INTERVIEW: ‘Female creators in MENA are incredibly passionate’

INTERVIEW: ‘Female creators in MENA are incredibly passionate’
Hala Ajil, partner manager at YouTube MENA . (Supplied)
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Updated 08 December 2021

INTERVIEW: ‘Female creators in MENA are incredibly passionate’

INTERVIEW: ‘Female creators in MENA are incredibly passionate’
  • Hala Ajil, partner manager at YouTube MENA talks women-led content creators on YouTube

DUBAI: Earlier this year, in October, YouTube relaunched YouTube Batala, a channel by YouTube in the Middle East and North Africa region dedicated to spotlighting the next generation of Arabic-speaking women creators.

YouTube Batala better serves as a hub than a channel itself consisting of over 250 women-led channels from across the region. It features a collection of playlists, categorized by genre, with each playlist containing various creators.

The playlists span genres from beauty and fashion to music and gaming. In fact, gaming has been one of the most important genres in terms of its growth among female audiences as well as content creation.

In 2016-17, when YouTube first launched the Batala project and other women-focused events and initiatives, there were only five women-led channels with more than 1 million subscribers. Today, there are more than 150 women-led channels, with more than 1 million subscribers in the MENA region.

Arab News spoke to Hala Ajil, partner manager at YouTube MENA to learn more about the relaunch of Batala and the growth of female content creators on the platform.

Why was Batala discontinued and relaunched?

The Batala program started in 2017 but was never discontinued. Since 2017, we have been hosting creator events in order to help educate, empower and inspire Arabic-speaking female content creators everywhere. Earlier this year, I was proud to see us relaunch the hub arm of the program, which is effectively a YouTube channel that acts as an index to all great women creators who are part of the program.

(Batala was first launched in 2017 when YouTube held the first-ever female event in Saudi Arabia and launched the Batala hub, which was dedicated to showcasing the diversity of female talent in the region.)

Can you tell us about YouTube's initiatives in empowering female creators?

Over the years, Batala underwent several shape-shifts. We ran two #AnaBatala workshops: in 2018, we ran one in Dubai based on #IamRemarkable with the goal of empowering underrepresented groups, by helping them focus on what made them ‘remarkable’ and another one in 2019 in Cairo during our YouTube pop-up event. COVID-19 prevented us from holding any in-person workshops in 2020 and 2021, so we decided to revamp Batala and hold a three-week virtual Batala workshop and re-launch the hub (this year).

Can you give us some insight into male vs female creators on the platform?

Female content isn’t easy to find in general, and although there’s still a large gap between male and female content creators on the platform, we’re seeing huge amounts of growth in female content. We’re working on several initiatives — Batala being the main one — to help bridge that gap.




YouTube Batala’s star creators. (Supplied)

How have female creators in the region evolved on the platform?

Certain nuances in the region can challenge women on the platform, and prevent them from creating content, but that’s how passion projects are born. Today, the female creator community is incredibly diverse, with women leading channels across all kinds of genres, from lifestyle and fashion to horror stories and book reviews. One of the things we’re proudest of is how passionate these women are, and that’s one of the main reasons we launched Batala: to celebrate and grow this dynamic community of creative storytellers.

What are the content trends you see among female creators?

Female-led content was typically the content you’d find on most social platforms, such as ‘beauty’ and ‘lifestyle’ content. However, over the years, we’ve seen their content mature and develop; we’re now seeing women delve into the vlogging world, where they create challenges and pranks, travel the world, and collaborate with other creators. We’ve recently seen them start to focus on ‘gaming’ content; more and more females are becoming gamers or at least gaming on the side.

How do female creators in the region differ from ones in Western markets?

Female creators in MENA are incredibly passionate. They want to be heard, and they’ll work hard to ensure they are. These women come from a range of different backgrounds and subcultures; some are still students, others are mothers, and most of them have to juggle several jobs at the same time.

This doesn’t stop them from doing what they love and sharing their world with their audience, as their channels are a window into their world.

What do brands need to know about working with female creators?

Content creators are essentially storytellers; their ability to connect with audiences through opinions, ideas, and events that they are passionate about is what makes them such a powerful force that brands can harness.

The most successful brand and creator collaborations are often the ones where the creator gets to test the product beforehand and genuinely ends up falling in love with it. That way, the product placement can seamlessly fit into the creator’s channel without looking like an advert.

A good example of this is Azza Zarour’s collaboration with Lancome. Lancome wanted to raise awareness about its range of skincare products. Instead of just creating a video talking about the products, Azza worked with Lancome to make a video with her husband, where he chooses her skincare (a common trend on YouTube). The video was authentic, and had a similar look and feel to the rest of the videos on her channel, which is what made it a success.


