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.

Snapchat launches new shows for Ramadan

Snapchat launches new shows for Ramadan
Updated 15 April 2021

Snapchat launches new shows for Ramadan

Snapchat launches new shows for Ramadan
  • New line-up of 60 shows on Discover covers a variety of topics including comedy, lifestyle and cooking

DUBAI: Snapchat has announced its new slate of shows for Ramadan 2021, which will bring more content from Discover partners to the app.

Snapchatters will have access to 60 new shows curated in partnership with broadcasters, digital publishers, and creators in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Discover partners have created shows such as “Robe’3 Nejmeh” from Rotana Group; “Azma bel 3azba” from Dubai Media; and creators’ shows including “Noor Stars” and “Banen Stars” from Diwan Group; “La Tagoolha” from the Saudi Broadcasting Authority; “Lovin Saudi Ramadan Eats” from Augustus; “Anasala Family” from Alfan; and “Cosmo Mukbang” from ITP.

“People are spending more time on social and communication platforms nowadays, and are becoming more engaged with mobile content. A large number of our audience in the region are using Snapchat every day,” said Fahad Alkhamisi, Head of Digital Media at Saudi Broadcasting Authority.

“Therefore, we are leveraging our successful partnership with Snapchat to provide them with new and exciting content this Ramadan, and we look forward to extending this collaboration that will give them an enjoyable screening experience in the future.”

Snapchatters in the region claim that they will spend 30 percent more time on their social and communication apps this Ramadan compared to last year, leading to these platforms creating more content for the holy month.

Snapchat currently has a monthly addressable reach of 67 million in MENA and 18 million in Saudi Arabia alone.

In Ramadan 2020, Snapchatters in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, spent 77 minutes daily on the app on average. In Saudi Arabia, more people watch content on Discover than on any of the other top 10 TV channels.

“People want to consume content on their mobile phones and at their own convenience. Snapchat’s Discover is the new digital majlis for Snapchatters during Ramadan and is the natural evolution of the story format, with shows that are made by the region’s top media publishers, editorially selected, brand-safe, and made just for Snapchat,” said Sara Abu Zahra, head of Strategic Media Partnerships, MENA & India, at Snap.

The Ray Hanania show compares Ramadan in US and Saudi Arabia

The Ray Hanania show compares Ramadan in US and Saudi Arabia
Updated 15 April 2021

The Ray Hanania show compares Ramadan in US and Saudi Arabia

The Ray Hanania show compares Ramadan in US and Saudi Arabia
  • The Kingdom is using technology to help ensure a more normal holy month than last year, Arab News’s Rawan Radwan tells the Ray Hanania Show
  • Meanwhile there is a growing acceptance among Americans of the importance and significance of this time to Muslims, says US-based professor

Muslims around the world celebrated the start of Ramadan this week, but the experience and traditions of the holy month can vary widely from country to country, especially in the pandemic era.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, the latest technology is being employed to protect the health of worshipers visiting the two most sacred mosques in Islam, Arab News deputy section editor Rawan Radwan explained during an interview on radio program The Ray Hanania Show on Wednesday.

Meanwhile acceptance in the US of Ramadan as an important religious occasion is continuing to grow, according to Saeed Khan, a history professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

Radwan said that authorities in the Kingdom have launched two apps to help ensure that only those who have been vaccinated, or are in the process of receiving the shots, can join others to pray and worship.
“Just before the start of Ramadan, the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques issued a series of guidelines and protocols with the relevant authorities involved, as well such as the minster of the interior and the minister of health,” she said.

“All of this is to ensure that every worshiper and all pilgrims that arrive at either the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah or the Grand Mosque in Makkah receive the proper care and attention that they deserve. Their health comes first.”

Radwan said Saudi authorities require visitors to the mosques to provide documents that confirm COVID-19 vaccination status. When this is verified, worshipers are given set time slots for their visit to maximize participation but avoid overcrowding.

“We have gone digital,” she added. “We are digital by default. We have something like a health passport — it’s not a health passport per se, it is an application that will allow you into establishments and commercial establishments across Saudi Arabia.”

The app, called Tawakkalna, displays a barcode along with the name of the user, an ID number and a color that reflects the health status of the individual.

“If you are vaccinated and you are fully immune, then it is a darker green color,” said Radwan. “If you just received one jab then it is a lighter green. If you just arrived from the US it could either be a blue or purple color and that could (mean) you need you to isolate.”

Ramadan last year was severely affected by the start of the pandemic, as lockdowns prevented people gathering to pray and families from getting together for iftar. The latest measures introduced by the Saudi authorities to protect public health, she said, have raised hopes that this year’s Ramadan will be more normal. But there are still precautions that must be followed.

“The rules are very strict, very, very rigid,” said Radwan. “You cannot enter (the mosques) unless you are vaccinated and unless you have recovered. You have to go through certain entryways.

“You can’t even enter with your car. A bus will take you after you prove you have a reservation, and then you can enter. And, of course, you can’t make any reservation except through (the app).”

Those who are eligible to visit the mosques are given scheduled entry times and they can spend up to two hours there.

