JEDDAH: Four decades after its establishment in Jeddah, Arab News — the region’s leading English-language daily — is announcing that it is moving its editorial headquarters to the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
The head office of the newspaper, which today celebrates its 43rd anniversary, will be relocating to the corporate headquarters building of its owning group, the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG).
The SRMG building — on Makkah Al-Mukarramah road in Riyadh’s Al-Mutamarat district — is also home to the headquarters of several of Arab News’ sister publications, including the Arabic-language business daily Al-Eqtisadiah, Arriyadiyah sports daily and the Saudi bureau of the regional pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.
“When Arab News was established in 1975, most embassies and major corporations — including SRMG — were based in Jeddah. Things have changed since and given the magnitude of events and regional decision-making taking place in the Kingdom’s capital, it only makes sense for us to be moving into our owning group’s headquarters in Riyadh,” said Faisal J. Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News
“We at Arab News claim to be The Voice of a Changing Region, and we can’t be that voice if we are not at the heart of this change. This move will bring us closer to local and visiting decision-makers, while our Jeddah bureau will continue to serve as an important regional hub,” he added.
The new address and contact details of the paper has been reflected in both its print and online editions as of today. The official inauguration of the new headquarters in Riyadh will take place at a ceremony to be held later this quarter.
Arab News also announces the promotion of Managing Editor Mohammed Al-Sulami to the newly created role of Jeddah bureau chief, supervising editorial and administration operations for the whole western region of Saudi Arabia. Al-Sulami — a Saudi journalist who has been with the newspaper since 2009 — assumes his new duties as of May 1, 2018.
NEW DELHI: Indian journalists and digital rights advocates have warned that new social media rules announced on Thursday will further undercut online privacy and freedom of expression in the country.
The new controls give the government more power to police content shared on social media and digital streaming platforms.
It means that Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other services are more accountable to requests for removal of content and the identification of users who are deemed to have committed illegal acts by authorities.
Under the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, social media platforms have to remove content within 36 hours of receiving a legal order and assist law enforcers in probing cybersecurity-related incidents within 72 hours of receiving a request.
The new rules, which Indian Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad described as a “soft-touch oversight” mechanism, come two weeks after Twitter denied a government order to remove content on the farmer protests in New Delhi from its platform.
“The way these rules have come out, they will have a negative impact on privacy, freedom of speech, on creativity and the freedom of the press in India,” Nikhil Pahwa of India’s top Internet policy website MediaNama told Arab News, adding that the new controls are “the worst series of regulations on the Internet.”
He said: “It is very regressive and to my mind it is not backed by law. The rules need to be challenged in court, and if they are, the Indian government will probably lose.”
Social media giants enjoy a large presence in India, with the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging platform being used by 530 million people, YouTube by 448 million, Facebook by 41 million, Instagram by 21 million and Twitter by 10.7 million, according to Indian government data.
But none of the platforms have given detailed comments on the new regulations.
“The details of rules like these matter and we will carefully study the new rules,” Facebook said in a written response to a request for comment.
“We believe that regulation is beneficial when it safeguards citizens’ fundamental rights and reinforces online freedoms,” Twitter said in a statement.
However, because the new rules have been introduced as changes to the IT Act, which also regulates online media, journalists fear that the changes are an attempt to regulate news portals.
“We do know that the government is rattled by the work the digital media space does. Whether the only intention of these rules is for the government to have an overarching control over us, we will know only in time,” said Dhanya Rajendran, editor of news portal News Minute and chairperson of Digipub Foundation of India, which represents digital media organizations.
“Yes, we do have our suspicions and we are concerned that this could be the government’s motive,” she told Arab News.
Delhi-based journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who writes for News Click, a popular news portal known for independent journalism that had its offices raided by police last week, said the new regulations are “the government’s strategy to not just curb dissenting voices, but also to clamp down or curb their activities.”
He added: “The whole purpose or agenda is to clamp down on digital news media, which has been showing greater resilience and playing the role of adversaries against the government in power.”
Middle East-developed headset aims to protect child gamers from online predators
New study warns parents to be vigilant over targeting of children through online gaming
Updated 26 February 2021
DUBAI: The Middle Eastern developers of a new headset designed to protect child gamers from online predators hope the device will help quell a reported surge in abuse cases during coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdowns.
The pandemic has resulted in people spending more time online and the popularity of gaming has grown significantly, particularly among youngsters.
But according to research, the trend has led to increasing numbers of children falling prey to tricksters who groom them into sharing explicit photos and videos by sending them gaming currency.
UK charity, the Internet Watch Foundation, recently recorded a monthly record of more than 15,000 reports of online child abuse in September alone, while another British campaign organization the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children uncovered 1,220 online offenses against children in the first three months of lockdown.
