Sync summit: Ithra aims to bring back the humanity in the digital world

Photo of Abdullah Al-Rashid, director of Ithra and also the head of the inaugural digital wellbeing initiative, Sync, which will happen between March 29-30 at Ithra. (Supplied)
Photo of Abdullah Al-Rashid, director of Ithra and also the head of the inaugural digital wellbeing initiative, Sync, which will happen between March 29-30 at Ithra. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 March 2022

Sync summit: Ithra aims to bring back the humanity in the digital world

Photo of Abdullah Al-Rashid, director of Ithra and also the head of the inaugural digital wellbeing initiative, Sync, which will happen between March 29-30 at Ithra. (Supplied)
  • Ithra head of programs Abdullah Al-Rashid talks about digital wellbeing ahead of the inaugural Sync Summit in Dammam

DHAHRAN: With his dark-rimmed glasses, calm demeanor and rapid hand gestures, Abdullah Al-Rashid is a millennial man with a mission.

As head of Ithra’s programs, he has a decade of experience in the arts and culture sphere and is embarking on a new frontier: the metaverse and beyond.

Between March 29-30, speakers, thinkers and innovative storytellers and problem solvers will come together at Ithra for the inaugural Sync Summit, the new flagship digital well-being program which hopes to promote the balanced use of technology to improve users’ mental and physical condition.

It also propels Ithra into being a global leader in this hybrid space. Al-Rashid, in many ways, is the human trying to unravel digital and physical threads in a very nascent, highly dynamic and ambiguous field. He is the head of the well-being initiative, aptly named Sync.

“The mission that Sync tries to fulfil — that was something that we quickly were able to gather momentum and consensus about, ‘Sync’ being short for ‘synchronizing’ and the mantra of the program, balancing your physical, real life with your digital consumption and bringing your online and offline lives in balance,” Al-Rashid told Arab News.

“It’s always a wonderful platform where we have an established institution and we’re trying to impact millions of lives in the Kingdom and beyond. And I’m privileged to be the person who is leading and steering that effort,” he added.

The summit is split into two full days with multiple, engaging panels looking into human wellbeing in a very evolving digital world. 

“We’re all questioning our relationship with technology. We feel an edge about something — whether it’s right or wrong — and we want to understand,” Al-Rashid said.

“It’s about trying to unravel some of the science behind the behaviors and the things that we see and the things that we don’t know. It’s about understanding.”

Al-Rashid described the first day of the summit as a foundation that looks into the different scopes of technology and its relationship to the user, and the second day as a more “exploratory and much more vibrant in terms of what possibilities there are.”

“We’re in talks with large non-profits and governmental organizations that are also trying to understand the space and finding value in the research that we’ve done,” he said.

“The more we’re diving into this, the more doors and windows we want to go through in order to understand whether it’s a behavioral aspect, societal aspects, psychological angle or clinical angle, a lot of the program covers all of that.”

While Sync is here to stay, it is keeping an open eye on the ever-morphing platforms and formats. Al-Rashid hopes to evolve along with the audience, and it remains to be seen how people and communities will convene and discuss these vital topics in the imminent future.

The coronavirus pandemic accelerated the need to connect and then later re-evaluate that connection. It was a blessing in disguise in that respect.

“When things went into overdrive, we were able to quickly bridge that gap in the summit, we tried to understand the underlying systems and the underlying foundations.”

Al-Rashid thinks there are important conversations that will happen during Sync which will catapult the discussions into fruitful dialogues.

“Just like when you buy certain labels or products, there are warning labels — should there be warning labels on the internet? I think some provocative ideas are thrown from some experts in order to try and balance our usage,” he said.

Until his late teenage years, Al-Rashid limited his computer usage to doing homework on a desktop PC. Now, he tries to stop glancing at his constantly pinging phone.

