The future of Arabic content is paid, says Majarra executive chairman

 Abdulsalam Haykal, executive chairman of Majarra, explains why paid content is the right business model for Arabic digital content. (Supplied)
Abdulsalam Haykal, executive chairman of Majarra, explains why paid content is the right business model for Arabic digital content. (Supplied)
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Updated 01 April 2021

The future of Arabic content is paid, says Majarra executive chairman

 Abdulsalam Haykal, executive chairman of Majarra, explains why paid content is the right business model for Arabic digital content. (Supplied)
  • Abdulsalam Haykal, executive chairman of Majarra, explains why paid content is the right business model for Arabic digital content

DUBAI: It is no surprise that English is the language of the internet, with 60 percent of the top 10 million websites using it.

Arabic, on the other hand, ranks 12th, with only 1.1 percent of the top 10 million websites using the language despite the fact that it is spoken by 3.5 percent of the world’s population.

In comparison, Russian ranks second, with 8.5 percent of the top 10 million websites using the language, even though the world’s Russian-speaking population (3.3 percent) is almost the same as the Arabic-speaking population.

That is the problem Majarra, formerly Haykal Media, is looking to solve.

“We realized that the content gap in the region is not only too big to ignore but also something that people have not been able to solve effectively,” Abdulsalam Haykal, executive chairman of Majarra, told Arab News.

He is often asked if Arabs actually read, and his answer is: “Do they have the content they want to read placed in front of them and distributed to them in a way that is easily accessible?”

In his experience, not only do Arabs read, but they are also willing to pay for quality content.

Good-quality Arabic content on the internet is limited. The existing content mainly consists of entertainment, religion and news, which means that users are forced to turn to English-language content for other topics, said Haykal.

“The Arabic web resembles corner shops. There’s no problem with corner shops; they fulfill a need for the neighborhood they’re in. However, they do not have enough room to innovate or returns to reinvest,” he added.

“There is no ambition to serve more than the basic needs.”

By this definition, the Arabic online content industry does not think of itself as an industry. Haykal said: “Any industry that is dominated by corner shops is not an industry. An industry needs major players. And this is something that has been lacking in the Arabic content space so far.”

At any given time, people are using the internet either through a messaging app, social media channel or search engine.

And while English is more commonly spoke in countries like the UAE, Arabic continues to be the primary language in most countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. For instance, eight out of the top 10 trending Google queries for 2020 in Saudi Arabia were in Arabic.

Furthermore, Haykal added, 85 percent of internet users in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, 50 percent in the UAE and 70 percent across the MENA region use Google Search in Arabic.

He asserted that contrary to common perception, not everyone in the region speaks English. “Everyone can probably transact in English, but a different level of the language is needed to consume knowledge, understand content and share it.”

The goal is to “give high-quality instructive and analytical content that is highly reliable in the region’s language, and that is Arabic.”

The rebrand of Haykal Media to Majarra includes a single subscription sign-on for the company’s publications, which include Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review, Stanford Social Innovation Review and Popular Science.

Most online publishers today publish content to increase site views and time spent so that they can attract advertisers.

This model assumes that there is some advertising money, said Haykal, but since the advent of social media, “Big Tech has taken most of the advertising money here, and everyone can feel that impact in the industry.

“Publishers are still trying to publish online content based on the business model of advertising, but there’s no real advertising money, and they’re competing on a very small pie. And when the stakes are low, people become vicious.”

This, in turn, creates a loop whereby publishers steal content and repackage it to improve their ranking on Google and grab a higher share of advertising revenue. “It feeds a spiral of lower-quality content, and so you’ll find that a lot of the Arabic web is basically pirated or recycled content.”

What then is the ideal business model?

“The solution for us is a combination of creating content at scale — the most reliable content in partnership with the most reliable publishers anywhere in the world — and then becoming a hub for the best quality content in our region and attracting the best creators here as well,” said Haykal.

Majarra also plans to publish original content at a very high standard.

The second component to making this model successful is user engagement. “It’s often said that content is king, but distribution is the emperor,” Haykal said.

“It is important to put content in front of people based on what they’re looking for and make it easy to access, consume and share, but we need to be able to understand their needs and bring them the content they want through the channels they use.”

