Region’s first online video gathering kicks off in Dubai

The hugely popular Saudi Reporters will be on the main stage at VIDXB on Friday afternoon. (Instagram)
Updated 07 December 2017
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Region’s first online video gathering kicks off in Dubai

DUBAI: Dubai is set to host the MENA region’s first gathering for digital content and online video. The two-day VIDXB event, which starts on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, will see YouTube and social media stars from the Arab world and beyond mingling with leading digital media companies including Facebook, YouTube, Buzzfeed and Vice, along with multinational brand managers and — perhaps most importantly — fans.

“We would like to position Dubai, and the Middle East as a whole, as an innovator at the front of the conversation about emerging media,” Omar Butti, executive director, innovation programs, at Dubai Film and TV Commission — the event’s organizers — told Arab News.

“I think one of the beautiful things about digital media is that no one’s quite figured it out yet,” he said. “With TV and film, the language is so established that it’s quite hard to break out of that mold. There’s a lot of emulating as opposed to innovating (in the region) — looking at what other people are doing and getting ourselves up to that level. There’s value in doing that, certainly. But we have a unique opportunity to help create the language around digital content or immersive reality experiences, because that isn’t established.”

There is enormous interest in digital content in the region, Butti stressed. And huge potential, both creatively and financially.

“There are currently 50-plus channels in the Arab world that have over 1 million subscribers on YouTube,” he said. “We have a very young population, incredible mobile phone penetration, and I think the region ranks second in the world in terms of views per day, around 310 million.”

When traditional, old-media companies look at the region — if they look at it at all — it tends to be for novelty value he said.

“It hasn’t really been an approach of looking at it from a long-term perspective and wanting to get involved with the creative community here,” Butti said. “But that’s not the case with digital companies. They see real numbers and real support and real, huge, potential business behind digital content creators. So I think that’s a big shift.”

The Gulf region, in particular, has not had a particularly strong presence on traditional media platforms. TV and film schedules are generally dominated by content from other Arab countries. But Butti said there are plenty of stars emerging from the GCC online.

“This year, (VIDXB’s) focus is on the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait,” he told Arab News. “We’re trying to offer something specifically for the Gulf and for the region in year one. But the long-term plan is to expand that. And even in year one, we’ve got people coming from Morocco, Egypt, the US and the UK, so it will be a global conversation about content.”

Alongside international stars including American vlogger Casey Neistat and UK pop star Conor Maynard, VIDXB will also welcome some of the biggest Arabic-language content creators, including Noor Stars, Saudi Reporters, Esswara, and Dyler. And Butti expects huge numbers of fans will turn up to see them in the flesh. Despite the fact that, generally speaking, regional online content creators are not household names, the adoration they generate from their fans is comparable to traditional media stars.

“You think no one’s watching,” Butti said. “But (for youth), these are your top-tier celebrities. These are the people that you look up to, follow, and watch. Something I think is maybe not taken into consideration is that these people are often creating content on a daily basis, so their audience genuinely feels like they know them; that they’re connected in a way that is much more direct than with any movie star or TV star, because of the level of access they have to their daily lives. Even though it’s curated content, they still feel like they’re there with them every single day. So the adoration and the engagement are on another level. It can feel a little under-the-radar, until 5,000 people show up to see this person and you’re, like, ‘Where did they come from?’”

Butti said the closest analogy he could draw to VIDXB would be VidCon in the US. “It’s the idea of marrying an industry conference with a fan event,” he explained. “People who are in the fan community today may be future content creators, and we want to encourage them. They might come to this event just to see Dyler, or whoever, but they’ll actually get to hear them talk about the creative process and how they got started, or why they do what they do, and maybe hearing directly from their heroes could be the little push they needed. That’s what we want – we want to find ways to encourage the youth to actively create and do something beyond just being passive viewers.”

From the industry side, he said, the hope is that VIDXB will show brands, particularly “the impact, the importance and the power of these creators.”

Butti said, “We should be taking them seriously on all fronts — supporting them creatively, working with them to make sure that their content is as good as it can be, but also treating them in the same way as we would traditional mainstream celebrities, because they do have that value.”

Beyond establishing a digital-media industry in the Arab world, the emergence of regional content creators could also play a significant cultural role, Butti believes, by breaking down the stereotypical portrayal of Arabs in traditional global media.

“I think one of the most important things we can do in the Arab world, whether it’s here in Dubai or anywhere, is find ways to get our stories out there and express the fact that there’s all sorts of diversity and different understandings of the world here,” he said.

“We are basically in a position where if we start creating amazing content, there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t get that content out there,” Butti continued. “And one of the most important things that we can do as a society, I think, is start exporting our culture.”


The hottest artists in the Arab world right now

Updated 14 August 2018
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The hottest artists in the Arab world right now

  • Here are the leading artists (those with the most plays on the service since the start of the year) in various genres

We asked regional digital music platform Anghami — which currently boasts around 70 million registered users across 180 countries — which artists have dominated 2018 so far in the region. Here are the leading artists (those with the most plays on the service since the start of the year) in various genres.

