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.”


Twitter rolls out Tip Jar – allowing users to send money to favorite accounts

Twitter rolls out Tip Jar – allowing users to send money to favorite accounts
Updated 5 min 26 sec ago

Twitter rolls out Tip Jar – allowing users to send money to favorite accounts

Twitter rolls out Tip Jar – allowing users to send money to favorite accounts
  • Users will be able to connect their Twitter accounts via Tip Jar to various online payment vendors, including Bandcamp, Cash App, Patreon, PayPal or Venmo
  • The company hopes this will encourage people to show their support for creators they follow by tipping them

LONDON: Twitter announced on Thursday the roll-out of Tip Jar, a new in-app payment feature that allows users to send money to their favorite accounts. 

Users with access to the new feature will be able to connect their Twitter accounts with Tip Jar to various online payment vendors, including Bandcamp, Cash App, Patreon, PayPal or Venmo. The company hopes this will encourage people to show their support for creators they follow by tipping them. 

Twitter announced that the Tip Jar feature will initially be added to the profiles of a limited group of people around the world who use Twitter in English, including journalists, creators, experts and nonprofit organizations. Meanwhile, users wishing to send money to these selected profiles can already start doing so. 

People use Twitter to fundraise or collect payment from their followers, but until recently they were forced to link external payment methods after tweets, which did not prove to be very efficient. Now, a Tip Jar icon will be featured next to the "Follow" button on a user’s page. 

Twitter launched this feature in an attempt to boost its user base and will reportedly take no cut of the money sent through Tip Jar. 


TBWA\RAAD wins regional creative mandate for UAE’s largest tertiary hospital

TBWA\RAAD wins regional creative mandate for UAE’s largest tertiary hospital
Updated 07 May 2021

TBWA\RAAD wins regional creative mandate for UAE’s largest tertiary hospital

TBWA\RAAD wins regional creative mandate for UAE’s largest tertiary hospital
  • The agency will lead the regional advertising and marketing activities of Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City

DUBAI: The UAE’s largest tertiary hospital has appointed TBWA\RAAD as its creative agency of record.

The agency will lead the regional advertising and marketing activities of Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC), a joint-venture partnership between Abu Dhabi Health Services Co. (SEHA) and Mayo Clinic.

Ramez Youssef, marketing and public affairs director at SSMC, said: “We were thoroughly impressed by TBWA\RAAD’s strategic approach, which was particularly aligned with our brand’s ambition to provide excellence and innovation in healthcare services.”

The new partnership will come into effect this month and will see TBWA\RAAD and SSMC collaborate on developing the brand’s communication, messaging, and content strategy across multiple platforms.

Reda Raad, group chief executive officer at TBWA\RAAD, said: “We are looking forward to disrupting healthcare with SSMC and developing creative ideas that will help reinforce the brand’s position on a global scale as the leading hub for medical excellence and as a pioneer in innovation, driving the future of healthcare in Abu Dhabi and in the region.”


Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant

Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant
Updated 07 May 2021

Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant

Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant
  • There is a general trend of inclusion of women in all sectors of employment in Saudi Arabia

Not only does she report on the growing empowerment of women in Saudi Arabia, journalist Deema Al-Khudair said that every day she gets to experience the advances and greater freedoms women in the Kingdom now enjoy as a result of the ongoing reforms under her nation’s Vision 2030 development plan.

During an interview on “The Ray Hanania Show” on the US Arab Radio Network on Wednesday, Al-Khudair, a reporter with Arab News, talked about her experiences and some of the stories she has worked on that reveal the changing role of women in Saudi society.

Recently, for example, she wrote a story about women who work as security guards in the women’s prayer section at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. It was exciting, she said, to see them proudly working on an equal footing with male security guards.

There is a general trend of inclusion of women in all sectors of employment in Saudi Arabia, said Al-Khudair, including the military.

“Women have been enrolling in the military for about three years now,” she said. “But for them to be noticed (working) in the Two Holy Mosques is still relatively new.

