A Saudi venture refines art of storytelling for new media age

Short Url
Updated 07 June 2020

A Saudi venture refines art of storytelling for new media age

  • Riyadh-based Thmanyah offers documentaries and podcasts to capture MENA’s young audiences
  • Publishing house relies on high-quality productions to stay profitable in a changing market

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.




Thmanyah, which means 'eight' in Arabic, was founded by Abdulrahman Abumalih. (Supplied)

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.

FASTFACT

93%

Percentage of internet penetration in Saudi Arabia as of January 2020. (Digital Report 2020)

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.

--------

READ MORE: Scared of legal hassles? In the Middle East, there’s an app for that

--------

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.




Thmanyah, which means 'eight' in Arabic, was founded by Abdulrahman Abumalih. (Supplied)

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.


Saudi TikTok users weigh in on potential app ban

Photo/Supplied
Updated 59 min 46 sec ago

Saudi TikTok users weigh in on potential app ban

  • Due to pandemic, interest in the app skyrocketed as many users watch videos and try to recreate them while in quarantine

RIYADH: Chinese video platform TikTok is under fire once again, as rumors of the app being a tool used by the Chinese government to spy on users resurface online.

TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is a video-sharing site similar to the now-defunct Vine, where users share short clips of themselves which can be altered using AI technology.
Lip-syncing along with a track, using filters, and adding special effects give users the chance to create short clips that can be shared and downloaded in several social media platforms.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, interest in the app skyrocketed as many users downloaded TikTok to watch videos and try to recreate them while in quarantine. The app has also gained significant popularity in the Middle East with influencers such as Saudi model Roz, UAE-based content creators Khalid and Salama, and Saudi top TikToker iimeeto, who recently celebrated reaching four million followers on the platform.
Rania Mohammed, a fourth year medical student at Dar AlUloom University in Riyadh, said that TikTok was “the only thing keeping her sane” as she struggled with the pressures of school and quarantine.
“As a med school student, my attention span and free time are both severely limited,” she told Arab News. “Taking a 15 minute break to watch silly TikToks has helped me keep motivated. The specific brand of humor on that app is the fastest way to make me laugh.”
Mai Alhumood, a government employee, said that she downloaded the app while she was bored and became “quickly addicted” to the platform’s fun short videos.
“People are so creative on TikTok, and the challenges that keep going viral are so interesting,” she told Arab News.
However, the app has long-suffered from accusations of spying and gathering users’ private information on behalf of the Chinese government, leading to both temporary and permanent bans in countries around the world.
Recently, it was reported that Amazon requested that employees remove the app from their smartphones in an email over “security risks.” The company later retracted its directive.
Saudi cybersecurity expert Abdullah Al-Jaber believed that concerns over the security of TikTok’s collected data stemmed from the app’s country of origin and its rules and regulations.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Following a provisional ban in April 2019, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology banned TikTok permanently in June this year, along with 58 other Chinese apps. The ministry claimed that the apps were a ‘threat to the sovereignty and security of the country’ following a Himalayan border clash with Chinese troops in the disputed territory of Ladakh.

• Indonesia temporarily blocked TikTok in July 2018, citing public concern regarding ‘illegal content’ such as pornography and blasphemy. However, the app was unblocked following various changes from TikTok such as the opening of a government liaison office and implementing security mechanisms.

• Recently, the US became the third country to seriously consider banning the app, according to information from President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump also weighed in on a potential TikTok ban. He said that banning the app would be ‘punishing China for its response to the coronavirus.’

“TikTok collects data in a very similar way to US applications,” he told Arab News. “However the main concern is that the US has regulations and compliance that must be met when collecting customer data, such as GDPR data privacy regulation. In the case of TikTok, we don’t know as much about how the data is being used or stored because we don’t know their regulations.”
Following a provisional ban in April 2019, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology banned TikTok permanently in June this year, along with 58 other Chinese apps. The ministry claimed that the apps were a “threat to the sovereignty and security of the country” following a Himalayan border clash with Chinese troops in the disputed territory of Ladakh.
Indonesia temporarily blocked TikTok in July 2018, citing public concern regarding “illegal content” such as pornography and blasphemy. However, the app was unblocked following various changes from TikTok such as the opening of a government liaison office and implementing security mechanisms.
Recently, the US became the third country to seriously consider banning the app, according to information from President Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump also weighed in on a potential TikTok ban. In an interview with Gray Television, Trump said that banning the app would be “punishing China for its response to the coronavirus.”
“Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful,” he said.
While Saudi Arabia has yet to announce a ban of any kind of TikTok, local users and followers are trying to practice caution while using the app anyway.
Alhumood considered making videos on the platform, but dismissed the idea and only uses it to follow other people’s videos.
“I have ideas for it, sure, but I’d rather not take the risk. I don’t even have a username or a registered account, and that’s one of the better things about TikTok. I only have the app, but I can still watch all the videos without giving them my private information.”
Mohammed also said that she had no interest in creating videos herself, though she did have a registered account in order to comment on videos and keep track of her favorites.
However Al-Jaber said that, in his opinion, registering an account on TikTok did not necessarily pose more of a risk than using other social media.
“If you use Facebook or Twitter, it’s not much different than using TikTok,” he said.