How online streaming is shaping Saudi pop culture — at the push of a button

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‘Game of Thrones’ star Jason Momoa takes a selfie with a young Saudi fan during his visit to Saudi Arabia. (File photo)
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Game of Thrones is considered a favorite to many in the Kingdom due to individuals' love/hate sentiment towards many of its cast.
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Fans of the Spanish Netflix series reacted to a Saudi influencer going to meet the cast as if they were greeting old friends, not actors portraying fictional characters.
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Updated 12 April 2020

How online streaming is shaping Saudi pop culture — at the push of a button

  • Affordability and quality of content are other factors behind the soaring popularity of new services

JEDDAH: Ever since streaming services became available in the Middle East, leading online sites have been dictating people’s tastes and preferences, their mass media effect influencing Saudi Arabia as it does the rest of the world.

Sara Al-Rifai, an English instructor in Jeddah, believes that streaming services are gaining influence in mainstream culture simply because younger people are unwilling to watch cable TV and sit through ads, or wait a week or more for new content.
“Competition on quality and cost is another factor in favor of streaming services. Neflix’s monthly subscription is affordable. The quality of its shows is rapidly improving, and many of its films and series have won prestigious awards such as the Oscars,” she told Arab News.
Renad Flimban, 26, from Jeddah, said that movies and TV shows have the ability to set mainstream culture in areas ranging from food to fashion and even hairstyles long before streaming became available.
“New streaming services have just made it easier to consume the media and the culture behind it,” she said.
The popular HBO series “Game of Thrones” is perhaps the best example of pop culture “spread,” with local fans joining a global audience in their love for the show. Many viewers in the Arab world watched the series on OSN, while it was also available on HBO.

New streaming services have just made it easier to consume the media and the culture behind it.

Renad Flimban

“I think it blew up here even though it was on HBO, which isn’t that popular here, because people seemed to really like/dislike the characters and the writing. They had extremely strong feelings on both ends of the spectrum,” Flimban said.
Popular shows in the 1990s and early 2000s have been reinvigorated after streaming services acquired the rights to reshow them for viewers. Many popular shows that used to air on MBC2 and Saudi TV, such as “Friends,” “Full House” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” have won new fans following recent exposure.
“Most of these shows’ themes — friendships, families and relationships — are still relevant today, and having easy access to these shows on current media platforms certainly helped to introduce them to a new audience and reconnect with an established audience,” Flimban said.
Al-Rifai agrees, saying these shows have become more popular among a younger generation due to their availability and a desire to understand the hype surrounding them.
“‘Friends’ is still the most-watched show on Netflix, yet it has been criticized for tolerating sexism and body shaming,” she said. “The generation gap and viewers’ beliefs affect the way they perceive a show, no matter how popular it was in the past.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Fans of popular shows and films in Saudi Arabia behave just as worldwide fans do.

• Young Saudis collect merchandise and organize character-themed parties.

For Razan Sijeeni, a Jeddah university graphic design instructor, the pinnacle of pop culture in the Kingdom would be “Tash Ma Tash,” which aired every Ramadan for 18 years, often tackling conservatism and racism, among other controversial social issues.
“Unfortunately, there is very little authentic representation of our culture in our own media nowadays, and whatever there is, even when it’s well executed, it is being Westernized and viewed through a Western gaze,” she said.
However, Sijeeni has Netflix to thank for her favorite series, “Star Trek,” which she discovered on the streaming site.
“It was fascinating to me, watching the visuals of an explosion or space in the 1960s, and how the series progressed and improved considerably as the years went by,” she said.


Sijeeni said that online streaming also offers people from around the world an introduction to different cultures, languages and beliefs at the press of a button.
“I’ve seen a Saudi influencer meet the cast of “Money Heist,” and people were reacting to it — it’s like they know these people and it isn’t just a show.”
She said that in an age where the internet has a growing place in people’s lives, even individuals who don’t watch shows such as “Game of Thrones” and “Friends” still know who the characters are, and go as far as creating memes to help cope with the coronavirus crisis, for example.
Fans of popular shows and films in Saudi Arabia behave just as worldwide fans do, collecting merchandise, holding character-themed parties and recreating recipes from fictional universes.
Flimban’s favorite show since 2010 has been “Gilmore Girls,” and she admits to owning a few show-inspired items and attending a “marvelous” Gatsby-themed party.
Sijeeni had not been as lucky with her “Star Trek” obsession, however, and said that she was envious of fan events she saw happening worldwide. “My favorite mug was given to me by a friend,” she recalled. “It has the main ‘Star Trek’ six and they transport as you fill the mug with boiling water.”
Now she is on the hunt for a “Star Trek” pilot jacket. We recommend Etsy artists for fan-replicated items. 


Global organizations commend Saudi Arabia’s role in e-learning

Updated 23 October 2020

Global organizations commend Saudi Arabia’s role in e-learning

JEDDAH: Six international organizations have completed two studies on e-learning in the Kingdom and praised its efforts in providing a rapid response, multiple options and continuous improvement during the coronavirus pandemic.
The studies involved the participation of 342,000 respondents and were conducted under the supervision of the Kingdom’s National Center for e-Learning.
The center said that the global organizations completed two comprehensive studies on the experience of public and higher education in Saudi Arabia during the pandemic, with the aim of documenting and studying the reality of the experience and coming up with initiatives to develop e-learning practices in accordance with current global practices and standards.
The studies were conducted with the participation of students, faculty members, teachers, parents and school leaders.
The number of participants in the public education study reached 318,000, while the number of participants in the higher education study reached 24,000.
The first study was prepared by the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), with the participation of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Quality Matters (QM), the UNESCO Institute of Information Technologies in Education (IITE), the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA) in the US.
The second study was prepared by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with the cooperation of the Harvard Graduate School
of Education.
In the studies, reference comparisons were made with more than 193 countries. The two studies showed the Kingdom’s distinction in the diversity of options, including, for example, electronic content and satellite channels available for e-learning in public education.

NUMBER

342k

The studies on e-learning involved the participation of 342,000 respondents and were conducted under the supervision of the Kingdom’s National Center for e-Learning.

The percentage of countries that succeeded in providing these at the national level was only 38 percent.
The study conducted by the OECD and the Harvard Graduate School of Education included a comparison of the Kingdom’s response to education during the COVID-19 pandemic with 37 member states.
The results showed the Kingdom’s progress in 13 out of 16 indicators on the average of
these countries.
The study also revealed that teachers received significant support to overcome obstacles to e-learning.
The study of public education indicated that there was a clear strategy for the Ministry of Education to reopen schools in the Kingdom and address any issues.
OLC hailed the efforts of the Saudi Ministry of Education in dealing with the crisis by providing a variety of options for e-learning, and the quick response to the pandemic and immediate shift to remote instruction.
The two studies recommended 71 proposed development initiatives for public education and 78 proposed development initiatives for higher education.
The National Center for e-Learning is working in coordination with the Ministry of Education to present the initiatives and begin their implementation.
The center announced that the organizations that conducted the studies would publish their results and complete the second phase at the end of the current semester.