The gaming market in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries was this year expected to be worth $821 million, up from $693 million in 2017, a study by Strategy& has revealed, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE the biggest players.
To raise awareness and educate parents on the potential dangers of unsupervised online gaming, Mobily eSports, in partnership with advertising agency MullenLowe MENA, has created the ProtectSet headset.
The device uses voice-changing technology to help children stay safe while playing online by masking their true age and making them sound older.
In a joint statement, Matt Butterworth, managing director for the Middle East and North Africa, and Muhannad Kadi, general manager at Mobily, told Arab News: “More than 93 percent of kids play video games. We are 100 percent aware that the device, alone, does not end the issue. But it has the power to make people debate the issue and bring the subject of gaming safety into news stations, homes, workplaces, and so forth.”
Although voice-altering software is widely available online, Butterworth and Kadi said ProtectSet stood out due to its quality and compatibility.
“We did extensive research, testing, and audio calibration with the headset, on both girls and boys, to make sure the sound quality and output were really perfect.
“The technology used makes the kid’s voice sound more mature by altering their pitch. We ran a series of tests to ensure that it sounded natural and not robotic. And this is what makes our device singular and well-rounded,” they added.
The headset is compatible with all consoles and computers, compared to a lot of software available for computer games only.
ProtectSet is currently in the prototype stage but is expected to be on sale within the next seven to nine months after further testing. Prototypes are currently being trialed by media professionals, gamers, and children.
In the Middle East:
• More than 74 percent of parents are worried about their child’s online safety.
• 84 percent of parents are concerned that strangers will approach their child via online gaming platforms.
• Almost half of parents (46 percent) said they did not know who their child was playing with online.
• More than 67 percent of parents wanted the gaming industry to do more to protect their children’s online safety.
• On average, parents thought their child would talk to a stranger online while gaming at least three times a week.
• 45 percent of parents predicted that their child spent up to 10 hours or more online gaming each week.
East meets West: ErosSTX CEO Robert Simonds on Hollywood, Bollywood and everything in between
OTT platform Eros Now leads the market in terms of engagement
Updated 26 February 2021
DUBAI: Eros International, an Indian movie production and distribution company, was born in 1977. Today, it’s more than just that thanks, in part, to its OTT platform Eros Now, which leads the market in terms of engagement with 68 percent of its users indicating that they watch content on the platform daily, according to a 2019 study.
On the other side of the world, STX Entertainment was founded in 2004 by film producer Robert Simonds and businessman Bill McGlashan. The entertainment company, which produces mid-budget movies with big stars, has made inroads into China and Europe with investors including PCCW, Tencent, and Liberty Global.
In 2020, the two major companies combined forces to form ErosSTX, led by Kishore Lulla as executive co-chairman and Simonds as co-chairman and CEO. Arab News spoke to Simonds about the merger, future plans in India, the US, and potentially the Middle East, and the impact of the pandemic on the film and streaming industry.
Talk to us about the geographic reach of the new company and the distribution model in each.
We distribute our films in theaters in about 150 different countries. We run the international division out of London, and we customize the distribution depending on the territory. In France, for example, we did a complete buyout with Amazon, so Amazon handles all our movies in France. But, in Germany for instance, pay-TV is not as important as free TV so we have got theatrical as well as other revenue streams there.
Basically, we wanted to build a three-legged stool with the world’s biggest entertainment markets: the US, China and India. There’s massive value in Eros Now, which has the largest library of Bollywood movies and TV shows, including original productions. Eros Now is expanding rapidly in tier two and tier three Indian cities and is also available in about 90 different countries right now for Indian expats. We have about 36 million subscribers and 208 million registered users. We’ve got two goals: to grow it globally to 50 million subscribers as fast as possible and to launch something called Eros Now Prime, featuring English content, and start competing with some of the giants (like Hotstar, Netflix and Prime Video) in tier-one cities.
Do you plan to expand Eros Now to any other markets?
Our desire is to expand Eros Now into the Middle East and Indonesia – basically anywhere that Bollywood is relevant.
How did the pandemic affect the business?
It affected us in two ways: On the streaming side, because of Eros Now, our subscribers have been growing more rapidly than we could have hoped for.
On the movie and TV side, usually, our business model depends on an initial theatrical release followed by multiple other revenue streams each with their own windows and economics. But, with theaters being entirely or intermittently closed in different parts of the world, we needed to be very opportunistic on each project.
For example, we released “My Spy” theatrically in a couple of territories and then sold the movie directly to Amazon and it became the most viewed “Amazon Original.” We’re currently working on a sequel with them.