“The female security guards in Makkah (started working there around the time of the) last Hajj season. Most of these women I interviewed at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah told me they have been working there for six months.”

Previously, the women’s prayer section was monitored by women who received only the most basic training and support. Thanks to the reforms, all that has changed.

“They receive firearms training, self-defense (instruction), learned about fitness, and they took courses in Islamic studies, computer education and English to (help them) speak with foreigners visiting the mosque,” said Al-Khudair “Anything men went through, they received the same training.”

The female guards are very proud of their new roles and the advances they have made.

“All of the women feel very empowered,” she said. “One of the women I interviewed told me her whole family has a military background — all of her brothers are in the military — and this job made her feel included. She felt right at home.”

Al-Khudair said she began her journalism career in 2017, soon after Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman unveiled his Vision 2030 project. The success of the initiative, an ambitious program of development and diversification in preparation for the post-oil age, depends in part on the expansion of the rights and freedoms of Saudi women.

In June 2018, for example, women in the Kingdom were granted the right to drive. Their child-custody rights were also reformed, and they were given the right to attend sporting events, among many other new freedoms.

Al-Khudair, who works on the local-news desk at Arab News, covering Saudi issues, said the past few years have been an exciting time for Saudi women.

“Honestly, I am so proud of them, myself, as a Saudi woman,” she said. “Throughout my job as a journalist I have witnessed all the changes the Kingdom went through.”

For example, she added, she has interviewed female athletes, successful businesswomen and other high-ranking Saudi women.”

Al-Khudair has written stories on many topics but said she has a special fondness for stories about children.

“Some of my favorite stories are children’s stories,” she said. For example, she interviewed a 7-year-old gymnast who said her ambition is to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics.

The nation’s youngsters can even make her smile when writing about serious issues such as the coronavirus crisis.

“During the pandemic last year, we were all upset about the lockdown and I wanted to find a way to make the situation lighter. So, I interviewed children,” Al-Khudair said.

“I wanted to find out what they knew about the coronavirus. I laughed through the whole article — they thought it was some green monster that was going to turn people into zombies. I loved that article.”

* The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 radio, and in Washington DC on WDMV AM 700 Radio. The show is streamed live on Facebook.com/ArabNews and the podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and many other podcasting providers. For more information on this and other interviews, visit ArabNews.com/RayRadioShow.


Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists

Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists
Updated 07 May 2021

Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists

Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists

ANKARA: A new report from the Coalition for Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) states that Turkey is “the leading country for attacks and threats against women journalists” this year.

Between January and April, 114 female journalists were attacked or threatened in Turkey the New York-based media organization revealed — more than in any other country in the world.

The CFWIJ’s First Quarterly Report for 2021 coincidentally coincided with Izzet Ulvi Yonter, deputy leader of the Turkish government’s coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), targeting female anchor Ebru Baki for her coverage of the MHP’s draft constitution proposal.

Yonter referred to the broadcaster as a “so-called journalist who distorts the facts and shows her intolerance against the MHP,” and said her attempts to “discredit” their draft proposal were “offensive and crude.”

Yonter’s criticism was followed on May 5 by the resignation of Bulent Aydemir, Haberturk TV’s chief editor and Baki’s co-anchor on the morning program.

The program was taken off air on Thursday, triggering a nationwide social media campaign using “I don’t watch Haberturk TV” as hashtag.

CFWIJ’s report said that, in Turkey, “Almost 50 women journalists appeared before the court to fight baseless charges; 20 suffered heavy workplace bullying at the newsrooms; 15 female journalists were subjected to police violence while covering the news, 14 were detained; three women journalists were sentenced to prison, and three were expelled. While one journalist was threatened with intimidation, another became the target of racist rhetoric” during the period covered.

Scott Griffen, deputy director at the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of journalists and editors defending media freedom, told Arab News: “Women journalists face a double threat: They are attacked for their work and they are attacked for their gender — a reflection of … sexism in society. IPI’s own research has shown that online attacks on female journalists tend to be more vicious and the insults and threats are often of a sexual nature.”

