Lebanese podcasters offer escape from nation’s woes while trying to make sense of them

Lebanese podcasters offer escape from nation’s woes while trying to make sense of them
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Mouin Jaber and Medea Azouri, hosts of Lebanese podcast “Sarde After Dinner” (Supplied)
Lebanese podcasters offer escape from nation’s woes while trying to make sense of them
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Mouin Jaber and Medea Azouri, hosts of Lebanese podcast “Sarde After Dinner” (Supplied)
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Updated 23 February 2021

Lebanese podcasters offer escape from nation’s woes while trying to make sense of them

Lebanese podcasters offer escape from nation’s woes while trying to make sense of them
  • The ‘Sarde After Dinner’ podcast has built a following by tackling important, but often taboo, topics with the help of experts and international guests
  • Notable interviewees include blogger-activist Gino Riady, economist Karim Daher, Emirati talk-show host Anas Bukhash and Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef

LONDON: The black-market exchange rate of the Lebanese lira against the dollar shot up to an unprecedented 9,500 this week as the country slowly began to re-open after a month and a half of a strict national lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has yet to form a government after four months of trying, and the Lebanese people are still reeling from the devastating explosion at Beirut Port more than six months ago, the investigation into which has been marred by corruption allegations and delays.

It is no surprise, then, that Lebanese citizens around the world welcome any respite, however brief, from the current grim state of affairs in their home country. This is where Mouin Jaber and Medea Azouri come in, with their “Sarde After Dinner” podcast.

Born from a mix of common interests and passions forged during the protests that began in Lebanon in October 2019, the podcast aims to tackle the important, but often taboo, topics that are on the minds of many Lebanese people, and offer deeper insights from experts into issues that have long plagued the country.

“We decided to do the podcast because there were a lot of things Medea and I were thinking of and talking about, and we noticed no one was talking about them,” Jaber told Arab News. “We noticed that we all have the same outlook but not many speak openly about these topics, such as suicide, sex, prisons and so on.

“There was a big void that wasn’t being filled because of this cognitive dissonance that the media feeds off of, which is hyperbolic statements and big, loud people to hold viewers. There were a lot of things that were left unsaid and we felt that it could all start with a conversation.”

Recorded in the dining room of Azouri’s apartment in Beirut, the weekly podcast, which releases new episodes every Sunday night, quickly started to build a following in part thanks to its notable local and international guests, including blogger-activist Gino Riady, renowned economist Karim Daher, Emirati talk-show host Anas Bukhash and Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef.

The show takes its name from a Lebanese slang term which perhaps best translates in English as “hanging out.” This is reflected by the informal mood of the conversation as well as the welcoming atmosphere, something both hosts said is crucial to the flow of the discussion.

“It’s the time when you finish dinner and you stay at the table and you start talking with people about subjects, and sometimes you don’t speak because you want to listen to the other person,” said Azouri, who is also a columnist for French-language Lebanese daily newspaper L’Orient Le Jour.

Jaber added: “Conversations are more free flowing; you let your guard down after dinner. When you break bread with someone you are at your most vulnerable, so the flow of the conversation isn’t obstructed by this kind of posturing … you let go and the conversation is very honest.”

Azouri said it is often the case that guests come onto the show and are allowed to speak without interruption or input from the hosts because of the significance and weight of what they are saying. She compared it to a “masterclass.”

“Besides politics and Lebanon and the situation right now, we decided to break some taboos,” Azouri said. “We talk about sexuality, but we’re the only media in the Arab world that hosted (former adult-movie star) Mia Khalifa at the time where she was helping Lebanon.

“Also (when political activist and social-justice advocate) Ali Baroudy (appeared, the episode) was not about the political situation but his experience (as a prisoner) in Roumieh prison for five years.”

Guests such as these reflect an important aspect of the show which is, the hosts explain, that they want to talk to people that can help them to learn and understand.