“I think we’re in a generation that can remember both a world where that was predominantly analog and a world that was highly technical. That’s a unique perspective. Up until high school, you didn’t even have a phone — if you’re gone, nobody can contact you. And then suddenly, you have mobile phones and your work is on the phone and you have gaming devices,” he said.

Being in Saudi for the past two years, it was impossible to navigate anywhere without the Saudi COVID-19 Tawakkalna app and a large portion of the population has becoming more dependent on or even addicted to their smartphones. While it can be an issue for many adults today, experts are hoping to pinpoint how it might affect the “newbies.”

“The number of organizations that are working in the space that specifically target children, and then Gen Z and Alpha is very high. And this is, I think, a sign about how important it is to realize what really is going to happen with the generation that started off cradle-to-grave being connected. There’s some early science that shows that the brains get wired differently. And if that’s the case, what’s the implication?” he said.

It is also a personal crusade. Being a father of two young children under the age of seven, Al-Rashid said he constantly strives to find the balance between keeping the youngsters online but also offline. He doesn’t want his children to grow up to be technologically illiterate but also wants to ensure that they are not prematurely damaged by all these devices, whether it’s physically or psychologically.

Sync will have sessions by organizations from the UK, Europe and the US that focus on what’s available from the infrastructure itself in the internet, and what needs to be done to create safe havens for children.

“The content we consume online shapes us — our language, our thoughts, our dynamics in a very interesting way. And so if we’re constantly connected to the internet, what we’re subject to and how we interact with each other, whether it’s positive in terms of reinforcement and support self-esteem or negative in terms of cyberbullying, shapes us,” he said.

He is excited about the ability for interested parties to convene in one place and discuss the topic globally — but there is also the Saudi context.

“It is important to highlight that we have an extremely high per capita use of internet, one of the highest levels in the world. In terms of being connected, this brings its positives and negatives. As an institution in Saudi Arabia, I think we have a great cause to take a leading role on the topic,” he said.

Al-Rashid recognizes that the world in which we currently live in is constantly changing. He hopes Sync will help people stay in sync.


Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced

Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced
Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced

Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced
  • Four famous Arab artists to judge contestants as filming starts in October
  • A joint venture between Saudi GEA and MBC Group, the program discovers local talent, mainly in Riyadh

RIYADH: A Saudi version of the international ‘Idol’ talent show franchise was unveiled on Saturday in a partnership between the Kingdom’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) and MBC Group.
GEA’s chairman Turki Al-Sheikh tweeted that the Authority and MBC engaged in a partnership to launch the first season of “Saudi Idol,” which will kick off in December.
With filming scheduled to start in October, the Saudi Idol program will attempt to unearth local talent, mainly in Riyadh, with a four-member jury that constitutes of Saudi singer Aseel Abu Bakr, Emirati singer and actress Ahlam, popular Arab singer Asala (Syrian), and Iraqi-Saudi singer and composer Majed Al Mohandis.
“I’m happy to announce a new partnership between GEA and MBC Group to launch Saudi Idol… The program begins in December 2022” tweeted Al-Sheikh.
MBC’s program, “Trending,” a show that sheds light on news of artists, announced the start of preparations for the Saudi talent show with filming scheduled to start next month.
Announcing registration for the program, MBC tweeted: “You have a beautiful voice and would you like to sing? Do you like competition and enter the world of limelight and fame? Participate in the largest singing program. Don’t miss the chance, register now.”

 

 


MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum
Updated 24 September 2022

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum
  • Two companies have signed a strategic partnership to coordinate their efforts to further women’s careers

DUBAI: The Dubai Business Women Council organized the “Women in Media” forum in collaboration with MBC Group, to discuss the role that media organizations can play in increasing the representation and accountability of women in media.

The event is part of the council’s #DBWCFORUMS initiative, which includes a series of talks that aim to raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities for women in different industries. 

During the event, MBC Group and DBWC signed a memorandum of understanding, which aims to coordinate and align both companies’ efforts in providing their female employees and members with access to mentorship programs, workshops and speaker sessions.

