Interview: Spotify’s MEA MD reveals how the company is supporting more creators

Claudius Boller, Spotify’s managing director for the Middle East and Europe (MEA) region spoke to Arab News. (Supplied)
Claudius Boller, Spotify’s managing director for the Middle East and Europe (MEA) region spoke to Arab News. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 May 2021

Interview: Spotify’s MEA MD reveals how the company is supporting more creators

Claudius Boller, Spotify’s managing director for the Middle East and Europe (MEA) region spoke to Arab News. (Supplied)
  • Spotify initiatives aims to put regional Arab talent on global stage

DUBAI: Spotify, which started as a small startup in Sweden, is now a leading audio streaming company across 178 markets.

The company recently posted financial results for the first quarter of this year, revealing that its monthly active users had grown by 24 percent year-on-year (YOY) to 356 million.

Audiences’ appetite for premium content had also grown as reflected in a 21 percent YOY growth in premium subscribers.

However, Claudius Boller, Spotify’s managing director for the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region, told Arab News that the upsurge was not just about an increase in the number of users.

“It’s very much across the parameters of discoverability, experience, and engagement, and we are truly leading on the engagement side,” he said.

Spotify’s integration with more than 2,000 types of software and devices, including Google Maps and PlayStation, had also played a significant role in increasing user engagement, he added.

For example, engagement on Spotify via PlayStation was particularly high in the MENA region, with gamers using the app to “customize and localize their gaming experience with Arabic music.”

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Boller said: “These trends encourage us to double down on our investments and our commitment to the region and to further localize on a country-by-country basis.”

But, for now, the company has no plans to open any more offices in the region and will continue to operate out of its Dubai office.

In February, Spotify launched its Work From Anywhere program, which enables employees to work full time from home or the office or a mix of the two. Boller quoted the company’s founder and CEO, Daniel Ek, as saying, “work is not a place that you go to; work is something that you do.” And for now, that work is focused on attracting and working with talent from all countries – whether from home or an office.

Working with creators has become an increasingly high priority for the platform. “We provide them (creators) with direct access to the data and put the power in their hands. So, we’re equally focused on not just the consumers, but also on the creators,” Boller added.

Spotify has been criticized for not paying artists more – especially in relation to the number of streams. On its website, the company said: “In the streaming era, fans do not pay per song, so we don’t believe a per stream rate is a meaningful number to analyze. Instead, we’re focused on maximizing the total size of the payments we are able to make to rights holders.”

The MD said: “We never pay artists directly, which also helps us to treat all creators equally.”

Up to last year, Spotify had paid more than $23 billion in royalties to rights holders, including in excess of $5 billion in 2020 alone, up from $3.3 billion in 2017.

Boller reiterated the company’s commitment to supporting creators through programs such as RADAR, Sawtik, and EQUAL.

Launched in March 2020, RADAR is a global emerging artist program localized on a market-by-market basis. In the MENA region, Spotify partnered with Jordanian artist, Issam Al-Najjar, who was then promoted across billboards in the US and Canada.

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The initiative is aimed “at spotlighting rising talents from around the globe” and also giving regional artists a global stage, added Boller. “This really puts young Arab talent on the global world stage of music, which is truly exciting.”

Both of Spotify’s other programs, Sawtik and EQUAL, are aimed at supporting and amplifying female talent.

Sawtik was launched in November for the MENA region, while EQUAL is a global program introduced in March.

According to a Nielsen study, 60 percent of aspiring female artists in the MENA region feel stigmatized for pursuing a career in music. Yet, 86 percent of the labels agreed that there was a demand for Arab female artists but finding them was a challenge. “We believe this needs to change,” said Boller.

Under the Sawtik program, Spotify worked with 16 young regional artists and launched a regional campaign that included female artists taking over the covers of 18 flagship playlists. It also partnered with Tunisian pop singer Latifa – a “godmother” as Boller described her – who took the young artists under her wing.

These initiatives are regarded by Spotify as a testament to its commitment not only to creators but also to the region.

While Boller did not reveal the company’s exact plans for the future, he said it was growing its team, especially on the partnerships front, and that there were “some very interesting things to come.”


YouTube suspends Sky News Australia channel over COVID-19 ‘misinformation’

YouTube suspends Sky News Australia channel over COVID-19 ‘misinformation’
Updated 01 August 2021

YouTube suspends Sky News Australia channel over COVID-19 ‘misinformation’

YouTube suspends Sky News Australia channel over COVID-19 ‘misinformation’
  • Move comes after a review of posts uploaded by the Rupert Murdoch-owned TV channel
  • With 1.86 million YouTube subscribers, the channel has a conservative following well beyond Australia