“The only people that we get on ‘Sarde’ are people we are actually interested in, who we want to ask questions and pick their brains,” said Jaber. “And it’s not a dry question-and-answer dynamic because we feel also that we have a say, and we ask the questions and don’t pretend that we know (the answers).”

“When we discover things, the viewers discover them with us,” Medea added.

Given the media landscape in Lebanon, where TV networks and newspapers are aligned with political parties, “Sarde After Dinner” is one of a number of alternative news sources that many people turned to after the protests in the country began.

“We want to reconcile the differences that many people have that were unspoken by many people, and show that it is easy,” said Jaber, who is studying international business law online at the Sorbonne-Assas International Law School.

“And to just make the point that traditional media outlets are never going to give us the full story — it’s always subject to extremely politicized narratives or subject to the highest bidder.”

In addition to fans in Lebanon, Lebanese expatriates in 115 countries listen to the podcast, the majority of whom are in the US, UAE and Saudi Arabia.

“The majority of the messages that we receive from abroad are very touching,” Azouri said. “They are from expats who tell us that we are their link with Lebanon, because there are a lot of people who don’t have (access to) LBC and MTV abroad. We are available free on the internet and social media.”


Discovery+ comes to STC’s Jawwy TV 

The agreement will provide Discovery+ content to Jawwy TV subscribers in a branded area on the platform. (Supplied)
The agreement will provide Discovery+ content to Jawwy TV subscribers in a branded area on the platform. (Supplied)
Updated 24 February 2021

Discovery+ comes to STC’s Jawwy TV 

The agreement will provide Discovery+ content to Jawwy TV subscribers in a branded area on the platform. (Supplied)
  • The agreement will provide Discovery+ content to Jawwy TV subscribers in a branded area on the platform

DUBAI: Discovery+ has signed a long-term partnership with the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) through its media arm, Intigral.

The agreement will provide Discovery+ content to Jawwy TV subscribers in a branded area on the platform. Users can sign up for the add-on subscription, which will be valid for 12 months.

“We are delighted to enter this new partnership with the leading telco operator in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and combine our strengths to provide customers access to our much-loved brands and content on discovery+,” said Kasia Kieli, president and MD of Discovery EMEA. “This agreement with Intigral reaffirms our digital strategy as we continue to grow our global footprint.”

Discovery+’s offering will include 4,000 hours of on-demand content featuring original and global shows such as “Shark Week,” “MythBusters” and “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook (Uncensored)” as well as other Discovery channels such as Fatafeat, TLC, Discovery Family, Animal Planet, Discovery Science and Investigation Discovery, with more to follow.

Discovery+ and STC also plan to make the Discovery+ app available to STC’s mobile customers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain as an added value to the existing service.

“As the entertainment arm of STC, we are thrilled to have partnered with Discovery to offer its extensive content portfolio to our subscribers,” said Markus Golder, CEO of Intigral.


New YouTube research highlights viewing trends in Saudi Arabia

New YouTube research highlights viewing trends in Saudi Arabia
Updated 24 February 2021

New YouTube research highlights viewing trends in Saudi Arabia

New YouTube research highlights viewing trends in Saudi Arabia
  • Most-trending categories in the Kingdom were gaming, learning and sports

DUBAI: YouTube held its first online festival for advertisers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where it unveiled new research on audience viewership in Saudi Arabia.

The most-trending categories in the Kingdom were gaming, learning and sports, and the most-watched content was locally produced.

The last 12 months saw steady growth in gaming content streaming in Arabic. Puzzles and adventures were the most popular genres, followed by combat sports such as wrestling and boxing, and e-sports such as FIFA.

Viewership of educational videos on YouTube also witnessed an increase. Watch time of science and maths videos increased by 200 percent, while 95 percent of users watched DIY content.

In August of last year, YouTube reached over 20 million people in Saudi Arabia, who watched videos on the platform for an average of 55 minutes per day. Seven out of 10 most-watched videos in the Kingdom were locally produced.

