Social platforms eye Saudi Arabia as Snap looks to expand foothold

Social platforms eye Saudi Arabia as Snap looks to expand foothold
Saudi Arabia has the highest number of Twitter and Instagram users in the Middle East. Now Snapchat is considering opening an office in the Kingdom. (Reuters)
Updated 17 April 2018

Social platforms eye Saudi Arabia as Snap looks to expand foothold

Social platforms eye Saudi Arabia as Snap looks to expand foothold

LONDON: Saudi millennials are in the sights of youth-focused social media giants with Snapchat becoming the latest big name to be linked with a move to the Kingdom.
CNBC this month reported that Snapchat’s parent company Snap was in advanced discussions to open an office in Saudi Arabia, and was also developing a content deal with the Misk Foundation.
Such a partnership, CNBC reported, would provide training to local Saudis in producing content for domestic audiences. Snap declined to comment on the reports.
The move to increase its presence in Saudi Arabia would be a no-brainer for Snap; the Kingdom is one of its 10 largest markets.
“There are nearly 13.5 million users of Snapchat in Saudi Arabia, and between 21-25 percent of the population use the service every day,” said Damian Radcliffe, journalism professor at the University of Oregon, citing research he co-authored last year.
“Given this, it is not surprising that Snapchat opened an office last year in Dubai and is already looking to expand in the region,” he said.
“Snapchat is popular throughout the world. In Saudi Arabia, it’s among the top five apps on Google Play Store and Apple App Store,” said Ahmed Al-Rawi, assistant professor, department of communication studies at Montreal’s Concordia University.
If Snapchat does open in Saudi Arabia, it would be one of the first social media companies to establish a physical presence in the Kingdom, with most social media and technology firms setting up a regional base solely in Dubai.
The anticipated expansion of Snapchat comes as Saudi Arabia pushes through reforms designed to liberalize the country and encourage investment in non-oil industries.
At the end of last year, the Kingdom said it would lift its 35-year ban on cinemas and plans to open 300 cinemas by 2030.
Saudi Arabia is the largest social media market in the Middle East, making it an attractive proposition for advertising agencies and social networks.
It has 2.6 million active Twitter users, the highest number in the Arab world, and accounting for
29 percent of all active users in the region, according to the 7th Arab Social Media Report 2017.
The Kingdom also has the highest share of Instagram users, with
30 percent of all active accounts in the Arab region, the research found.
Snap, which opened its first Middle East office in Dubai last February, is already working closely with the region’s advertisers.
The content aspect of Snap’s rumored deal will be key. After building up impressive user bases, services such as Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram are battling to offer compelling content that will increase user engagement. This, in turn, can be used to attract advertisers.
Brands operating in the Gulf are particularly keen to use online advertising, said Rabia Yasmeen, analyst at Euromonitor International.
“In the Middle East, foreign brands as well as home-grown brands find it difficult to advertise products and services on conventional media platforms such as TV and billboards, mainly due to higher costs of advertising on these platforms as well as lower return on investment.
Though a relative new player, Snapchat is already winning over advertisers, mainly due to its popularity with young people who are typically highly active users of the app.
“Snapchat is popular especially for its engaging features, which many other social media apps lack in terms of peer to peer engagement,” according to Yasmeen.
While Facebook remains the global dominant force in social media across all age groups, some younger people are ditching the network in favor of apps such as Snapchat.
Teenagers want a social networking app that their parents don’t understand how to use, said Bill Fisher, UK-based senior analyst at the market research company eMarketer.
“It’s quite good fun and that is the big appeal of Snapchat,” he said.
In the US, two-thirds of those aged between 12 and 17 years old are now active monthly users of Snapchat. Only 46 percent of teenagers are active on Facebook. Around 83 percent of 18-24 year olds in the US are active monthly users of Snapchat.
The US ad-spend on Snapchat is expected to surpass spending on Twitter this year, Fisher said, citing eMarketer forecasts.
“What is important to brands and advertisers is that people are on the platform and using it every day. It is a very visual platform and agencies and marketers are getting very excited about visual and video advertising and Snapchat just offers a really good opportunity to show off this,” Fisher said.
In an effort to win over advertisers, Twitter has already moved aggressively into the original and exclusive content space in recent years. It acquired rights to livestream 10 Thursday night NFL games in 2016 (which it subsequently lost last year after being outbid by Amazon).
The micro-blogging service has also been active in the local content space in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia one of its 10 largest markets as well.
Last year Twitter partnered with Sela Sports to live-stream 21 matches from the 2017 Arab Championship regional football tournament, its first live stream of a global football tournament.
Facebook meanwhile in October opened an expanded MENA headquarters in Dubai.
Google is also targeting expanded growth in Saudi Arabia with a focus on increasingly localized content.