According to Griffen, attacks on women journalists are part of a broader trend, which is an effort by those in power to smear and undermine critical journalism and diverse voices.

Referring to Yonter’s attack on Baki, he said: “This incident shows that a political party, in this case the MHP, is unable to accept criticism and simply does not — or does not want to — understand the role of journalism in society. Politicians are required to accept criticism, even harsh criticism. Ebru Baki was doing her job, and the attacks on her are unacceptable.”

Griffen thinks that one consequence of these attacks is the risk of a rise in self-censorship.

“Journalists who are faced with such vicious attacks may decide to reconsider their reporting to avoid such abuse in the future, or they may even decide to leave the profession. And this is a huge loss for the public,” he said. “It means that stories are not being told, and diverse voices are not being heard. And, of course, that is what the attackers want. They wish to push critical voices out of the public sphere.”

Male journalists in Turkey have also been the targets of verbal and physical attacks. Recently, dissident journalist Levent Gultekin was beaten by a mob in the middle of a street in Istanbul, shortly after he criticized the MHP and its former leader. Gultekin was verbally attacked by the MHP deputy leader just before the assault.

“The crackdown against critical and independent media in Turkey is worsening every single day with new attacks from political figures. And female journalists who are reporting on critical issues that are sensitive to the government or its political allies are not immune from the attacks,” Renan Akyavas, Turkey program coordinator of IPI, told Arab News.

IPI’s own recent research also confirms that female journalists are more likely targets of online harassment for their critical reporting and views, she added.

The trend of public figures targeting journalists to silence dissident voices has been on the rise, Akyavas said. “We especially see an increasing trend of attacks by the ultra-nationalist MHP’s leaders and representatives to intimidate journalists, even in response to mild criticism.

“The targeting of Ebru Baki and Haberturk TV is only the latest example of this attitude, which is simply unacceptable coming from a governing alliance party. The MHP leadership must … protect fundamental rights and the safety of journalists, instead of threatening them,” she continued.

Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention — and the protection it provided against domestic violence — in March triggered further threats and violence against women reporters, the CFWIJ report underlined.

Akyavas agrees. “The withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention had been a huge disappointment for women in Turkey fighting for their rights and gender equality. Impunity for crimes and violence against women has become a new norm for the country,” she said, adding that this trend will cease only if Turkish authorities show a genuine will to protect and implement women’s rights.

“Women journalists in Turkey must continue their courageous reporting, as their fundamental rights and freedom of expression were guaranteed and fully protected by the Turkish constitution. At IPI, we will continue our solidarity with them and our support for critical and independent journalism to provide the public with factual, objective news,” Akyavas continued.

The Turkish Journalists’ Association, TGC, released a statement on Thursday criticizing the way women journalists have been targeted by the MHP just because they smiled on air. “Such an attitude targets our colleagues’ safety and security. We call on the government and its partners to respect the law,” it noted.


TikTok joins coalition to protect children from online abuse

TikTok reiterated its commitment to minors’ safety on the platform, and emphasized its zero tolerance for any content that perpetuates the abuse, harm, endangerment or exploitation of children. (Reuters/File Photo)
TikTok reiterated its commitment to minors’ safety on the platform, and emphasized its zero tolerance for any content that perpetuates the abuse, harm, endangerment or exploitation of children. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 06 May 2021

TikTok joins coalition to protect children from online abuse

TikTok reiterated its commitment to minors’ safety on the platform, and emphasized its zero tolerance for any content that perpetuates the abuse, harm, endangerment or exploitation of children. (Reuters/File Photo)

LONDON: Networking platform TikTok announced on Wednesday that it has joined the Technology Coalition, an organization that works to protect children from online sexual exploitation and abuse. 

Through this membership, TikTok aims to advance protections for children online and offline. 

TikTok reiterated its commitment to minors’ safety on the platform, and emphasized its zero tolerance for any content that perpetuates the abuse, harm, endangerment or exploitation of children, as outlined in the Community Guidelines. 

The announcement also features TikTok’s endorsement of the International Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, in an effort to ensure a consistent and strong response to exploitation across services.