“People in Saudi Arabia come to YouTube to catch more personalized content and high-quality entertainment produced by local creators. They are looking for relevant and relatable video content that may not always be available in more traditional media,” said Souheil Soueid, head of advertising products and solutions at Google and YouTube in MENA.

“This is evident in the continuous growth in watch time on the platform across all devices, including TV, and the popularity of new content genres like gaming and learning amongst others.”

FAST FACTS: SAUDI YOUTUBE CONSUMPTION HABITS

• Watch time of science, maths videos up 200 percent.

• 95 percent of users watched DIY content.

• Average watch time 55 minutes per day.

• YouTube reached over 20m people in KSA last year.


TikTok ‘live show’ series to educate users

TikTok ‘live show’ series to educate users
Updated 24 February 2021

TikTok ‘live show’ series to educate users

TikTok ‘live show’ series to educate users
  • Experts and influencers to offer insights on marketing, health, motivation

DUBAI: Short-form mobile video app TikTok has launched a new live series, #LearnonTikTok, to support the recent surge in educational content on the platform.

With the onset of the pandemic last year, TikTok witnessed a shift in the way audiences create and consume content on the platform, with knowledge-sharing and education-related content seeing a 300 percent growth.

“As people spent more time indoors during the pandemic, an upward trend emerged in the demand for educational content on TikTok,” said Rami Zeidan, head of video and creative at TikTok.

TikTok announced the initiative in the US in January last year, which included a partnership with the online study platform Quizlet. It also formed a $50 million creative learning fund, as part of its $250 million pledge to support its community during the pandemic.

As part of the #LearnonTikTok program, the platform partnered with prominent personalities including Bill Nye, Lilly Singh, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Tyra Banks to feature educational content on TikTok.

Building on the popularity of educational content on the platform in the region, TikTok will now be hosting live sessions every week, for a month from Feb. 25.

Topics include show business and social media; digital and influencer marketing; health and fitness; and motivation.

The sessions will be hosted by Al Arabiya TV presenter Mahira Abdel Aziz. Each session will be led by a regional celebrity or influencer such as TV presenter Azza Zarour; digital content creator Nael Abu Alteen; Egyptian activist and athlete Manal Rostom; and travel blogger and YouTuber Haifa Beseisso.

“The #LearnOnTikTok Live Show has been designed to enable users to discover new interests and passions while learning from regional experts in popular fields,” added Zeidan.


Spotify announces Ramadan podcast in partnership with Obamas

Spotify announces Ramadan podcast in partnership with Obamas
Updated 24 February 2021

Spotify announces Ramadan podcast in partnership with Obamas

Spotify announces Ramadan podcast in partnership with Obamas
  • ‘Tell Them, I Am’ podcast features a collection of narratives from Muslim voices including activists, artists, actors and athletes

Audio company Spotify’s partnership with Barack and Michelle Obama will bring to light diverse Muslim voices in its upcoming podcast “Higher Ground: Tell Them, I Am.”

In 2019, Spotify partnered with the Obamas’ production company Higher Productions to produce podcasts exclusive to the platform.

The “Tell Them, I Am” podcast features a collection of narratives from Muslim voices including activists, artists, actors and athletes.

It is hosted by Misha Euceph, a first-generation Pakistani-American writer, podcast host and producer.

The announcement was made at the company’s Stream On event, which included a performance by Justin Bieber and was attended by the former US president, the duke and duchess of Sussex, and Bruce Springsteen, among other notable personalities.

The first season aired during Ramadan in 2019, featuring personalities such as Egyptian stand-up comedian, actor, writer and director Ramy Youssef, comedian Ahamed Weinberg, and actress Alia Shawkat from TV show “Arrested Development.” The second season will air on the first day of Ramadan this year.

“The stories are universal and the guests are all Muslim,” Euceph said during the Stream On event. “The ultimate goal is for people to feel something, for them to fall in love with the people they’re listening to without ever thinking about who they are and what they look like.”