We released “Greenland” theatrically in 27 international territories and even though the theaters were at half capacity, we were able to outgross Gerard Butler’s previous hits like “Olympus Has Fallen.” So, internationally, we were doing incredibly well in the markets that were open. But because theaters were closed in the US we couldn’t release the movies in cinemas here. So, we did a completely different type of deal by selling “Greenland” to HBO Max on the condition that we would do a P-VOD, or premium video on-demand model, which means we were able to charge about 20 bucks per view. Quite honestly, “Greenland” blew all of our minds because this new model generated so much profit with so little risk.
What about the physical, on-the-ground impact of the pandemic? How did you manage to film through it and what did that cost?
First off, safety is important. We have to make sure that the people who are working with us are safe and safe at all costs. The additional expense of COVID insurance, testing and protecting people in bubbles has been pretty extreme.
In fact, we just finished shooting something with Jason Statham and Hugh Grant, directed by Guy Ritchie, in Qatar and have sent that to Turkey to finish shooting. We just finished shooting in Scotland with James McAvoy and Claire Foy before the UK went into their tier four lockdown. But we have to be nimble because if there’s a surge in cases, we need to be able to shut down and move; or if someone on the crew is infected, we have to be able to clamp down.
However, at least from our experience, I think the whole notion that the industry has come to a standstill is just blatantly untrue.
What has the monetary impact of that been?
We do mid-budget movies in the $20-40 million range and in that, we’re currently spending somewhere between and three and four million additional for COVID protection. There are a couple of movies where we are on the cusp of comfort with the budget, and that extra few million makes us uncomfortable. So, we are holding them back, because if we wait a month we might not have to spend that. There’s a lot of juggling going on.
You said earlier that you’re planning to introduce Eros Now to the Middle East. Do you have any other plans for the region especially for Saudi given its investment in entertainment as part of Vision 2030?
I do believe that there is an opportunity for somebody to build out a Saudi film business, but it has got to be somebody who has enough consistent volume that they can guarantee multiple movies and TV shows. If you do just one-offs, you end up with an industry with stop and start and are not building that critical mass as a hub of innovation and creativity. So, something like twofour54 (Abu-Dhabi's media and entertainment hub) might get a Tom Cruise movie coming through or a “Star Wars” or “Fast and Furious”, but you have no sustainable homegrown industry. It has to be a guaranteed pipeline of production, movie on movie, so that the people you’re training can attract and gain the trust of the world’s film makers.
Do you see that as a potential problem in Saudi Arabia too?
I think the guys in Saudi are really smart and global. They are in a beautifully complicated place, which has a massive young population who have more access to Twitter and Netflix than anyone else out there and an old guard with a deep religious responsibility to protect the two holy sites. So, you’re going to have a pretty intense cultural collision. The power of story is to connect people and I believe this is the perfect setting in which to build a global industry doing just that.
UAE doesn’t have the same issues as Saudi.
We would love to have a seat at that table in Saudi, but they’re not there yet. From my standpoint, it’s pretty simple: there’s no US studio better positioned in China and India. Would I like to be the best-positioned US studio in the Muslim world – and I don’t just mean Saudi; I mean the Muslim world? Yeah! You’ve got 500 million people who are not really being catered to. And if you’re going to do that, you do that with the biggest player – and that’s Saudi. So us hanging around the hoop is probably a smart thing, but in the meantime, we just need to get our Eros Now in there.
Lebanese MP Elie Ferzli’s meltdowns become the memes of the moment
Lebanon’s deputy speaker went viral after butting heads with journalists over his inoculation ahead of others more in need
Updated 26 February 2021
TAREK ALI AHMAD
LONDON: Darth Vader, Bruce Lee and Elie Ferzli - only a couple of the many of crossover meme’s Lebanese social media users created following the Lebanese MP and deputy speaker’s meltdowns on television earlier this week.
Ferzli found himself going viral and becoming the meme of the moment after losing his cool in three explosive televised appearances that saw him insult journalists, leave midway through an interview and claim his word is the constitution on Wednesday.
Ferzli’s rampant and aggressive behaviour — in a press conference, on DW, and then on LBCI — comes after he and 10 other lawmakers jumped the queue and received the first shot of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine the day before.
Footage of Ferzli’s meltdown went viral across social media, as memes and posts showcasing the MP shouting dominated Instagram and Twitter.
One post showed Ferzli’s face replacing that of “Star Wars” villain Darth Sidious, with the caption reading “Darth Pfizerius” in reference to the Pfizer vaccine. Another showed stills of him shouting, with the caption reading “many have dropped out of the queue to take the vaccine after dangerous side effects were seen in Elie Ferzli.”
Others placed his comically shouting face side by side with Martial Artist Bruce Lee, with the caption reading “Ferz Lee”.
