RIYADH: “What do people want to listen to? A story. What makes you watch a movie? A story. Why do you buy a product over another? A story. What binds people together? Surely, a story,” said Abdulrahman Abumalih, CEO of Thmanyah, which is Arabic for the word “eight.”
This Saudi media company is seeking to grab the attention of the region’s expanding digital audience through documentaries and podcasts.
“Storytelling is an essential part of any media message,” Abumalih said. However, storytelling is no longer what it used to be.
As of January 2020, Internet penetration in Saudi Arabia stood at 93 percent, and the number of Internet users jumped by 15 percent year-on-year to exceed 32 million, according to Digital Report 2020.
Not only are more people getting connected to the Internet, there has also been a major shift in how they obtain information on subjects that interest them.
The same report highlights the fact that video content boasts the highest engagement rates among the social media audience — 3.95 percent for video posts on Facebook compared with 2.79 percent for posts of any other kind.
This digital media boom, which has been going on for at least a decade now, has enabled companies such as Thmanyah to break even quickly.
The Saudi venture achieved this within a year of launching operations on a self-funded basis in October 2016.
Abumalih, who holds a bachelor’s degree in software engineering from Arizona State University, spent four years working for an online news portal before launching Thmanyah.
In February 2017, Saudi creative film producer Aseel Baabdullah became a co-founder, and the duo began to research the reasons behind the collapse of the traditional media industry.
“The root cause, we found out, was the business model. They were making money from advertisements. When they went online, they couldn’t adopt a new way,” said Abumalih.
Thmanyah’s business model generates money in two ways. The first is through production, which involves creating content for other entities, including governmental and private business projects.
The company also uses content monetization as a secondary income stream with a focus on young audiences.
“We believe that we can change the advertising game with creative and storytelling ads,” said Abumalih.
Documentaries and podcasts are currently Thmanyah’s main offerings.
With documentaries, the creative team is retelling stories about the local history, as well as recording different lifestyles from Saudi Arabia and the region.
The company also produces audio podcasts featuring interviews with Arab intellectuals and influencers. In addition, its website publishes long-form journalism pieces.
“Finding talent was the main challenge, and still is,” Abumalih said, noting the hardships of running a new media company.
Thmanyah relies heavily on high-quality productions and a thriving relationship with its network of clients to stay profitable in a changing market.
For this reason, skilled and dynamic creative people are the company’s most valuable asset.
“We’re working on building a system of work that will enable most people to find what they are great at. People are creative, but they need a system that brings out the best in them,” said Abumalih.
The company has previously used creative competitions as a hiring tool and trained college students in the process.
With a team of 21 people spread across seven cities around the world, Thmanyah is also employing a different approach to workplace culture.
We’re working on building a system of work that will enable most people to find what they are great at. People are creative, but they need a system that brings out the best in them.
Abdulrahman Abumalih, CEO of Thmanyah
“Everyone at Thmanyah is free to live and work in the places they thrive in,” said Abumalih.
A significant challenge in the podcasting market is saturation.
With many companies understanding the value and reach of this media format, there is always a possibility of having too many podcasts in the market, which would stall growth and profits.
Abumalih, however, remains optimistic. “We know people want to listen (to), watch, and read stories, so we make great stories that people would want to follow, and clients would pay to reach their customers,” he said.
“The more content we make, the better we get at it.”
- This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.