Spotify announced a second podcast with Higher Productions titled “Renegades: Born in the USA.”

The eight-episode series features conversations between Springsteen and Barack Obama as they explore topics of race, fatherhood, marriage and the future of America.

The company also announced its expansion to 80 new markets across Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and Latin America during the event.

Insert infographic

In the majority of these markets, Spotify will launch with its full podcast catalog. For the others, it will work with local partners to introduce more podcasts from its catalog, as well as Spotify’s proprietary creator platform Anchor.

FAST FACTS

Over $5bn paid out to rights holders in 2020.

Monthly consumption of podcasts on Spotify up 1,500 percent in 3 years.

57,000 artists represent 90 percent of monthly streams on platform.

On Spotify, artists receive over 80 percent of streams from outside home country.

Over last 4 years, number of recording artists whose catalogs generated over $1m a year up over 82 percent.

Over last 4 years, number of recording artists whose catalogs generated over $100,000 a year up 79 percent.


Australian lawmakers expected to pass amendments to Facebook, Google law

Australian lawmakers expected to pass amendments to Facebook, Google law
Updated 24 February 2021

Australian lawmakers expected to pass amendments to Facebook, Google law

Australian lawmakers expected to pass amendments to Facebook, Google law
  • Amendments introduced to the so-called Media Bargaining Code after Facebook last week escalated a dispute
  • The code was designed to address a power imbalance between the social media giants and publishers

CANBERRA: Australian lawmakers are expected to approve amendments to landmark legislation to force Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to pay media companies for news content, despite opposition from some minor political parties.
The government introduced amendments to the so-called Media Bargaining Code after Facebook last week escalated a dispute over the new laws by blocking Australian users from sharing and viewing news content on its popular social media platform.
Australia’s Senate began debating the amendments on Wednesday. The ruling conservative Liberal Party does not have a majority in the upper house, but support from the opposition Labour Party is expected to be enough to pass the bill.
“What we’ve sworn to do is create a level playing field,” Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Sky News on Wednesday.
“We’ve sought to sustain public interest journalism in this country, and we’ve also sought to enhance and encourage those commercial deals between the parties.”
Facebook on Tuesday said it would restore Australian users’ access to news in light of the compromise it had reached with the government.
In one major change, Frydenberg will be given the discretion to decide that either Facebook or Google need not be subject to the code, if they make a “significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry.”
The original legislation had required the tech giants to submit to forced arbitration if they could not reach a commercial deal with Australian news companies for their content, effectively allowing the government to set a price.
Some politicians and media companies are concerned the change allows Frydenberg to exempt Facebook or Google from the new laws even if they do not strike deals with all media companies, to the detriment of smaller publishers.
“This changes the bill significantly,” independent senator Rex Patrick, who plans to vote against the amended bill, told Reuters.
“The big players could successfully negotiate with Facebook or Google. The minister then doesn’t designate them, and all the little players miss out.”
Lee O’Connor, owner and editor of regional newspaper The Coonamble Times, said the amendments appeared to favor big media groups.
“It’s the vagueness of the language that’s the main concern, and the minister’s discretion is part of that,” O’Connor said.
Frydenberg has said he will give Facebook and Google time to strike deals with Australian media companies before deciding whether to enforce his new powers.
The code was designed by the government and competition regulator to address a power imbalance between the social media giants and publishers when negotiating payment for news content displayed on the tech firms’ sites.
After first threatening to withdraw its search engine from Australia, Google has instead struck a series of deals with several publishers, including a global news deal with News Corp.
Major television broadcaster and newspaper publisher Seven West Media on Tuesday said it had signed a letter of intent to reach a content supply deal with Facebook within 60 days.
Rival Nine Entertainment Co. also revealed on Wednesday it was in negotiations with Facebook.
“At this stage, we’re still obviously proceeding with negotiations,” Nine chief executive Hugh Marks told analysts at a company briefing on Wednesday. “It is really positive for our business and positive particularly for the publishing business.”