Egyptian pop: Amr Diab


No surprise to see Diab topping this list. The 56-year-old pop star has been wildly popular for decades. His fusion of Egyptian, Arab and Western beats has proved a hugely successful formula and his latest album, “Kol Hayati,” showed he’s lost none of his mainstream appeal.
Also hot: Elissa, Tamer Hosny, Assala Nasri, Sherine

Lebanese pop: Wael Kfoury


Twenty-five years on (and counting) from his first release, the “King of Romance” continues to wow audiences with his love songs. The 43-year-old’s most popular tracks this year include June’s release “Akhadet El Arara,” and singles from last year’s “W” album, “Sorna Solh” and “Halla Ta Fe2ti.”
Also hot: Ziad Bourji, Elissa, Adham Nabulsi, Nassif Zeytoun

Khaleeji pop: Hussain Al-Jassmi


The 38-year-old Emirati singer — like Diab and Kfoury — has long-dominated his respective genre and proves that, on Anghami at least, the old-school Arab pop crew reign supreme. His New Year’s Eve release, “Ahebak,” was a smash hit and he’s followed that up with a slew of singles this year.
Also hot: Majid Al-Mohandis, Abdel Majeed Abdallah, Essa Al-Marzoug, Rashed Al-Majed

International pop: Ed Sheeran


Even his much-derided ‘acting’ appearance on “Game of Thrones” apparently can’t derail the 27-year-old singer-songwriter’s domination of the global music industry. Last year, famously, 10 singles from his album “÷” hit the UK Top 10 and that popularity has clearly translated to the Middle East. He tops this list without having released anything new in 2018.
Also hot: Camilla Cabello, Taylor Swift, Shawn Mendes, Sia

International dance: The Chainsmokers


The US DJ-production duo’s cross-genre sound (incorporating elements of indie-pop and hip-hop, as well as dance music) dominated the Billboard charts in early 2018 with the release of their “Sick Boy” EP, and they have seen similar success in the Arab world this year, with five singles — particularly “Somebody” — driving their ascent to the top.
Also hot: David Guetta, Clean Bandit, Avicii, Alan Walker

International R&B and soul: The Weeknd


The acclaimed alt-R&B artist — real name Abel Makkonen Tesfaye — is one of the more interesting acts on this list; someone who has taken his genre into previously unexplored — often unsettling — territories, both musically and lyrically. His “My Dear Melancholy” EP, released in March, is a prime example. Tesfaye will likely remain at the top of the regional list this year, boosted by his upcoming performance at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November.
Also hot: Chris Brown, Khalid, Akon, John Legend

International hip-hop: Drake


Like his fellow Canadian artist The Weeknd, Drake’s often-downbeat take on his genre has garnered both critical and commercial acclaim. This year’s double-album, the 25-track “Scorpion” — featuring collaborations with Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Future and a posthumous contribution from Michael Jackson — broke numerous records for streams and sales.
Also hot: Post Malone, Eminem, XXXTentacion, Russ

Arabic hip-hop: Ahmed Mekky


The Egyptian actor and rapper has had a big year, starting with his nostalgic social-commentary track “Wa’fet Nasyt Zaman,” which tackled a number of topics including drug abuse, (mis)treatment of the elderly, and the influence of social media and mixed jazz, blues and traditional Egyptian music.
Also hot: Zap Tharwat, Flipperachi and Daffy, Klay, Sons of Yusuf

International indie: Lykke Li


The 32-year-old Swedish electropop artist dropped her fourth album, the trap-influenced “So Sad So Sexy,” in June, and it’s gone down well in the region, it seems. This always-inventive singular artist co-wrote the majority of the album with US singer-songwriter Ilsey Juber.
Also hot: M83, Cage the Elephant, Hurts, Sevdaliza

Arabic indie: Cairokee


The Egyptian rockers — who rose to international fame during the 2011 revolution — haven’t released anything new this year, but 2017’s “Noaata Beida” clearly continues to resonate with fans. There’s a clear Egyptian bias to the ‘Arabic indie’ list — indicative of the huge potential audience there, but also of the creativity raging in that country — with only Lebanon’s Mashrou’ Leila breaking Egyptian dominance of the top five bands.
Also hot: Sharmoofers, Mashrou’ Leila, MTM, Wust El Balad

Foreign-language Arab artists: Anthony Touma


The Lebanese singer’s sophomore album, “Ups and Downs,” released this summer has seen his popularity continue to grow in the region. Touma originally rose to fame on France’s version of “The Voice” and later collaborated with Enrique Iglesias on the French version of Iglesias’ “Let Me Be Your Lover.”
Also hot: Mayssa Karaa, Aman, Shébani, Lea Makhoul

Most popular artist overall: Elissa


Although she doesn’t rank first in any of the genres overall, the Lebanese star has accrued the most listens of any artist on Anghami’s platform over the course of the year so far, helped by the release of her eleventh studio album, “Ila Kol Elli Bihebbouni.” Her versatility — both her Lebanese and Egyptian tracks are extremely popular — means her success is split across those categories, so she didn’t actually top either.