Snapchat surges in Saudi Arabia as it takes on Instagram

A portrait of the Snapchat logo. There are now more than 12 million daily active Snapchat users in the GCC, with over nine million of those in Saudi Arabia alone. (Reuters)
Updated 27 November 2018

Snapchat surges in Saudi Arabia as it takes on Instagram

  • The social media company has launched Shows and forged new partnerships with regional media brands
  • The regional rollout of Shows follows a difficult year for Snapchat in which a much-hyped redesign was widely panned

DUBAI: Snapchat is boosting the content available to Saudis who now account for three out of every four of its regional users.
It is part of a wider Middle East push as it seeks to reclaim ground lost to rivals such as Instagram.
The social media company has launched “Shows” and forged new partnerships with regional media brands, expanding the local content already available on its “Discover” page and reimagining various popular series in a five-minute format.
A premium video offering that encourages the production of TV-like content for the platform’s mobile-first audience, Shows was first launched in the US two years ago.
It arrives in the Middle East and North Africa with 33 series produced by more than 20 media partners, including MBC, Abu Dhabi Media, UTurn, Dubai Media Inc. and Discovery.
The regional rollout of Shows follows a difficult year for Snapchat in which a much-hyped redesign was widely panned, losing it millions of users just as competition from Instagram heated up. In June, Instagram revealed that its Stories feature (something it copied from Snapchat) had hit 400 million daily users compared
with Snapchat’s figure of just over 186 million.
Although Snapchat has narrowed its losses and recorded higher than expected sales growth, it is still fighting to remain relevant. Its stock reached an all-time low in October and it faces an investigation by the US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission into claims that it misled investors during its initial public offering.
As part of its fightback Snapchat has been busy making announcements across the world, most notably its bid to reinvent TV, unveiling 12 original scripted and serialized shows in October.
It is also adding 25 new series to its UK offering, with time spent watching Shows globally more than tripling since the beginning of the year. All content produced is in vertical, full-screen format.
The increased focus on content from TV networks, publishers and entertainment studios is part of the company’s bid to claw back lost ground, with the Middle East a sizeable part of that strategy.
“We learned so much about what people want by the way that they expressed what they liked and didn’t like about the redesign of the feed,” said Rami Saad, head of international content partnerships at Snapchat during the regional launch of Shows.
“We’ve gone from a tremendous redesign that took place earlier this year, to a lot of smaller iterations that help us really court the areas that we thought Snapchatters cared about or wanted to see in their feed. And I’m really glad to say that, today, we’re seeing more viewership than we have ever seen on professionally created content on Discover.”
In the Middle East time spent on Discover rose by 54 percent between April and September of this year, while daily viewership increased by 56 percent. In terms of overall usership, there are now more than 12 million daily active Snapchat users in the GCC, with over nine million of those in Saudi Arabia alone (up from seven million in April last year). There are also more than one million daily active users in the UAE.
“It’s very clear that MENA is a market that is highly engaged on Snap (and) highly engaged (with) content,” said Saad. “The changes that we’ve been making in the Discover feed are very obviously (in a market like this) making a big difference and that is exciting.”
MBC is launching its presence on Shows with five-minute versions of “Little Big Stars,” the Arabic- language edition of US variety series “Little Big Shots,” as well as “Scoop with Raya” and the Saudi-centric current affairs program “Ma’ali Al Muwatin.”
Tarek A-Qazzaz, MBC’s head of multi-platform network and social media, said the group would also be including a vertical camera on set during the production of a new drama, enabling MBC to have a Snapchat-ready version when it is broadcast next year. “We’re going to be experimenting,” said Al-Qazzaz, who said that MBC was headed toward platform agnosticism.
Jeddah-based Arabic entertainment network UTurn, which has hired an all-Saudi team to create videos just for Snapchat, will be running “Gharayeb Al Gharb” and “Abdullah W Bas,” while Discovery is to roll out culinary shows for its food and lifestyle channel Fatafeat.
“We now want to take it to the next level where we start working on original content and shows specifically for Snapchat,” said Kaswara Al-Khatib, chief executive of UTurn. “We’ve kept one thing consistent. We want to focus on video, because this is our strength, this is our turf, that’s what we know how to do.”
Although it’s a good start for Shows and for increased content in general, Saad said that much more Arabic content is required.
“Today, if you look at what’s happening in the Middle East, we have nine options for a user to consume professionally created Arabic language content in Discover,” he said. “We already have huge viewership and great numbers that we’re seeing on that. When we look at how content is consumed in other markets, I can tell you that MENA is very, very, very underserved. Underserved in every meaning of the word. We need so much more content … we need so much more breadth, and so much more depth of content.”

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry inaugurates Arab News Pakistan bureau

Updated 16 February 2019

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry inaugurates Arab News Pakistan bureau

  • New office will be hub for Asian operation of paper and builds on relationship with community and its digital generation
  • Arab News launched its online Pakistan edition in February last year as part of its global digital expansion plans

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Minister of Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry has officially inaugurated Arab News Pakistan bureau in the country’s capital.

Chaudhry was the chief guest at the occasion and several prominent Pakistani media personalities and Arab News staff also attended the launch ceremony.

Standing side by side with Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas, who is in Pakistan as part of the media delegation accompanying the royal visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Arab News Asia Bureau Chief Baker Atyani, Chaudhry cut a ceremonial ribbon to open the office.

“I am very happy for two reasons: The perception was building that the newspapers were not coming (to Pakistan), so once an international publication like Arab News (has come here) it certainly gives us a huge boost.”

Chaudhry described how the relationship between the nations was becoming stronger, particularly with the growth of Pakistan’s voice in the Middle East.

‘Secondly, I think this is an era where Pakistan is playing a very important role in the Middle East and to have such a major Middle Eastern publication coming to Pakistan itself shows the kind of importance Pakistan has of the Middle East and vice versa, we are very happy to have you here.’

Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas thanked the Pakistani information minister for his presence at the inauguration and for the efforts of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to help facilitate the newspaper’s operations in Islamabad. 

“The inauguration of our Islamabad bureau a year after the launch of our local digital edition is an indicator of our commitment to Pakistan and our determination to help create a better understanding of Saudi Arabia and the region,” said Abbas. 

“Ever since its establishment in 1975, Arab News has had a special relationship with the massive and incredibly loyal Pakistani community in Saudi Arabia. Today we inaugurate this bureau in Islamabad to ensure a continued connection with the community and establish a relationship with a new more digital and highly connected generation,” he added. 

Asia Bureau Chief Baker Atyani said that the new office would be a hub not only for the Arab News Pakistan edition but also for the entire Asian operation of the paper. “We currently have reporters across Pakistan as well as nine other Asian countries and with the help, hard work and dedication of our team at the Islamabad bureau we hope not only to better manage our operation but to grow further in Asia as well.” 

Arab News launched its online Pakistan edition in February last year as part of its global digital expansion plans. The project is the first of many new international editions planned by the Riyadh-based newspaper. 

Arab News is part of the regional publishing giant Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG).