pointed out that 50% of YouTube consumption in Saudi Arabia is through smartphones or tablets, often by kids who have moved beyond PCs and laptops.

"Today, MENA (Middle East and North Africa) represents 5% of all YouTube's consumption, but only 1% of content is in Arabic," Kyncl notes. "There is tremendous consumer demand, and we need to pay a lot more attention to the region."

According to Dall'Orto, among the many reasons content creation in the Middle East is still at such an embryonic stage is that the region is not perceived as having a large middle class. "But that is changing, and it represents a huge opportunity for us," he says.

YouTube, which has partnerships with pan-Arab broadcaster MBC as well as AI Jazeera, Rotana and Melody Music among others, is looking to boost its Arabic content.

But bridging the content gap in this fastgrowing market, or even just finding the right mix, is not easy. …

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