One famous cartoonist, Art of Boo, even just placed the Lebanese parliamentarian’s name into a sole comic strip panel as his cartoon of the day.
Faced with mounting pressure to explain the jump, Ferzli figured that the best way to defend his actions was by insulting journalist and presenter Malek Maktabi on his show “Ahmar bil Khat al Areed” on LBCI after Maktabi asked Ferzli a simple question on his eligibility to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I wasn’t simply bothered by the way he was talking and from the tone in which he was talking to me, he insulted me, but I tried to stay calm as much as I can because at the end of the day he is my guest,” Maktabi told Arab News.
“I wanted to get back to my question, I was keen on getting that answer, I did my homework, I knew exactly what my first question was going to be and how I was going to proceed with the interview. So if he doesn’t answer my first question, I won’t be able to get what I want out of the interview.”
Ferzli went on to tell Maktabi: “Don’t you dare say you are not sure when you speak to me,” adding: “My words are the constitution.”
Earlier, Ferzli walked out of a live interview with Ahmed Abida on the arabic version of Deutsche Welle TV, DW Arabic.
“You are speaking with the wrong guy,” Ferzli remarked, adding: “I do not need to beg you to speak.”
Indeed, many politicians — including Ferzli — are used to speaking without being told to stop on several shows.
“My goal is not to grant him another press conference, where he will be speaking by himself. I kept repeating my question, stressing that I want a yes or no answer, to which he kept repeating the Ministry of Health contacted me. My issue is not with the ministry, all he needed to do was answer my question with a simple yes or no,” Maktabi said.
“This is all new to them, intervening in a short segment and asking for brief answers instead of having them going on and on for hours to a simple yes or no question.”
In a press conference at the beginning of the day, Ferzli claimed that there are “internet trolls and hooligans whose job is to attack the person they are targeting.”
He added: “Who taught them that trick? We are well aware who that person is. We are on the lookout, and we will vanquish him. Just like his peers and predecessors, thank you.”
Do UAE audiences watch ads for free content? YouGov’s latest report finds out
Report explores media consumption habits across 17 markets
Updated 25 February 2021
DUBAI: YouGov, a market research and analytics firm, has released a whitepaper titled “International Media Consumption Report 2021 — Is there a new normal?”
The report explores media consumption habits across 17 markets, including the UAE.
Advertising and content
As digital channels found new ways to advertise — think ad insertions in online videos — consumers began to use ad blockers. Eventually, companies and digital channels — including publishers — began to offer paid or premium ad-free models unless consumers turned off ad blockers.
YouGov explored this topic in its study and found that globally consumers consider watching ads in exchange for free content a fair deal.
Spain and Mexico are the top countries (65 percent each) where consumers support this model. On the other hand, residents in two Scandinavian countries, Sweden (27 percent) and Denmark (23 percent), are the most likely to find this model unfair.
In the UAE, 58 percent of consumers find it a fair exchange. While all age groups in the Emirates showed a general acceptance toward viewing ads in exchange for free content, younger audiences (18 to 24-year-olds) favored this trend the most (62 percent).
With the pandemic keeping more people indoors than ever before, digital media channels enjoyed massive growth as consumers sought information and entertainment.
When UAE consumers were asked about the digital media channels they used, over half (61 percent) claimed to have watched video content online, followed by social media (53 percent) and messaging platforms like WhatsApp (46 percent).
Two in five indulged with live TV on digital devices and almost as many used search engines (37 percent). The consumption of radio, podcasts, and audiobooks remained lower than the other formats.
Among traditional media channels, TV was the most consumed medium at 62 percent by UAE residents. Radio (36 percent) and outdoor advertising (32 percent) followed. It is, however, worth noting that there is a considerable consumption gap between TV and the other two mediums.
Radio and outdoor advertising overtook the readerships of print magazines (22 percent) and newspapers (20 percent).
Contrary to popular belief of outdoor advertising taking a hit during the pandemic, UAE residents appear to be stepping out and noticing ads on billboards, highlighting the changing consumption patterns during different stages of the pandemic.
At a worldwide level, live TV seems to be popular globally, with the highest consumption seen in European countries like France (79 percent) and Italy (77 percent). The UAE (35 percent) and China (38 percent) are the only exceptions where the popularity of this medium is one of the lowest across all markets.
“COVID-19 has significantly impacted consumer behavior and, in turn, media consumption habits globally. The data shows that although many people engaged with digital media during the pandemic, several traditional mediums remained as relevant as before,” said Julian Newby, sector head of media at YouGov.
“Our data shows there are huge challenges for brands and advertisers looking to achieve return-on-investment and effectively reach consumers in the right channels, at the right time, with the right message,” he added.