SYDNEY: YouTube said Sunday it had barred Sky News Australia from uploading new content for one week, citing concerns about COVID-19 misinformation.
The move comes after a review of posts uploaded by the Rupert Murdoch-owned TV channel, which has a substantial online presence.
“We have clear and established COVID-19 medical misinformation policies... to prevent the spread of COVID-19 misinformation that could cause real-world harm,” a YouTube statement said.
With 1.86 million YouTube subscribers, the channel — which is owned by a subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corp. — has a conservative following well beyond Australia.
Its posts, including some questioning whether there is a pandemic and the efficacy of vaccines, are widely shared on social media forums around the world that spread virus and vaccine misinformation.
The last YouTube upload, from three days ago, features a host claiming that lockdowns have failed and criticizing state authorities for extending Sydney’s current stay-at-home orders.
Sky News confirmed the temporary ban and a spokesperson said “we support broad discussion and debate on a wide range of topics and perspectives which is vital to any democracy.”
“We take our commitment to meeting editorial and community expectations seriously.”
YouTube has a “three strikes” policy on violations, with the first resulting in a one-week suspension, a second strike within 90 days producing a two-week ban, while a third means permanent removal from the platform.
Former US president Donald Trump was temporarily banned under the policy.
YouTube is owned by Google parent company Alphabet.


SRMG hosts US delegation, discusses media issues

SRMG’s chairman of the board of directors, Abdulrahman Ibrahim Al-Ruwaita, received the delegation. (Supplied)
SRMG’s chairman of the board of directors, Abdulrahman Ibrahim Al-Ruwaita, received the delegation. (Supplied)
Updated 30 July 2021

SRMG hosts US delegation, discusses media issues

SRMG’s chairman of the board of directors, Abdulrahman Ibrahim Al-Ruwaita, received the delegation. (Supplied)
  • The meeting included an introduction about SRMG’s work, its new identity and future plans, and the leading role it plays in the Arab media

RIYADH: The Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG) recently hosted an American delegation from the Middle East Institute headed by president Dr. Paul Salem.

SRMG’s chairman of the board of directors, Abdulrahman Ibrahim Al-Ruwaita, received the delegation in the presence of a number of the group’s leaders and some editors-in-chief of the group’s publications and platforms.

The meeting, which included elite members of the institute’s board of directors, experts, consultants and former US ambassadors, was an opportunity to discuss international media issues and the future of media.

The meeting included an introduction about SRMG’s work, its new identity and future plans, and the leading role it plays in the Arab media.

Topics related to developments in research, studies, publishing, content and technical progress in the media sector were also discussed.

 


Global advertising agency expands roles of 3 regional leaders

Alex Lubar (L), president of McCann Worldgroup APAC - Ghassan Harfouche, group chief executive officer of the Middle East Communications Network - Ji Watson, chief financial officer of McCann Worldgroup APAC. (Supplied)
Alex Lubar (L), president of McCann Worldgroup APAC - Ghassan Harfouche, group chief executive officer of the Middle East Communications Network - Ji Watson, chief financial officer of McCann Worldgroup APAC. (Supplied)
Updated 30 July 2021

Global advertising agency expands roles of 3 regional leaders

Alex Lubar (L), president of McCann Worldgroup APAC - Ghassan Harfouche, group chief executive officer of the Middle East Communications Network - Ji Watson, chief financial officer of McCann Worldgroup APAC. (Supplied)
  • McCann Worldgroup trio Ghassan Harfouche, Alex Lubar, Ji Watson will take on additional responsibilities across markets

DUBAI: Global advertising agency network McCann has expanded the roles of three of its top regional leaders.

Additional responsibilities have been given to Ghassan Harfouche, group chief executive officer of the Middle East Communications Network (MCN), Alex Lubar, president of McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific (APAC), and Ji Watson, chief financial officer of McCann Worldgroup APAC and representative director of McCann Worldgroup Japan.

Bill Kolb, chairman and CEO of McCann Worldgroup, said: “Alex, Ghassan, and Ji have each demonstrated an impressive ability to drive client growth and create effective marketing solutions before and even during the difficult period of the (coronavirus disease) COVID-19 pandemic.”

The network has added APAC to the remit of Harfouche at MCN, McCann Worldgroup’s and Interpublic Group’s partner network in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT), and he will now also serve as president of McCann Worldgroup APAC.

Harfouche, who joined MCN in 2011, leads a network in the MENAT region that encompasses 14 different Interpublic Group advertising, media, and PR agency brands in 15 cities across 13 countries.

Prasoon Joshi, the current chairman in APAC, and CEO and chief creative officer of McCann Worldgroup India, will continue in his roles. Harfouche and Joshi will work together on leadership tasks while continuing to provide vision and direction to the company.

Lubar has been named president of the McCann advertising agency network in North America.

He first joined McCann in New York in 2012 and two years later was promoted to global chief marketing officer, overseeing all integrated new business activity for McCann Worldgroup. He moved to Singapore two years ago to assume his current leadership position.

In his new role, Lubar will drive creativity, growth, and further integration across all McCann brand agencies leading a region that has been highly recognized for its business and creative achievements.