Once a company offers excellent content, distribution, convenience and a seamless experience, it can put a price on the value it is offering.

“This is the model that we are proposing: a subscription-based ecosystem for Arabic content.”

The vision to “build a sustainable, defensible and growing membership-based platform through Majarra” is not only transformative for the industry, said Haykal. “It could actually create an industry.”


Who streams the most content in Saudi Arabia?

Who streams the most content in Saudi Arabia?
Updated 44 sec ago

Who streams the most content in Saudi Arabia?

Who streams the most content in Saudi Arabia?
  • YouGov’s latest research sheds light on streamers’ content consumption and habits 

DUBAI: The last two years have seen an unprecedented rise in the popularity of streaming services, and Saudi Arabia is no exception.

The latest research from analytics firm YouGov shows that Generation Z audiences are the most regular users of streaming services in KSA, with 72 percent claiming to use any catch-up or streaming service on a regular basis.

The study found that there is an inverse relationship between age and on-demand streaming, which means that younger audiences stream the most content. After Gen Z, millennials are the most regular consumers of streaming services (69 percent), followed by Generation X (61 percent) and baby boomers (45 percent).

Despite the growth of regional streaming services, Netflix appears to be the most popular streaming service in Saudi Arabia, with 37 percent of residents using it.

The global streaming giant is widely favored by younger audiences. Compared to the overall online population in the country, nearly three in five (59 percent) Gen Z streamers claim to use Netflix, followed by 56 percent of millennials.

Consumption of other streaming platforms is also much higher among these young adults. Compared to the overall online population, millennial streamers are heavier consumers of Amazon Prime (19 percent) and Shahid (24 percent).

When looking closely at the attitudes of streamers, the study found that streaming has massively affected how these audiences consume TV.

Fifty percent of Gen Z streamers and 46 percent of millennials agree with the statement, “Live TV is a thing of the past,” while 48 percent of millennial streamers said that streaming services have changed TV watching for them, versus 43 percent of Gen Z streamers. The latter, however, have been raised in the digital age, with streaming more native to them than TV watching.

Nearly half of Gen Z streamers (49 percent) claim people reach out to them regarding suggestions for new music, movies and TV shows. When it comes to attitudes toward watching films, nearly a quarter of Gen Z streamers say they prefer to watch movies via pay-to-own or pay-to-view streaming services, even though watching films in cinemas or theatres is their top preference.

It is fairly evident that the younger generation is used to having media “on-demand,” suggested the report, presenting a huge opportunity for streaming services in the Kingdom.


Reporter refused entry to Lebanon’s presidential palace to cover cabinet meeting

Al Jadeed correspondent Layal Saad during her live broadcast minutes after she was denied entry to Baabda Presidential Palace to cover the Lebanese cabinet's meeting. (Al Jadeed)
Al Jadeed correspondent Layal Saad during her live broadcast minutes after she was denied entry to Baabda Presidential Palace to cover the Lebanese cabinet's meeting. (Al Jadeed)
Updated 16 min 40 sec ago

Reporter refused entry to Lebanon’s presidential palace to cover cabinet meeting

Al Jadeed correspondent Layal Saad during her live broadcast minutes after she was denied entry to Baabda Presidential Palace to cover the Lebanese cabinet's meeting. (Al Jadeed)
  • Layal Saad said she was barred because of a previous incident in which she was verbally abused for referring to the president as ‘Aoun’ and not ‘his excellency President Aoun’
  • Al-Jadeed TV said it will take legal action because Baabda Palace is ‘the people’s palace’ and ‘the law doesn’t prohibit any citizen from entering any public facility’

BEIRUT: A Lebanese journalist was denied entry to Baabda Presidential Palace to cover a cabinet meeting on Thursday because of an incident that happened there last month.

In a live report, Al-Jadeed TV reporter Layal Saad said she was told by a representative of the palace’s press office that she could not enter the building. She added that she “was not allowed to do her journalistic duty” because of the previous confrontation.

Saad, who has covered events at the palace for five years, was reportedly subjected to verbal abuse by a security officer on Aug. 21. At the time she said that while the podium was being prepared for speeches, the officer overheard her asking colleagues, in reference to President Michel Aoun, ‘Is Aoun giving a speech?’ The man came up to her, she added, stood very close and spoke to her angrily and abusively, telling her: “You address him by saying ‘his excellency the president, General Michel Aoun,’ and not just ‘Aoun.’”

