DUBAI: The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with its long days of fasting and prayer meant to draw worshippers closer to God and away from worldly distractions, is being reshaped by technology.
People in the Middle East spend close to 58 million more hours on Facebook during Ramadan and watch more YouTube videos — everything from beauty tips and recipes to sports and TV dramas — than any other time of the year, making the holy month not only the most important one for Muslims, but also the prime time of the year for advertisers.
For Facebook, which also owns Instagram, and Google, which owns YouTube, Ramadan brings a welcome boost of business in the region.
“Consumption and time spent on our platforms does indeed increase,” said Ramez Shehadi, Facebook’s managing director for Mideast and North Africa.
People stay up a lot more at night during Ramadan and have more downtime — especially before iftar, the evening meal that breaks the daylong fast, and the “suhoor,” when people gather to eat before another day of fasting. Many also work shorter hours during the day.
All that translates to 5 percent more time spent on Facebook’s platforms, or what is nearly 58 million more hours, Shehadi said. Put another way, there are almost 2 million hours of additional time spent daily on Facebook in the Mideast during Ramadan.
Ramadan is also the peak season for advertising in the region, as TV dramas and soap operas get a 151 percent increase in viewership on YouTube during the holy month, according to Google.
“Our revenue is a function of people’s engagement,” Shehadi said. “The more that they engage on our platforms, the more that advertisers want to be able to reach those that are engaging. That’s what drives our revenue.”
So much ad revenue is spent during Ramadan that Google launched “The Lantern Award” to celebrate the most creative and engaging ads of the month.
Yet Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food and drink, including water, during the day. It’s also about disconnecting from vacuous distractions and focusing on contemplation, introspection, acts of good, charity and connecting with God. It can appear then as a contradiction that this is also when companies ramp up their efforts to get people to buy more, view more and engage in excess consumerism.
Google does not disclose total watch time for YouTube during Ramadan, but says that in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, for example, viewing of sports videos jumps by 22 percent, travel
videos by 30 percent, and action games, simulation and video games by 10-20 percent during the holy month.
People also spend 27 percent more time watching religious content on YouTube in Ramadan.