Algeria shuts down offices of Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath

Al-Arabiya logo. (File/Al-Arabiya)
Al-Arabiya logo. (File/Al-Arabiya)
Updated 03 August 2021

Algeria shuts down offices of Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath

Al-Arabiya logo. (File/Al-Arabiya)
  • Algeria shuts down Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath offices in the country for “practicing media misinformation”

LONDON: The Algerian Ministry of Communication issued a decision on Saturday to withdraw the accreditation of Al-Arabiya’s representative office in Algeria.

The statement by the ministry highlighted that the decision was due to Al-Arabiya’s “failure to respect the rules of professional ethics and its practice of media misinformation and manipulation.”

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on Algerian authorities to reverse the decision and to ensure that the channel operates freely inside the country.


Belarus sends reporter to prison over deleted chat messages

Belarus sends reporter to prison over deleted chat messages
Updated 03 August 2021

Belarus sends reporter to prison over deleted chat messages

Belarus sends reporter to prison over deleted chat messages
  • Belarus sentences journalist to 1.5 years in prison for insulting the Belarusian president in a deleted chat group
  • Belarusian authorities have ramped up the pressure against non-governmental organizations and independent media in recent weeks
KYIV: A court in Belarus convicted a journalist of insulting the president in messages in a deleted chat group and sentenced him to 1 1/2 years in prison, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said Monday.
The verdict in the case against Siarhei Hardziyevich, 50, comes as part of a massive crackdown that Belarusian authorities have unleashed on independent media and human rights activists.
Hardziyevich on Monday was found guilty of insulting the president and slandering police officers, according to the association. The court sentenced him to a prison term and a $1,600 fine.
The charges against the journalist from Drahichyn, a city 300 kilometers (185 miles) southwest of Belarus’ capital of Minsk, were brought over messages in a chat group on the messaging app Viber which was deleted last year.
Hardziyevich, who worked for a popular regional news outlet, The First Region, has maintained his innocence. His defense team demanded the charges be dropped due to a lack of evidence and because the crime was impossible to establish.
“I have nothing to do with these crimes, I don’t consider myself guilty,” Hardziyevich said in his address to the court before the verdict.
The Viasna human rights center declared Hardziyevich a political prisoner.
Belarusian authorities have ramped up the pressure against non-governmental organizations and independent media in recent weeks, conducting more than 200 raids of offices and apartments of activists and journalists in July alone, according to Viasna.
Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has vowed to continue what he called a “mopping-up operation” against civil society activists whom he has denounced as “bandits and foreign agents.”
Lukashenko faced months of protests triggered by his being awarded a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged. He responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
A total of 29 Belarusian journalists remain in custody either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.

Twitter partners with AP, Reuters to battle misinformation on its site

Twitter partners with AP, Reuters to battle misinformation on its site
Updated 03 August 2021

Twitter partners with AP, Reuters to battle misinformation on its site

Twitter partners with AP, Reuters to battle misinformation on its site
  • Twitter will partner with AP and Reuters to provide credible information on the platform and combat the spread of misinformation
  • Twitter said it will collaborate with the newswires during breaking news events to add accurate context
LONDON: Twitter Inc. will partner with the Associated Press and Reuters to more quickly provide credible information on the social networking site as part of an effort to fight the spread of misinformation, it said on Monday.
Like other social media companies, the San Francisco-based firm has been under pressure to remove misleading or false information on its site. Earlier this year Twitter launched a program called Birdwatch, asking its users to help identify and fact-check misleading tweets.
Twitter said it will collaborate with the newswires during breaking news events to add accurate context, which could appear in various places on Twitter, such as a label attached to tweets about the event or as a “Moment,” which curates information about trending topics on Twitter.
The partnerships mark the first time Twitter will formally collaborate with news organizations to elevate accurate information on its site, a Twitter spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added Twitter will work separately with both the AP and Reuters, a division of information services company Thomson Reuters Corp, and the newswires will not interact with each other.
“Trust, accuracy and impartiality are at the heart of what Reuters does every day ... those values also drive our commitment to stopping the spread of misinformation,” Hazel Baker, global head of UGC (user-generated content) newsgathering at Reuters, said in a statement.
Tom Januszewski, vice president of global business development at the AP, said: “We are particularly excited about leveraging AP’s scale and speed to add context to online conversations, which can benefit from easy access to the facts.”