Saad said this incident was the reason why she was denied entry to the palace on Thursday. In a live broadcast she said: “Some of the palace’s staff and presidential advisors called me after August’s incident and apologized, saying it was a mistake that shouldn’t have happened.”

She added that was told the officer should not have spoken to her because only press office staff should deal with journalists.

“The employee (who refused to let Saad into the palace on Thursday) told me that the previous incident remains unresolved,” she said. “The president’s media advisor, Rafic Chlala, is the one who asked him to notify me that I could not enter the palace to cover the meeting … they didn’t want anyone from the security staff to speak to me.”

Saad added that she was told to ask her employers to send another correspondent.

Al-Jadeed TV responded to the palace by firmly stating it “will not assign any colleague to replace Layal Saad. It is not a matter of alternatives anymore but rather it has become about the core of freedoms and the transformation of Baabda palace into a tool of suppressing words and existence.”

Saying “Layal Saad or nobody,” it added: “Facing this ban, the channel finds itself compelled to file a lawsuit against the pertinent authorities at Baabda Palace, which is the people’s palace. The law doesn’t prohibit any citizen from entering any public facility.”

Saad told Arab News that palace staff must not be allowed to treat the building as “their own private house because it’s a public facility and any citizen can enter.”

She added that although she is not personally taking legal action against palace authorities, her employers intend to.

“The lawsuit will be lodged against any staff and advisors involved in issuing the ban and I am not sure if that includes the presidency … that’s up to the lawyers to talk about it,” she said.

The president’s press office said the management of Al-Jadeed had been asked to replace Saad with another reporter, and that other journalists had been assigned to cover the palace recently without any problems.

It added that Al-Jadeed was reminded that the same restriction continued to apply as a result of the incident in August, but this time the channel sent Saad anyway to cover the cabinet session and she was asked to leave.


Facebook to target harmful coordination by real accounts using playbook against fake networks

Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. (File/AFP)
Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook to target harmful coordination by real accounts using playbook against fake networks

Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook is taking a more aggressive approach to shut down coordinated groups of real-user accounts engaging in certain harmful activities
  • The move could have major implications for how the social media giant handles political and other coordinated movements

LONDON: Facebook is taking a more aggressive approach to shut down coordinated groups of real-user accounts engaging in certain harmful activities on its platform, using the same strategy its security teams take against campaigns using fake accounts, the company told Reuters.
The new approach, reported here for the first time, uses the tactics usually taken by Facebook’s security teams for wholesale shutdowns of networks engaged in influence operations that use false accounts to manipulate public debate, such as Russian troll farms.
It could have major implications for how the social media giant handles political and other coordinated movements breaking its rules, at a time when Facebook’s approach to abuses on its platforms is under heavy scrutiny from global lawmakers and civil society groups.
Facebook said it now plans to take this same network-level approach with groups of coordinated real accounts that systemically break its rules, through mass reporting, where many users falsely report a target’s content or account to get it shut down, or brigading, a type of online harassment where users might coordinate to target an individual through mass posts or comments.
The expansion, which a spokeswoman said was in its early stages, means Facebook’s security teams could identify core movements driving such behavior and take more sweeping actions than the company removing posts or individual accounts as it otherwise might.
In April, BuzzFeed News published a leaked Facebook internal report about the company’s role in the Jan. 6 riot on the US Capitol and its challenges in curbing the fast-growing ‘Stop the Steal’ movement, where one of the findings was Facebook had “little policy around coordinated authentic harm.”
Facebook’s security experts, who are separate from the company’s content moderators and handle threats from adversaries trying to evade its rules, started cracking down on influence operations using fake accounts in 2017, following the 2016 US election in which US intelligence officials concluded Russia had used social media platforms as part of a cyber-influence campaign — a claim Moscow has denied.
Facebook dubbed this banned activity by the groups of fake accounts “coordinated inauthentic behavior” (CIB), and its security teams started announcing sweeping takedowns in monthly reports. The security teams also handle some specific threats that may not use fake accounts, such as fraud or cyber-espionage networks or overt influence operations like some state media campaigns.
Sources said teams at the company had long debated how it should intervene at a network level for large movements of real user accounts systemically breaking its rules.
In July, Reuters reported on the Vietnam army’s online information warfare unit, who engaged in actions including mass reporting of accounts to Facebook but also often used their real names.
Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. Others have criticized the company over allegations of censorship, anti-conservative bias or inconsistent enforcement.
An expansion of Facebook’s network disruption models to affect authentic accounts raises further questions about how changes might impact types of public debate, online movements and campaign tactics across the political spectrum.
High-profile instances of coordinated activity around last year’s US election, from teens and K-pop fans claiming they used TikTok to sabotage a rally for former President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to political campaigns paying online meme-makers, have also sparked debates on how platforms should define and approach coordinated campaigns.