“This collaboration is of special importance as it unites two partners who value women and recognize their critical contribution to the economy,” said Nadine Halabi, business development manager of the Dubai Business Women Council.

“The council will continue to be committed to harnessing all available resources to serve its members and the business community, by organizing specialized events and seminars that add value to their personal and professional lives,” she said.

The forum focused on the importance of maximizing women’s strengths and potential to advance media work, develop strong female media role models, increase gender diversity, and foster a culture of success in the media industry.

Participants discussed the mechanisms needed to ensure balanced female representation in media, the best practices adopted by media leaders and officials, and the value of diversity in the workplace.

Samar Akrouk, group director of production at MBC Group, who held a fireside chat at the event, said: “MBC Group is proud to be a progressive trailblazer — on and off screen — in promoting gender equality. Throughout our organization and across most departments we have women in top leadership positions, as well as women that are identified and set on leadership tracks.”

“However, we are progressive enough to look at ourselves and say we can do more — and we will do more,” she said.

Akrouk highlighted self-limiting beliefs and how they can affect women in the workplace. She also offered advice on how to overcome these beliefs and offered guidance to those seeking a career in media.

The forum also featured three panel discussions.

The first panel brought together Rana Alamuddin, founder of BAYNEH W BAYNEK; Sally Moussa Hajjar, managing partner, Humanagement and Mohammed Abdulhaq, executive producer at MBC Group, to discuss the role and responsibility of media outlets in creating positive role models for regional audiences.

The second panel saw Bedriya Al-Saeed, employee engagement manager at MBC Group; Tala Obeidat, client partner, Leading Retail & Restaurants, Meta and Sara Eltarzi, communications director at OSN, discuss the steps and policies that led to better inclusivity and gender parity in media organizations.

The third and final panel brought together Rola Ghotmeh, founder and chief creative officer, The Creative 9; Natasha Romariz Maasri, executive creative director, Leo Burnett MEA and Andrej Arsenijevic, executive creative director and sustainability lead at Commonwealth McCann Dubai, to talk about responsible and impactful advertising and how to push boundaries through strategic messaging in society.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with MBC Group and look forward to coordinating our future efforts to develop the abilities of women and female business owners while also assisting them in acquiring media and marketing skills that can advance their careers,” Halabi said.
 


STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends

STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends
Updated 23 September 2022

STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends

STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends
  • Comedy, anime and Arabic drama are most watched categories in Kingdom

DUBAI: Regional streaming platform STARZPLAY has released a study revealing the viewership trends of Saudi audiences in 2022.

Comedy, anime and Arabic drama were the most watched categories in the Kingdom, the study found.

“The Big Bang Theory,” “The Office and “Two and a Half Men” are among the top watched comedy shows, while “Naruto,” “Naruto: Shippuden” and “Attack on Titan” top the list of anime shows.

In line with the popularity of anime content, STARZPLAY is adding an anime movie, “One Piece: Stampede” by Takashi Otsuka, to its library.

This year, “Ertugrul” and “Al Mo’asses Osman” were the most watched Turkish titles among Saudi viewers, while the new seasons of “Bab Al-Hara” and “Al-Daheeh” topped the charts for premium Arabic content.

In addition to these categories, Saudi audiences also favored exclusive action movies like “Hummingbird,” “Wild Card,” “Gringo” and “Misfits,” as well as first-run movie releases such as “House of Gucci,” “Infinite,” “Last Seen Alive” and “Clean.”

The most binge-watched shows this year included “Dexter: New Blood,” “The Flash,” “Your Honor,” “Young Sheldon,” “The Good Doctor” and “Mr. Robot.”

Most STARZPLAY users in Saudi Arabia streamed content via their TVs, with 42 percent of all consumption occuring on smart TVs, followed by iOS and Android devices.

“While anime, comedy and Arabic drama remain favorite genres for our viewers, we also saw an increasing interest for live sporting events this year, which has immensely benefited our position as the ultimate platform for sports in the MENA region,” said Nadim Dada, vice-president of programming and content acquisition at STARZPLAY.

In celebration of Saudi National Day, all new users who sign up on the day can enjoy a discounted rate of SR9.2 ($2.4) per month with lifetime validity.

The Kingdom “continues to be one of our largest markets, with our platform witnessing stupendous growth this year,” said Dada, who added: “We look forward to strengthening our presence in the market.”


Media rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian journalists as anti-state protests spread

Media rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian journalists as anti-state protests spread
Updated 23 September 2022

Media rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian journalists as anti-state protests spread

Media rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian journalists as anti-state protests spread
  • Government-imposed internet blackout makes it difficult to obtain information on individuals in detention

LONDON: Media rights watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists has demanded the release of all journalists detained while reporting on anti-government protests in Iran.

“Iranian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all journalists arrested while covering mass protests around the country and restore blocked internet access to the country,” the CPJ said in a statement on Thursday.

As reported by CPJ, Iranian authorities have arrested at least seven journalists since protests began last Saturday.

A government-imposed, near-total internet blackout has caused major disruptions to phone networks and social media apps, making it difficult to obtain further information about individuals who have been detained.

According to exile-based Iranian human rights group Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, clashes between security forces and protesters have left 15 people dead and 733 injured.

“Iranian authorities must immediately release all journalists arrested because of their coverage of Mahsa Amini’s death and the protests that have followed,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour.

“Iranian security forces must drop their repressive measures against the journalists telling this critical story and restore the internet access that is vital to keep the public informed.”

Protests erupted across Iran last week following the death of Amini, a 22-year-old woman detained by morality police after allegedly violating Iran’s strict hijab law.

Women first took to the streets to protest against police brutality and call for more freedom from Islamic law, which requires them to cover their hair and wear long, baggy clothing.

In the past few days protests intensified, with other women posting online videos of themselves cutting their hair and burning the hijab.

On Monday, authorities arrested photojournalist Yalda Moaiery. Two days later,  reporter Niloofar Hamedi was detained after security forces raided her home and confiscated personal devices.

Recent events in Iran have provoked an international outcry, with protesters staging rallies in front of Iranian embassies worldwide.

 


People with hearing disabilities to experience Saudi anthem at this year’s National Day

People with hearing disabilities to experience Saudi anthem at this year’s National Day
The flag features multi-force sensors woven into the fabric of a Saudi Arabian flag. (Supplied)
Updated 23 September 2022

People with hearing disabilities to experience Saudi anthem at this year’s National Day

People with hearing disabilities to experience Saudi anthem at this year’s National Day
  • Haptic technology used to create immersive flag experience, bringing music to life

LONDON: The King Salman Center for Disability Research and Saudi Research & Media Group announced on Thursday the launch of cutting-edge haptic technology that allows people with hearing disabilities to experience the Kingdom’s national anthem.

The two companies have teamed up to design a wearable “hearing flag” that enables people to “feel” the song as part of a campaign celebrating Saudi Arabia’s 92nd National Day.

The flag features multi-force sensors woven into the fabric of a Saudi Arabian flag, to create an immersive experience that brings music to life in a way that can be felt physically on the body.

“Using the ‘hearing flag,’ people can immerse themselves in sound through real-time touch haptics which recreate the sensation of sound on the body,” said the two companies in a statement.

King Salman Center for Disability Research tweeted from its official account: “Have you heard of a sound that gives life? Have you heard of a flag that sings to the nation?”

The campaign, which is a partnership between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, highlights how Saudi National Day “symbolizes the spirit of cooperation and empowerment of all members of society.”

To promote the initiative, King Salman Center for Disability Research and SRMG also launched an emotional campaign film across social media platforms depicting people’s first encounters with the flag and their own national anthem.

The flag, born out an idea by SRMG, was produced by London-based wearable technology brand CuteCircuit, which pioneers smart textile and interactive fashion.