US to evacuate journalists, aid workers from Afghanistan

Afghan interpreters at a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, before the beginning of the U.S. troop withdrawal in April. (File/Getty Images)
Afghan interpreters at a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, before the beginning of the U.S. troop withdrawal in April. (File/Getty Images)
Updated 03 August 2021

US to evacuate journalists, aid workers from Afghanistan

Afghan interpreters at a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, before the beginning of the U.S. troop withdrawal in April. (File/Getty Images)
  • The Biden administration expands efforts to evacuate at-risk Afghan citizens and give them refugee status in the US
  • Afghans eligible for asylum now include current and former employees of US-based news organizations, US-based aid and development agencies and other relief groups

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration on Monday expanded its efforts to evacuate at-risk Afghan citizens from Afghanistan as Taliban violence increases ahead there of the US military pullout at the end of the month.
The State Department said it is widening the scope of Afghans eligible for refugee status in United States to include current and former employees of US-based news organizations, US-based aid and development agencies and other relief groups that receive US funding. Current and former employees of the US government and the NATO military operation who don’t meet the criteria for a dedicated program for such workers are also covered.
However, the move comes with a major caveat: applicants must leave Afghanistan to begin the adjudication process that may take 12-14 months in a third country, and the US does not intend to support their departures or stays there.
Nevertheless, the State Department said the move will mean that “many thousands” of Afghans and their immediate families will now have the opportunity to be permanently resettled in the US as refugees. It did not offer a more specific number of those who might be eligible for the program.
“The US objective remains a peaceful, secure Afghanistan,” it said in a statement. “However, in light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the US government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States.”
The creation of a “Priority 2” category for Afghans within the US Refugee Admissions Program is intended for Afghans and their immediate families who “may be at risk due to their US affiliation” but aren’t able to get a Special Immigrant Visa because they did not work directly for the US government or didn’t hold their government jobs long enough.
To qualify for the Priority 2 category, Afghans must be nominated by a US government agency or by the most senior civilian US citizen employee of a U.S-based media outlet or nongovernmental organization.
The first group of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants — most of whom served as translators or did other work for US troops or diplomats — who have cleared security vetting arrived in the US on Friday. That group of 221 people are among 2,500 who will be brought to the US in the coming days.
Another 4,000 SIV applicants, plus their families, who have not yet cleared the security screening are expected to be relocated to third countries ahead of the completion of the US withdrawal. Roughly 20,000 Afghans have expressed interest in the program.


MENA music platform to launch entertainment destinations in region

MENA music platform to launch entertainment destinations in region
Updated 03 August 2021

MENA music platform to launch entertainment destinations in region

MENA music platform to launch entertainment destinations in region
  • First Anghami Lab to open in Dubai followed by Riyadh, Jeddah, other cities

DUBAI: A leading music streaming platform in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has unveiled plans to launch an innovative entertainment venue in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The first Anghami Lab will open in Dubai, followed by Riyadh, and then other major cities.

Anghami, the digital distribution company behind the initiative, has partnered with hospitality group Addmind, which operates venues such as White, Iris, and Clap throughout Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Qatar, and London.

Tony Habre, chief executive officer of Addmind, said: “Anghami is more than just a streaming platform, they have elevated the value of the music industry in the Middle East as a whole – Anghami Lab is an amazing and unique concept that embodies our rich Arab culture with an international twist, which we are thrilled to bring to fruition and scale.”

Anghami Lab will combine the online and offline worlds, bridging digital and traditional entertainment. The venue will feature a lounge, stage, and studio where creators can experiment and work together making music, which will be played and performed there.

The resulting music will also be made available exclusively on Anghami and the app will provide special features complementing both experiences.

The fusion cuisine served at Anghami Lab will be aimed at embodying the essence of Anghami by providing an international taste with an Arabic flavor.

Eddy Maroun, co-founder and CEO of Anghami, said: “We are excited to partner with Addmind to create this unique, transformational experience for our users.

“Addmind is a leading expert in conceptualizing and operating hospitality spaces, and this is a great opportunity to further reinforce the value we provide digitally to be converged offline in a unique user-to-guest experience.”

The first venue is due to be opened in Dubai in early 2022, to be followed by similar centers in Riyadh, Jeddah, Cairo, Beirut, and other cities such as London, New York, and Los Angeles.