Facebook rolls out new messaging, business tools for brands

Facebook will begin testing the ability for brands to send emails through Facebook Business Suite
Facebook will begin testing the ability for brands to send emails through Facebook Business Suite
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook rolls out new messaging, business tools for brands

Facebook will begin testing the ability for brands to send emails through Facebook Business Suite
  • Facebook rolls out new feature that allows businesses to find and chat with potential customers on the app
  • The new features will help Facebook offer personalized shopping experiences to its users

LONDON: Facebook Inc. is rolling out new ways for businesses to find and chat with potential customers on its apps, the social media company said Thursday, as it seeks to become an online shopping destination.
The new features will help Facebook, already a leader in digital advertising, offer personalized shopping experiences to its users, said Karandeep Anand, vice president of business products at Facebook.
Businesses will now be able to add a button on their Instagram profiles to let people send a WhatsApp message to the company with one click.
Integrating WhatsApp is particularly important for customers in countries such as India and Brazil, where the Facebook-owned messaging app is widely used, Anand said.
Facebook said it will begin testing the ability for brands to send emails through Facebook Business Suite, a feature that lets businesses manage their presence across the social media site’s apps, in order to simplify how companies reach customers.
It will also test new work accounts to let employees manage business pages without needing to log in with their personal accounts.
The new business tools come a day after WhatsApp began testing a new feature in São Paulo, Brazil, to let users find shops and services through a directory in the app for the first time, part of an effort to bolster ecommerce on the service.


Facebook bans German accounts under new ‘social harm’ policy

The action is the first under Facebook’s new policy focused on preventing “coordinated social harm.” (File/AFP)
The action is the first under Facebook’s new policy focused on preventing “coordinated social harm.” (File/AFP)
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook bans German accounts under new ‘social harm’ policy

The action is the first under Facebook’s new policy focused on preventing “coordinated social harm.” (File/AFP)
  • Facebook removes almost 150 accounts and pages linked to anti-lockdown demonstrators in Germany under new policy to halt the spread of misinformation

LONDON: Facebook removed almost 150 accounts and pages linked to anti-lockdown demonstrators in Germany, the company announced Thursday, under a new policy focused on groups that spread misinformation or incite violence but who don’t fit into the platform’s existing categories of bad actors.
The accounts on Facebook and Instagram spread content linked to the so-called Querdenken movement, a disparate group that has protested lockdown measures in Germany and includes vaccine and mask opponents, conspiracy theorists and some far-right extremists.
Posts from the accounts included one making the debunked claim that vaccines create viral variants and another that wished death upon police officers who broke up violent anti-lockdown protests in Berlin.
The action is the first under Facebook’s new policy focused on preventing “coordinated social harm,” which company officials said is an attempt to address content from social media users who work together to spread harmful content and evade platform rules.
Under its long-standing guidelines, Facebook has removed accounts that use false personas or spread hate speech or make threats of violence. The new policy is intended to catch groups that work together in an attempt to get around the rules, while still spreading harmful content.
In the case of the Querdenken network, Facebook said multiple account holders used both individual and duplicate accounts to spread content that violated Facebook’s rules on COVID-19 misinformation, hate speech, bullying and incitement of violence.
It was that coordinated effort to deceive, along with the harmful content and a history of past violations, that prompted Facebook’s action, according to Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy.
“Simply sharing a belief or affinity with a particular movement or group wouldn’t be enough” to warrant a similar response, he told reporters on a conference call Thursday.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has put some Querdenker adherents under surveillance as the movement has become increasingly radicalized and its protests have attracted neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists.