New report explores state of podcasting in MENA in 2020

New report explores state of podcasting in MENA in 2020
Podcast listenership dropped in the first few months of the pandemic but recovered later in the year. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 15 February 2021

New report explores state of podcasting in MENA in 2020

New report explores state of podcasting in MENA in 2020
  • Chirag Desai, CEO of Amaeya Media said there were three key themes that stood out in 2020

DUBAI: Amaeya Media, a UAE-based podcast network, has released its 2020 report “Podcasts in MENA: State of the Industry.” This is the second annual report published by the company exploring the state of podcasting in the region, and covers consumer habits, brand spending, standardization and the impact of factors such as the pandemic.

The 2020 survey has taken a broader view — in 2019, 90 percent of the respondents were from the UAE, while in 2020, this number was down to 71 percent, after which came respondents from Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Chirag Desai, CEO of Amaeya Media said there were three key themes that stood out in 2020:

Listenership and interests

Podcast listenership dropped in the first few months of the pandemic but recovered later in the year. “Podcasts are typically consumed in passive way. The majority of people do it while they’re multitasking and invariably it’s commuting, working out or working,” said Desai. As these activities came to a halt due to the lockdowns, listenership dropped. But, as people adapted to a different lifestyle, listenership picked up again with more people listening to podcasts while doing household chores. The survey shows that 56 percent listened to more podcasts since March 2020.

The majority of listeners preferred to listen to entertainment-related content (50 percent) followed by self-help and inspirational content (36 percent), with only 8 percent interested in news and current affairs, 4 percent in business content and a mere 2 percent in pandemic-related content.

Standardization

The second emerging theme is that of standardization. Historically, podcasting has been a decentralized industry with multiple platforms hosting podcasts. Desai said that in 2020 silos were created as platforms sought to create their own exclusive content. At the end of 2020, Amazon bought podcast publisher Wondery, which is known for producing hit shows such as “Dirty John” and “Business Wars”. Spotify stands out here with purchases of companies including Gimlet and Parcast and exclusive deals with Michelle Obama, Joe Rogan, Kim Kardashian, and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Unsurprisingly, more listeners have been turning to Spotify, which saw a 7 percent increase in listenership in the region in 2020. The phenomenon is similar to what’s happening with streaming services, which are also creating original content. However, it does make measurement and standardization tricky. “If Spotify (or any one) platform owns 99 percent of the market and we, the industry, set a standard about something, Spotify doesn’t need to adhere to it and there is nothing we can do because ultimately all the listeners are there,” explained Desai.

Advertising and brand spending

Desai, whose company produces podcasts for brands such as The Lighthouse, Volkswagen and Alserkal Avenue, explained that the general trend, especially in this region, is that brands prefer to create their own podcast than insert an ad in an existing podcast.

As the market matures over the next few years, Desai believes that brands will shift towards advertising in the podcasting space.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s mid-2020 study reported a 15 percent drop in advertising growth compared to pre COVID-19 projections, but advertising revenue is projected to bounce back and hit the $2 billion target that was expected for 2020.

During 2020, Lebanon-based podcast platform Podeo produced five shows for the organization responsible for the 2022 FIFA World Cup’s operations and delivery, showing an appetite towards mainstream organization and government support for the medium in the region.

Local listeners listen to ads on podcasts, with 66 percent saying they don’t skip ads; some even said they use podcast ads to discover brands, with only 9 percent finding them truly annoying. This is also true for branded shows — only 8 percent said they wouldn’t want to listen to branded shows.

“There is an opportunity for podcasts because they are cost-effective in terms of advertising,” said Desai. Moreover, they have greater brand value as they sit on a platform for as long as the creator wants and many people tend to go back and listen to old podcasts. “There’s a genuine return value, and there are a lot of studies that show that brands get a lot of positive brand awareness,” he added.




Chirag Desai, the chief executive of Amaeya Media. (Supplied)

The past year has been interesting for the podcasting industry. On the one hand, advertising revenue dropped and platforms started creating exclusive content. On the other, the number of podcasts went up significantly – more than doubling from 800,000 podcasts in 2019 to 1.7 million at the end of 2020 in the Apple Podcasts directory – and audio as a medium started gaining more traction as evidenced by the popularity of the audio-based invite-only social app Clubhouse and beta launch of Twitter Spaces.

The recovery of economies and brands during the year, coupled with the measures being taken by the podcasting industry to standardize it, could just make 2021 the year that podcasts go mainstream.


Pakistan blocks major social media outlets to ‘maintain public order’

Pakistan blocks major social media outlets to ‘maintain public order’
Updated 53 min 35 sec ago

Pakistan blocks major social media outlets to ‘maintain public order’

Pakistan blocks major social media outlets to ‘maintain public order’
  • The Interior Ministry requested a “complete blocking” of Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Telegram
  • Political parties frequently use social media to rally supporters

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government on Friday ordered an hours-long shutdown of social media and instant messaging platforms after days of violent anti-France protests.
It comes a day after French nationals and companies in Pakistan were advised by their embassy to temporarily leave in the wake of rallies led by an extremist party that paralyzed large parts of the country and left two police officers dead.
In a notice to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the Interior Ministry requested a “complete blocking” of Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Telegram until the middle of the afternoon.
The PTA said it was to “maintain public order and safety.”
Political parties frequently use social media to rally supporters, and the announcement came just before Friday prayers, which usually draw huge crowds to mosques where firebrand sermons have in the past catalyzed protests.
Pakistan authorities have used strategic social media bans and cuts to mobile service in the past in an attempt to head off major protests.
Thousands of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) supporters spilled onto the streets in cities across the country on Monday after their leader was detained following his calls for the expulsion of the French ambassador.
More than 200 were arrested during days of clashes that followed, police sources told AFP.
“These past few days have been chaotic,” said Mariam Jamal, who works at a digital marketing company in Lahore.
“First we couldn’t get to work on time because of the traffic jams and road blocks, and now we can’t really do much because social media is blocked.”
The social media ban affected many Pakistanis already suffering from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the northwestern city of Peshawar, Eqtedar Ahmad told AFP his work as a doctor at a private hospital had been disrupted.
“We use WhatsApp for routine business — including sending lab reports to patients — and this current suspension has affected us severely,” he said.
Wamiq Haris, a 30-year-old who depends on social media to run his food delivery service in Karachi, the country’s largest city and economic hub, said orders had plummeted.
“Every day we face a new challenge for our business,” he told AFP.

Protests had been cleared from most cities by Friday, but in Lahore hundreds of TLP supporters continued a sit-in at a religious school — and party headquarters — despite the circulation of a handwritten plea from leader Saad Rizvi to leave the streets.
Anti-French sentiment has been festering for months in Pakistan since President Emmanuel Macron threw his support behind a satirical magazine’s right to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad — an act deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has struggled to bring TLP to heel over the years, but this week announced an outright ban against the group, effectively labelling it an extremist outfit.
The TLP is notorious for holding days-long, violent road protests over blasphemy issues, causing major disruption to the country.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Pakistan, where laws allow for the death penalty to be used on anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures.
Francophobia erupted in autumn last year when the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Macron’s subsequent defense of free speech triggered anger across the Muslim world, with tens of thousands in Pakistan, neighboring Iran and other Muslim countries flooding the streets and organizing anti-French boycotts.
At the time, TLP supporters brought the capital Islamabad to a standstill.
Extra security personnel have been deployed to the French embassy — inside a guarded diplomatic enclave closed to the public — and shipping containers were placed as fortifications around its outer wall.

Visit the Pakistan edition of Arab News for more details.