Germany: Telegram becoming a ‘medium for radicalization’

Germany: Telegram becoming a ‘medium for radicalization’
Updated 49 sec ago

Germany: Telegram becoming a ‘medium for radicalization’

Germany: Telegram becoming a ‘medium for radicalization’
BERLIN: A top German security official said Wednesday that his agency has created a task force to investigate individuals suspected of using Telegram to commit crimes.
This comes amid growing concerns that the messaging app is becoming a “medium for radicalization.”
Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office warned that the app is being used to target politicians, scientists and doctors for their role in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
“The coronavirus pandemic in particular has contributed to people becoming radicalized on Telegram, threatening others and even publishing calls to murder,” the agency’s chief, Holger Muench, said in a statement.
He said the task force would seek Telegram’s cooperation but also take measures if it doesn’t.
The German government has tried for years, with little success, to get Telegram to abide by the country’s rules on taking down illegal content.
The company behind the app, which claims to have hundreds of millions of users worldwide, is based in the United Arab Emirates.
Last month, German police carried out raids in Saxony after media reports that a group of people on Telegram had discussed plans to kill the state’s governor, Michael Kretschmer, and other members of the state government. The group’s members shared a rejection of vaccinations, the state and the government’s coronavirus policies.

Imagination launches BEAST TV, first Saudi music streaming channel

Imagination launches BEAST TV, first Saudi music streaming channel
Updated 26 January 2022

Imagination launches BEAST TV, first Saudi music streaming channel

Imagination launches BEAST TV, first Saudi music streaming channel
  • ‘Always-on’ interactive platform will offer music, gamified content

DUBAI: Imagination, an award-winning design experience agency, has created Saudi Arabia’s first-ever music streaming channel, BEAST TV.

The channel was launched by entertainment company MDLBEAST at the Soundstorm Festival, which was held in Riyadh from Dec. 16 to 19, recording 732,000 total visitors.

The launch of BEAST TV in Saudi Arabia is reflective of the Kingdom’s investment in music, culture and entertainment, said Ross Wheeler, creative director at Imagination.

“Saudi is changing fast, and this is a perfect moment to highlight, celebrate and share these changes through the rich and diverse music scene, and artists that are emerging in the region,” Wheeler added.

“The Saudis we spoke to at the event — many of whom had traveled back to their homeland for this — were there because it marked such a significant moment, even if electronic music was not their first love,” he said.

The festival was streamed through BEAST TV to 107 countries. The livestream saw the use of live spatial audio for the first time at a streamed festival, providing a uniquely immersive experience.

Ross Wheeler, creative director at Imagination. (Supplied)

“Listening to spatial audio on your headphones breathes space into a live performance. Normal stereo is very intimate, like listening to the artist playing just for you in your head, whereas with spatial audio, you feel as though you are at the front of the crowd watching the artist on stage, without any loss of detail or expression,” Wheeler said.

The audio offering included a real-time immersive spatial mix from seven stages, featuring star DJs such as Armin van Buuren, David Guetta, Martin Garrix, Steve Aoki, Afrojack and Salvatore Ganacci.

“It is the closest you can get to experiencing being at the festival without being there in person,” Wheeler added.

Following the success of its launch, the BEAST TV channel will become a permanent platform, bringing all of MDLBEAST’s live experiences to digital audiences, in addition to other interactive content.

The platform, which has been built for scale, can stream to more than 1 million concurrent viewers. “The aspiration is to become an equivalent to MTV or Red Bull TV in the Middle East,” said Wheeler.

The channel offers both local and international music with a focus on electronic music, as well as “content from the world of entertainment and culture as well,” he added.

Last week, MDLBEAST partnered with music rights company Esmaa to ensure that composers and rights holders are paid whenever their work is played by MDLBEAST. Artists who work with the company’s in-house record label, MDLBEAST Records, will also be paid when their tracks are played by other organizations signed to Esmaa.

“This is a critical and required move, aligning the Kingdom with global music copyright practices, and further demonstrating the country’s dedication to growing its music and creative industries, attracting international artists, and supporting its homegrown, emerging talent,” said Wheeler.

“Alongside the emergence of an exciting new film industry in the Kingdom, this move will ensure that artists and rights holders are compensated whenever and wherever their music is played live or licensed commercially,” he added.

The BEAST TV platform, which is free to use, can be viewed here.


Disney+ to launch across Saudi Arabia and 41 other countries in MidEast, Europe and Africa

Disney+ to launch across Saudi Arabia and 41 other countries in MidEast, Europe and Africa
Updated 26 January 2022

Disney+ to launch across Saudi Arabia and 41 other countries in MidEast, Europe and Africa

Disney+ to launch across Saudi Arabia and 41 other countries in MidEast, Europe and Africa
  • New countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen

RIYADH: Disney+, the streaming service from The Walt Disney Company, confirmed that this summer it will launch in 42 countries and 11 new territories, including 16 markets across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). New countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

With exclusive original content and thousands of episodes and movies from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic and general entertainment from Star, Disney+ is the streaming home for some of the world’s most beloved stories.