“Worshipers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah are allowed to perform Umrah all hours of the day, said Radwan. “Those wishing to pray are only allowed in to pray, and then leave. The Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah closes after evening prayers (and) reopens about a half hour before the Fajr, or Dawn, prayers. Again, the reason is they have to ensure the people arriving are safe.”

Cleanliness and protecting the health of the public are priorities, she added. More than 10,000 workers have been assigned to the Grand Mosque, which is sanitized 10 times daily. More than 200,000 bottles of holy ZamZam water are distributed to worshipers each day.

In the US, meanwhile, there is a growing recognition and acceptance of Ramadan as an important Muslim religious occasion, said Khan.

“At the same time, Muslim Americans are developing more visibility and more acceptance within broader society, (on) a few different levels,” he added. “Corporate America is certainly recognizing Muslims Americans; we see a lot more companies and stores not only providing Ramadan greetings but also providing Ramadan products, greeting cards and other kinds of Ramadan paraphernalia.

“But I think the most important thing that we are seeing is at the institutional level. Schools are becoming much more accommodating to the needs of young Muslim students, recognizing that maybe students that are fasting during the daylight hours might be operating in a slower gear.

“There is now recognition in the largest public school district in the country, New York City, that the Eid festival will be recognized as a public holiday for school students.”

Khan said that this growing acknowledgment and acceptance of Ramadan is the result of community-based educational efforts, and an understanding by Muslims in the US that when Americans of other faiths ask questions about Islam it is not always intended as a criticism.

“There is always more that can be done,” he added. “Part of the essence of that really is to be neighborly and not to be offended by somebody who is asking a question. Most of the time the questions come from a very good place and good faith, wanting to learn.

“There certainly are people who ask the ‘gotcha’ questions but, generally speaking, we find when it is a neighbor, a coworker or a colleague, they just want to know. We can’t necessarily presume everyone knows, that somehow it is self-evident.”

Khan said the evolving experience of Muslims in the US is similar to that of devotees of other religions in America.

“I always noticed that on Fridays the menu in the cafeteria (in school) was always the same,” Khan said by way of an example. “It was fish sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. I learned later that had to do with Catholic students and meatless Fridays.” Although the rules have changed in some countries over the years, Catholics traditionally are prohibited from eating meat on Fridays and on the main religious holidays.

“So, the US has always had that mechanism to go ahead and accommodate religious minorities. Muslims are no different,” Khan added.

Despite the positive signs of growing acceptance of Muslims and their faith, many still face discrimination, however.

“Unfortunately it seems like it is going to be a challenge that will be with us for quite a while,” said Khan. However he added that this is something that can affect people of all faiths.

“I think it is important to remember that it is not necessarily only directed against Muslims,” he said. “I remember in 2012 when Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and now the senator from Utah, was the presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, there were a lot of people who had a problem with a Mormon being someone running for high office.”

• The Ray Hanania Show, sponsored by Arab News, is broadcast in Detroit on WNZK AM 690, in Washington DC on WDMV AM 700 on the US Arab Radio Network. 


UTURN, Facebook sign content partnership for Ramadan

UTURN, Facebook sign content partnership for Ramadan
Updated 14 April 2021

UTURN, Facebook sign content partnership for Ramadan

UTURN, Facebook sign content partnership for Ramadan
  • Launching during Ramadan 2021, exclusive content will be shared across the Facebook pages of the group’s publications
  • Webedia Arabia Group attracts viewership and engagement of 44 million people through its five main publications

DUBAI: UTURN, part of Webedia Arabia Group, has partnered with Facebook to unveil a series of videos throughout the year.

Launching during Ramadan 2021, exclusive content will be shared across the Facebook pages of the group’s publications,,, and UTURN.

Webedia Arabia Group attracts viewership and engagement of 44 million people through its five main publications.

With an emphasis on celebrating cultural nuances, it is especially focusing on developing content for its growing number of Generation Z and Millennial users.

“UTURN, part of Webedia Arabia Group’s key strengths in data, reach and ability to localize content for audiences across the Middle East and North Africa, in combination with the unique support services pioneered by Facebook, can lead the market and make a real impact on our regional audiences,” said Bilal Hallab, regional general manager of UTURN.

The campaign will kick off with the launch of 89 long-form videos (over three minutes each) that will be published throughout Ramadan.

Audiences will have access to three videos daily and more than 270 minutes of content during the month. 

More content will be produced and showcased throughout the year as part of the partnership agreement, which will result in exclusive content on topics including beauty, food, parenting, pop culture and gaming.

3a2ilati will share the diaries of a mother and daughter, as well as storytelling formats covering parenting and educational content for kids during Ramadan; Yasmina will focus on beauty topics; Atyab Tabkha will feature food-related content; Saudi Gamer will produce storytelling content revolving around news and happenings in the gaming scene in the Kingdom; and UTURN will broadcast a game-focused line-up with Saudi pop culture at the heart of its content. 