Meanwhile, Watson will take over as CEO of McCann Worldgroup Japan while retaining her other existing roles.

Watson has nearly 30 years of marketing industry experience. She spent the first 20 years of her career in senior management roles on the client side, working for Turner Broadcasting, Coca-Cola, and Samsung. She moved to the agency side with global roles at Ogilvy for seven years before joining McCann APAC in 2016.

“APAC is a region of enormous significance for us as it encompasses the second and third-largest advertising markets (China and Japan). Greater connectivity between the regions will lead to increased opportunities. We have some of our best talent in the network focused on APAC and I’m excited to see what the future holds,” Kolb added.


Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts

Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts
Updated 30 July 2021

Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts

Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts
  • Move came 5 days after he created them
  • Choudary, featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series, is linked to known terrorists 

LONDON: Notorious British hate preacher Anjem Choudary, 54, has had his Facebook and Twitter accounts shut down just five days after he joined the social networks.

Twitter said Choudary’s page was “permanently suspended for violating the rules” of its violent organizations policy.

Choudary, who is featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series, recently had his ban on public speaking lifted. The ban had been imposed on him as one of the conditions of his early release from prison.

He was sentenced to five and a half years behind bars in 2016 for inviting support for Daesh, but served just half that time. 

The rest of the sentence was spent outside prison but under strict license conditions, including curbs to his internet and phone usage, a ban on public speaking, and a ban on contacting certain people without approval.

Those conditions came to an end on July 18 and he was legally allowed to set up an online presence, though the social networks have no obligation to allow him on their platforms.

Before he was jailed, Choudary earned notoriety as an outspoken extremist with a significant following.

Among his followers was the killer of British soldier Lee Rigby, who was beheaded in a London street, and Siddhartha Dhar, who joined Daesh in 2014 reportedly as an “executioner.”


Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’

Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’
Updated 30 July 2021

Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’

Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’
  • The Arabic Original series will premiere on Aug. 12 exclusively on Netflix

DUBAI: Netflix has released the trailer of its Arabic production, “Al-Rawabi School for Girls,” which is the first-of-its-kind young adult series in the region.

                            
“Al-Rawabi School for Girls” tells the story of a bullied highschool girl who gathers together a group of outcasts to plot the perfect revenge on their tormentors.
The six-episode series was created and written by Tima Shomali and Shirin Kamal in collaboration with Islam Al-Shomali and directed by Shomali.
Premiering on Aug. 12, the show will be released in 190 countries and available in more than 32 languages. It will also have audio and written descriptions for disabled audiences.
For Shomali, “Al-Rawabi School For Girls” is the result of a lifelong project. “What started out as scribbles on a blackboard is now an original show on Netflix,” she wrote in a blog post.
Shomali and co-creator Kamal set out to make a series that resonated with young adults while highlighting the challenges that young women experience in high school.
“The one thing I always found lacking in most shows that talk about women is the female perception on their issues,” Shomali said. This meant it was integral that female talent formed a significant part of the team working on all elements of the show, from the script to the set design and music.
The crew includes Farah Karouta as costume designer, Rand Abdulnour as production designer, Nour Halawani as sound mixer, Magda Jamil as post-production supervisor, and Rachelle Aoun and Ahmad Jalboush as directors of photography, among others.
“We collaborated with talented individuals who were solely chosen based on their artistic and creative abilities. And for that, I could not have been more proud to have worked with such an amazing cast and crew, the men and women alike, whose passion and dedication were the main force behind delivering the show’s vision,” Shomali said.
“Al-Rawabi School For Girls” is reflective of Netflix’s investment in the region. Last year, Netflix signed a five-year exclusive partnership with Saudi Arabian animation studio Myrkott to produce Saudi-focused shows and films along with a similar period first-look option on the company’s upcoming projects. It is also expanding its library of Arabic content, investing in more original Arabic productions, localizing content via subbing and dubbing efforts, partnering with businesses, and hiring people from the region to further fuel its growth in the Arab world.
The streaming giant is also committed to providing a platform for more female talent. Earlier this year, on International Women’s Day, Netflix pledged $5 million globally toward programs that help to identify, train and provide work placements for female talent around the world.
The investment is part of Netflix’s Fund for Creative Equity, which will result in the company investing $20 million a year for the next five years in building more inclusive pipelines behind the camera.
In the Arab world, this means working with creators such as Shomali. Later this year, it will launch “Finding Ola,” in which Egyptian Tunisian actress Hend Sabry will take the role of executive producer for the first time in her career.
Currently, the platform features several Arab female talents from the entertainment industry through shows and films including “Nappily Ever After” and “Whispers,” directed by Haifa Al-Mansour and Hana Al-Omair from Saudi Arabia; “The Kite” and “Solitaire,” directed by Randa Chahal Sabag and Sophie Boutros from Lebanon; and “Wajib,” directed by Anne Marie Jacir from Palestine.