Google Doodle celebrates ‘Egyptian Cinderella’ Soad Hosny

Google Doodle celebrates ‘Egyptian Cinderella’ Soad Hosny
Updated 26 January 2022

Google Doodle celebrates ‘Egyptian Cinderella’ Soad Hosny

Google Doodle celebrates ‘Egyptian Cinderella’ Soad Hosny
  • One of the most dominant artists in the Middle East and the Arab world during her time

DUBAI: Google’s latest doodle celebrates what would have been the 79th birthday of the late Egyptian actress, singer and dancer Soad Hosny, better known as the ‘Egyptian Cinderella’, and one of the most dominant artists in the Middle East and the Arab world during her time.
Soad was born to a large, artistic family in Cairo – her father Mohammad was a calligrapher and some of her half-siblings were musicians, painters and composers  – with their household known as the “artists’ home” because leading artists from across the Arab world regularly visited.
Her career in show business began at just three-years-old when she sang for a popular children’s TV program, Papa Sharo, and had her first starring role at 17 in the 1959 with ‘Hassan and Naima’ – an Arabic adaptation of Romeo and Juliet – a breakout role that marked the start of a prolific on-screen career covering a wide genre including comedies, musicals, dramas and romance films.
Soad was touted as an icon of women’s empowerment, with many of her works intertwined with social and political moments in modern Middle Eastern history, from her leading role as a student and political activist who was tortured in ‘Karnak’ to other films which she transformed musical numbers into scathing satires which gave voice to the oppressed.
Her final screen appearance was in ‘Al Ra’i We El Nissa’ before retiring from acting in 1991. Soad died on June 21, 2001 at the age of 58.


Aramco tops Arab companies on Brand Finance Global 500 list

Aramco tops Arab companies on Brand Finance Global 500 list
Updated 26 January 2022

Aramco tops Arab companies on Brand Finance Global 500 list

Aramco tops Arab companies on Brand Finance Global 500 list

LONDON: Saudi Aramco has maintained its position as the Middle East’s most valuable brand, with the Brand Finance Global 500 2022 report valuing the Kingdom’s oil giant at $43.6 billion.

Following a difficult period for the oil and gas sector as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Aramco placed 31st in the list and is the only Arab company in the top 100 of the world’s 500 most valuable brands in 2022.

It recently announced plans to increase its production capacity from 12 million barrels per day to 13 million bpd by 2027.

“Despite there only being seven brands from the Middle East in the Brand Finance Global 500 ranking, their strong performances prove once again that the region punches well above its weight on the global stage,” Andrew Campbell, managing director of Brand Finance Middle East, told Arab News. “The future looks bright, with all of the brands from the region – including Aramco, ADNOC, Etisalat, and stc – seeing positive brand value growth this year.”

The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company was the second most valuable brand in the region and held on to the top spot in the UAE, asserting the dominance of the oil sector.

ADNOC managed to score a 19 percent brand value growth to $12.8 billion, the fastest among the top 10 oil and gas brands globally, which sees it hold on to its position as the second most valuable brand in the region.

Its CEO Dr. Sultan Al-Jaber was crowned the highest-ranked CEO outside of the US and China. He is also the top-scoring leader in the oil and gas sector.

Other Middle Eastern brands in the top 500 include Saudi telecom provider stc (184th and valued at $10.5 billion), the UAE’s Etisalat (192nd and valued at $10.1 billion), Qatar National Bank (305th and valued at $7.05 billion), and Dubai’s Emirates airline (461st and valued at $4.9 billion).

Expo 2020 Dubai offered Etisalat a chance to demonstrate itself as a strategic enabler of the UAE's digital transformation, meaning it was crowned with the Middle East and Africa’s strongest brand for the second consecutive year.

“Etisalat’s brand focuses on togetherness and plays its part by providing a first-class telecoms infrastructure across its footprint. Exceptional rollout of 5G technology has also meant that the Etisalat Group’s portfolio of brands is the most valuable amongst telecoms organisations in the Middle East,” said David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance.

Saudi Arabia’s stc continued to see good growth this year, with its brand value increasing by 16 percent to $10.6 billion.

Globally, Apple continues to hold the world’s most valuable brand title for the second year in a row, overtaking Amazon and Google. TikTok, meanwhile, was crowned the fastest-growing brand in the world with a growth of 215 percent.

Media brands accounted for the top three fastest-growing brands in the ranking, with Snapchat and South Korea’s Kakao following closely behind TikTok.