BBC receives nearly 110,000 complaints about Prince Philip coverage

BBC receives nearly 110,000 complaints about Prince Philip coverage
Updated 15 April 2021

BBC receives nearly 110,000 complaints about Prince Philip coverage

BBC receives nearly 110,000 complaints about Prince Philip coverage
  • According to BBC's fortnightly complaints bulletin, 109,741 complaints over the coverage of Philip's death were made by Thursday
  • BBC said it "acknowledged some viewers were unhappy" over the impact to planned schedules

LONDON: BBC coverage following the death of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband Prince Philip led to nearly 110,000 complaints about canceled programs and cleared schedules, the corporation said on Thursday.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s death at the age of 99 last Friday prompted the publicly-funded broadcaster to scrap its entire schedule on its main BBC One and BBC Two television channels to simultaneously broadcast the same coverage of his life.
Popular soap opera “EastEnders” and the cooking competition “Masterchef” were canceled and the BBC Four channel was taken completely off air.
BBC radio stations also changed their programming following the prince’s death, either broadcasting news programs or abruptly switching to play the national anthem when the news was announced.
According to the BBC’s fortnightly complaints bulletin, 109,741 complaints over the coverage of Philip’s death were made by Thursday.
Of those, 104,010 were made in the first three days after the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.
Many of the complaints were made via an online form on the BBC website.
In response, the BBC said in a statement it “acknowledged some viewers were unhappy” over the impact to planned schedules.
“We do not make such changes without careful consideration and the decisions made reflect the role the BBC plays as the national broadcaster, during moments of national significance,” it added.
The amount of criticism over the coverage is believed to be the largest ever received by the BBC.
But a spokesman told AFP: “We are proud of our coverage and the role we play during moments of national significance.”
The broadcaster reported it had received 63,000 complaints in 2005 when it broadcast the controversial musical “Jerry Springer: The Opera” about the 1990s US talk-show host.
The BBC has received criticism for its inclusion of Prince Andrew in its coverage because of the Queen and Philip’s second son’s association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, as well as the tone of its programming.
Other British networks also changed their schedules following Philip’s death.
Commercial Channel 4 came under fire for largely keeping to its schedule, with the exception of airing some documentaries about the duke’s life.
Viewing figures across the channels fell because of the wall-to-wall coverage.
“Gogglebox,” a television program about people watching television programs, was the most-watched show of the day last Friday.


Australian judge rules Google misled Android users on data

Australian judge rules Google misled Android users on data
Updated 16 April 2021

Australian judge rules Google misled Android users on data

Australian judge rules Google misled Android users on data
  • Google is considering an appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court
  • Competition commission seeking court orders and financial penalties against company

CANBERRA: Google broke Australian law by misleading users about personal location data collected through Android mobile devices, a judge found Friday.
The Federal Court decision was a partial win for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the nation’s fair trade watchdog, which has been prosecuting Google for broader alleged breaches of consumer law since October 2019.
Justice Thomas Thawley found that Google misled Android mobile device users about personal location data collected between January 2017 and December 2018.
“This is an important victory for consumers, especially anyone concerned about their privacy online, as the court’s decision sends a strong message to Google and others that big businesses must not mislead their customers,” Commission Chair Rod Sims said in a statement.
“We are extremely pleased with the outcome in this world-first case,” he added.
Google is considering an appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court.
“The court rejected many of the ACCC’s broad claims,” a Google statement said.
“We disagree with the remaining findings and are currently reviewing our options, including a possible appeal,” Google added.
The judge ruled that when users created a new Google account during the initial set-up process of their Android device, Google misrepresented that the “Location History” setting was the only Google account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept or used personally identifiable data about their location.
But another Google account setting titled “Web & App Activity” also enabled Google to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data when it was turned on, and that setting was turned on by default.
The judge also found that when users later accessed the “Location History” setting on their Android device during the same time period to turn that setting off, they were also misled because Google did not inform them that by leaving the “Web & App Activity” setting switched on, Google would continue to collect, store and use their personally identifiable location data.
Similarly, between March 2017 and Nov. 29, 2018, when users later accessed the “Web & App Activity” setting on their Android device, they were misled because Google did not inform them that the setting was relevant to the collection of personal location data.
Google said the digital platform provides “robust controls for location data and are always looking to do more.”
The commission is seeking court orders and financial penalties against Google to be determined later.
The Australia Institute Center for Responsible Technology, a Canberra-based think tank, said the case “highlights the complexity of Big Tech terms and conditions.”
“The reality is most people have little to no idea on how much of their data is being used by Google and online platforms,” the Center’s Director Peter Lewis said in a statement.
Lewis said reading most terms and conditions takes an average of 74 minutes and requires a university education, according to the institute’s research, and more comprehensive consumer data protection was needed.


Snapchat launches new shows for Ramadan

Snapchat launches new shows for Ramadan
Updated 15 April 2021

Snapchat launches new shows for Ramadan

Snapchat launches new shows for Ramadan
  • New line-up of 60 shows on Discover covers a variety of topics including comedy, lifestyle and cooking

DUBAI: Snapchat has announced its new slate of shows for Ramadan 2021, which will bring more content from Discover partners to the app.

Snapchatters will have access to 60 new shows curated in partnership with broadcasters, digital publishers, and creators in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Discover partners have created shows such as “Robe’3 Nejmeh” from Rotana Group; “Azma bel 3azba” from Dubai Media; and creators’ shows including “Noor Stars” and “Banen Stars” from Diwan Group; “La Tagoolha” from the Saudi Broadcasting Authority; “Lovin Saudi Ramadan Eats” from Augustus; “Anasala Family” from Alfan; and “Cosmo Mukbang” from ITP.

“People are spending more time on social and communication platforms nowadays, and are becoming more engaged with mobile content. A large number of our audience in the region are using Snapchat every day,” said Fahad Alkhamisi, Head of Digital Media at Saudi Broadcasting Authority.

“Therefore, we are leveraging our successful partnership with Snapchat to provide them with new and exciting content this Ramadan, and we look forward to extending this collaboration that will give them an enjoyable screening experience in the future.”

Snapchatters in the region claim that they will spend 30 percent more time on their social and communication apps this Ramadan compared to last year, leading to these platforms creating more content for the holy month.

Snapchat currently has a monthly addressable reach of 67 million in MENA and 18 million in Saudi Arabia alone.

In Ramadan 2020, Snapchatters in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, spent 77 minutes daily on the app on average. In Saudi Arabia, more people watch content on Discover than on any of the other top 10 TV channels.

“People want to consume content on their mobile phones and at their own convenience. Snapchat’s Discover is the new digital majlis for Snapchatters during Ramadan and is the natural evolution of the story format, with shows that are made by the region’s top media publishers, editorially selected, brand-safe, and made just for Snapchat,” said Sara Abu Zahra, head of Strategic Media Partnerships, MENA & India, at Snap.


The Ray Hanania show compares Ramadan in US and Saudi Arabia

The Ray Hanania show compares Ramadan in US and Saudi Arabia
Updated 15 April 2021

The Ray Hanania show compares Ramadan in US and Saudi Arabia

The Ray Hanania show compares Ramadan in US and Saudi Arabia
  • The Kingdom is using technology to help ensure a more normal holy month than last year, Arab News’s Rawan Radwan tells the Ray Hanania Show
  • Meanwhile there is a growing acceptance among Americans of the importance and significance of this time to Muslims, says US-based professor

Muslims around the world celebrated the start of Ramadan this week, but the experience and traditions of the holy month can vary widely from country to country, especially in the pandemic era.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, the latest technology is being employed to protect the health of worshipers visiting the two most sacred mosques in Islam, Arab News deputy section editor Rawan Radwan explained during an interview on radio program The Ray Hanania Show on Wednesday.

Meanwhile acceptance in the US of Ramadan as an important religious occasion is continuing to grow, according to Saeed Khan, a history professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

Radwan said that authorities in the Kingdom have launched two apps to help ensure that only those who have been vaccinated, or are in the process of receiving the shots, can join others to pray and worship.
“Just before the start of Ramadan, the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques issued a series of guidelines and protocols with the relevant authorities involved, as well such as the minster of the interior and the minister of health,” she said.

“All of this is to ensure that every worshiper and all pilgrims that arrive at either the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah or the Grand Mosque in Makkah receive the proper care and attention that they deserve. Their health comes first.”

Radwan said Saudi authorities require visitors to the mosques to provide documents that confirm COVID-19 vaccination status. When this is verified, worshipers are given set time slots for their visit to maximize participation but avoid overcrowding.

“We have gone digital,” she added. “We are digital by default. We have something like a health passport — it’s not a health passport per se, it is an application that will allow you into establishments and commercial establishments across Saudi Arabia.”

