DHAHRAN: In the past half-decade, Arabic online content has witnessed visible growth.
Documentaries, cultural articles, translated talks and podcasts targeting different fields and audiences have all become increasingly popular. Abdulrahman Abumalih, the founder, producer and host of “Fnjan,” a Saudi podcast that managed to expand to a worldwide audience, covers everything from the inevitability of artificial intelligence to veganism.
“Fnjan,” the Arabic word for coffee cup, hosts a different guest in each episode to talk about a topic or tackle a pressing question — it is one of many productions by Thmanyah, an Arabic content platform owned by Abumalih.
With over 135 episodes, “Fnjan” has exceeded 13 million views on apple podcast and YouTube.
“‘Fnjan’ started before Thmanyah as a podcast in 2015,” Abumalih explained, “it was a humble start as I was keeping up with the US scene — there were many podcasts I used to listen to back then. So, I thought to myself, why not have our own podcast in Arabic?”
The beginnings of “Fnjan” were far from sophisticated.
“It started with chitchat sessions with friends and individuals I knew through Skype in the first 15-20 episodes. Today Thmanyah is the bigger umbrella to all our productions.” According to Abumalih, podcasts now reach a large spectrum of Saudis. “The podcast appeared to be a very good alternative to the radio in Saudi, especially given how unattractive radio production is in the region.
Moving “Fnjan” to YouTube also introduced the podcast to a completely different audience.
“The reason behind moving over to YouTube was to market the idea of the podcast. We wanted more people to know about podcasts whether it was ‘Fnjan’ or any other Arabic podcast,” Abumalih said. “YouTube is more prevalent in Saudi and everyone knows about it. So, if I introduced this relatively new product there, people might be encouraged to actually listen to it.
“Instead of one type of audience, today we have two: YouTube and the podcast, and this enlarged the circle of listeners without any doubt.
“Now we can see academic studies about podcasts in Saudi, the Gulf and the Arab region. We see official organizations and companies that are getting into the world of podcasts like the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture, and Misk. As long as there are people driving, cooking, working, and traveling, there will be always podcast listeners.”
Insights into Saudi Society
Media productions have a big role in reflecting the genuine image of a society to the entire world, and Abumalih seems to have done that. “In every episode of ‘Fnjan,’ I ask listeners to share their opinions, suggestions and ideas, and I receive tons of emails. But the emails on how the Arabs started perceiving Saudi Arabia are exceptional,” he explained. “I met a Sudanese, a Libyan and an Algerian doctor on one trip, who used to have misconceptions about Saudi society, which changed after listening to the guests on the podcast.”
“Fnjan” hosts international guests too, allowing Saudis to learn more about different cultures. “Every guest starts talking about their countries, cultures, and lives. We had guests from Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Somalia, you name it. It is great.”
When asked about the content selection method, Abumalih said: “Thmanyah looks for real stories that will always stimulate people’s curiosity. It is by no means an easy job as we search, filter, then prepare the content after a pretty long process in order to have the most inducing and the best content for our audience.”
Abumalih believes that the existence of competitors in the Arabic content creation scene actually motivates him and his team to improve their content and produce more.
“The presence of competitors in the field is essential for the maturity of our productions,” he said, summing up by saying that Thmanyah aims to become “The leading Arab youth channel.”