“In today’s digital age, watching video content is no longer a passive experience but a social one,” said Moon Baz, strategic partner manager for Facebook in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Through our partnership with UTURN … we are excited to unveil Ramadan-themed content that can encourage viewers to engage in conversations, and become active participants in these stories that can ultimately drive some social good.”

StarzPlay strengthens Turkish content offering with BluTV add-on

StarzPlay strengthens Turkish content offering with BluTV add-on
Updated 14 April 2021

StarzPlay strengthens Turkish content offering with BluTV add-on

StarzPlay strengthens Turkish content offering with BluTV add-on
  • StarzPlay subscribers can watch Turkish content dubbed in Arabic with BluTV add-on free for first 3 months

DUBAI: StarzPlay has launched a new add-on partnership with BluTV, Turkey’s first and largest local subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service, which is globally available for all Turkish- and Arabic-speaking audiences.

With this new partnership, StarzPlay subscribers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will have access to BluTV’s Turkish catalogue dubbed in Arabic.

The add-on will be available as a dedicated branded area across all StarzPlay’s existing platforms. The service will be free for the first three months.

The partnership accelerates StarzPlay’s expansion strategy to deliver diversified content for its growing subscriber base.

Earlier this year, the streaming service launched two add-on services in partnership with global brands discovery+ and Ultimate Fighting Championship.

It also ramped up its Turkish content offering just before Ramadan through partnerships with MISTCO, an international brand management and content distribution agency, and Calinos, an Istanbul-headquartered Turkish company that distributes Turkish series, movies and TV programs across international platforms.

“In the highly competitive SVOD sector, it is important to update our content offering continuously and provide diversified entertainment choices that are relevant to our subscribers,” said StarzPlay co-founder Danny Bates.

“Our partnership with BluTV is an extension of our business strategy for 2021 as we continue to make inroads in content aggregation.”

The shows available via BluTV on StarzPlay include “Yarım Kalan Aşklar”, “Gürkan Chef”, “Aşk-ı Memnu”, “Yeşilçam” and “Meryem.”

Aydin Dogan Yalcindag, founder and CEO of BluTV, said: “Our investor, US TV giant Discovery, has an established partnership with StarzPlay in the MENA region, which presented a great opportunity to expand our services into new markets and offer true value to customers.”

Finyal Media launches new branded podcast ‘Al-Silah’

Filmed in Saudi Arabia, the first season of Al-Silah launched on April 13 in time for Ramadan, with two episodes going live per week. (Supplied)
Filmed in Saudi Arabia, the first season of Al-Silah launched on April 13 in time for Ramadan, with two episodes going live per week. (Supplied)
Updated 14 April 2021

Finyal Media launches new branded podcast ‘Al-Silah’

Filmed in Saudi Arabia, the first season of Al-Silah launched on April 13 in time for Ramadan, with two episodes going live per week. (Supplied)
  • Mystery drama podcast series is partnership between GMC Middle East, Next Broadcast Media, Dentsu Aegis

DUBAI: Podcast network Finyal Media, known for its focus on storytelling throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, has partnered with GMC Middle East, Next Broadcast Media, and Dentsu Aegis to create a new mystery drama series.

Eight-parter, “Al-Silah,” is centered on two Saudi brothers embarking on a 13-hour car journey from Jeddah to Dammam in a 2021 GMC Yukon after receiving a cryptic and hurried call from their father asking them to get to Dammam as quickly as possible.

Throughout the drive, the brothers try to piece together the full story from relatives, business associates, and other unexpected sources of information.

Filmed in Saudi Arabia, the first season of Al-Silah launched on April 13 in time for Ramadan, with two episodes going live per week.

Kelly MacDonald, chief marketing officer for General Motors in Africa and the Middle East, said: “The holy month of Ramadan is a period we really cherish at GMC considering our strong connection with the Arab culture.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the most important markets for GMC, and we are thrilled to be getting closer to the community through this exciting project featuring our very own 2021 GMC Yukon.”

The new partnership also signified the growth of brand investments in the podcasting industry. Earlier this year, Unilever’s platform Miraa partnered with Finyal Media to release the six-episode podcast series “A Breath, a Step, a Mirror” for International Women’s Day, with more seasons expected throughout the year.

A report last year by UAE-based podcast network, Amaeya Media, found that 50 percent of listeners preferred entertainment-related content, feedback that has been reflected in more brands adopting a storytelling approach to their podcasts.

Leila Hamadeh, co-founder and CEO of Finyal Media, said: “It was really important for us to collaborate with a partner whose brand could authentically and seamlessly integrate into the show in a natural way.

“With the series being the story of a dramatic adventure across the Kingdom, the iconic car brand GMC felt like a very natural fit for the characters in the show.”

Podcasts are becoming a more lucrative advertising opportunity for brands as they offer a complete branding opportunity in a natural and authentic way that is more cost-effective than other platforms.

Lemya Soltani, director of client partnerships at Next Broadcast Media, said: “Podcasts offer our clients the opportunity to reach their audience in a contextually relevant environment where they can get 100 percent of a user’s attention without being intrusive.”

Al-Silah is available for free on Apple Podcast.