The app, called Tawakkalna, displays a barcode along with the name of the user, an ID number and a color that reflects the health status of the individual.

“If you are vaccinated and you are fully immune, then it is a darker green color,” said Radwan. “If you just received one jab then it is a lighter green. If you just arrived from the US it could either be a blue or purple color and that could (mean) you need you to isolate.”

Ramadan last year was severely affected by the start of the pandemic, as lockdowns prevented people gathering to pray and families from getting together for iftar. The latest measures introduced by the Saudi authorities to protect public health, she said, have raised hopes that this year’s Ramadan will be more normal. But there are still precautions that must be followed.

“The rules are very strict, very, very rigid,” said Radwan. “You cannot enter (the mosques) unless you are vaccinated and unless you have recovered. You have to go through certain entryways.

“You can’t even enter with your car. A bus will take you after you prove you have a reservation, and then you can enter. And, of course, you can’t make any reservation except through (the app).”

Those who are eligible to visit the mosques are given scheduled entry times and they can spend up to two hours there.

“Worshipers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah are allowed to perform Umrah all hours of the day, said Radwan. “Those wishing to pray are only allowed in to pray, and then leave. The Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah closes after evening prayers (and) reopens about a half hour before the Fajr, or Dawn, prayers. Again, the reason is they have to ensure the people arriving are safe.”

Cleanliness and protecting the health of the public are priorities, she added. More than 10,000 workers have been assigned to the Grand Mosque, which is sanitized 10 times daily. More than 200,000 bottles of holy ZamZam water are distributed to worshipers each day.

In the US, meanwhile, there is a growing recognition and acceptance of Ramadan as an important Muslim religious occasion, said Khan.

“At the same time, Muslim Americans are developing more visibility and more acceptance within broader society, (on) a few different levels,” he added. “Corporate America is certainly recognizing Muslims Americans; we see a lot more companies and stores not only providing Ramadan greetings but also providing Ramadan products, greeting cards and other kinds of Ramadan paraphernalia.

“But I think the most important thing that we are seeing is at the institutional level. Schools are becoming much more accommodating to the needs of young Muslim students, recognizing that maybe students that are fasting during the daylight hours might be operating in a slower gear.

“There is now recognition in the largest public school district in the country, New York City, that the Eid festival will be recognized as a public holiday for school students.”

Khan said that this growing acknowledgment and acceptance of Ramadan is the result of community-based educational efforts, and an understanding by Muslims in the US that when Americans of other faiths ask questions about Islam it is not always intended as a criticism.

“There is always more that can be done,” he added. “Part of the essence of that really is to be neighborly and not to be offended by somebody who is asking a question. Most of the time the questions come from a very good place and good faith, wanting to learn.

“There certainly are people who ask the ‘gotcha’ questions but, generally speaking, we find when it is a neighbor, a coworker or a colleague, they just want to know. We can’t necessarily presume everyone knows, that somehow it is self-evident.”

Khan said the evolving experience of Muslims in the US is similar to that of devotees of other religions in America.

“I always noticed that on Fridays the menu in the cafeteria (in school) was always the same,” Khan said by way of an example. “It was fish sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. I learned later that had to do with Catholic students and meatless Fridays.” Although the rules have changed in some countries over the years, Catholics traditionally are prohibited from eating meat on Fridays and on the main religious holidays.

“So, the US has always had that mechanism to go ahead and accommodate religious minorities. Muslims are no different,” Khan added.

Despite the positive signs of growing acceptance of Muslims and their faith, many still face discrimination, however.

“Unfortunately it seems like it is going to be a challenge that will be with us for quite a while,” said Khan. However he added that this is something that can affect people of all faiths.

“I think it is important to remember that it is not necessarily only directed against Muslims,” he said. “I remember in 2012 when Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and now the senator from Utah, was the presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, there were a lot of people who had a problem with a Mormon being someone running for high office.”

• The Ray Hanania Show, sponsored by Arab News, is broadcast in Detroit on WNZK AM 690, in Washington DC on WDMV AM 700 on the US Arab Radio Network.