How Spotify aims to be a ‘platform for creative exchange between fans and creators’

How Spotify aims to be a ‘platform for creative exchange between fans and creators’
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Updated 17 June 2022

How Spotify aims to be a ‘platform for creative exchange between fans and creators’

How Spotify aims to be a ‘platform for creative exchange between fans and creators’
  • Claudius Boller, managing director for Spotify MENA, discusses the new features the platform is rolling out to better connect fans with artists

DUBAI: “As we settle into the post-pandemic era, we see clear indicators that audio, in all its forms, has become a platform for self-expression for both artists and creators,” Claudius Boller, the managing director for Spotify in the Middle East and Africa, told Arab News.

“Socializing through music will continue to see an uptick in demand,” he added, especially for younger audiences who crave connection, even more so in the aftermath of the pandemic.

One illustration of this is the popularity of Lyrics, a feature added to the Spotify app last year in partnership with lyrics provider Musixmatch. It inspired many users, especially in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East and North Africa region, to create memes and other posts that used song lyrics to express their thoughts and feelings, and share them on social media.

It is not something the company expected to happen but it was pleasantly surprised by it. Social media engagement in the Arab region is very high but, more importantly, young audiences are finding increasingly creative ways to explore digital platforms, Boller said.

“So we feel like we need to give certain tools (to them) and then just see what they do with it,” he added.

Spotify has, therefore, introduced a host of new features “that demonstrate our current focus on being a platform for creative exchange between fans and creators,” Boller said.

The first is a foray into the metaverse. With Spotify Island, it is the first music-streaming service to have a presence on Roblox, the gaming platform and game-creation system.



“The interactive world of Spotify Island on Roblox will serve as a meeting place for fans and artists to play, explore and connect — all with the goal of bringing artists and fans from all over the world closer together,” said Boller.

Users can explore the island completing quests, discovering music and buying merchandise.

“We’re creating an easy opportunity for artists to connect with fans and to partner with Spotify on the creation of in-game virtual merchandise,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”

The platform plans to continue to enhance the Spotify Island experience through the addition of new features and partnerships. For example, it has already launched K-Park, a section of the island dedicated to the K-pop genre.

In K-Park, fans have the opportunity to interact with Korean music superstars such as Stray Kids and Sunmi, for example by taking part in meet and greets with the artists’ avatars, buying virtual merchandise, and having the opportunity to get a hold of virtual signed memorabilia.

Boller explained that Spotify chose K-pop as its first genre to focus on “for many reasons, including its widespread global appeal, dedicated fan following, and unique set of cultural elements that reach far beyond music.”

In the MENA region, there was a 138 percent year-on-year increase in K-pop consumption between 2019 and 2021. In Saudi Arabia, the increase was 98 percent.



Spotify does not currently have any plans to launch a Middle Eastern hub on Spotify Island but it is in conversation with several artists from the region.

“We’re looking more into genres and fandoms versus regions at this stage but this is just the beginning; we’re really just laying the groundwork for a lot of opportunities,” Boller said.

Other new Spotify developments in the past few months included an expansion of its Blend feature in the form of the launch of Group Blend and Celebrity Blend. The original Blend feature allowed two users to match their music tastes and create a shared playlist. Group Blend allows up to 10 people match with each other, while Celebrity Blend gives users a chance to match with public figures.

“Spotify’s Blend feature combines the best personalization capabilities and collaborative playlist functionality into a single shared playlist,” said Boller.

It also generates “share cards” that reveal the extent to which users’ tastes match, and these can be shared on social media in keeping with Spotify’s efforts to enable and encourage socializing through music.

The feature also offers a potential revenue stream for the company. On Star Wars Day, May 4, for example, Spotify partnered with the sci-fi franchise to give users the chance to use the Blend feature to match with famous characters such as Yoda, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Princess Leia, and create a shared playlist.



The platform is now open to the idea of exploring similar partnerships with regional film franchises and TV shows.

Most recently, Spotify launched Clips, which allows listeners to watch exclusive messages and stories from artists posted in the form of videos — the equivalent of Instagram Stories on a Spotify playlist.

“With Spotify Clips, artists can share intimate moments with their fans and further bring their art to life, express their vision and their story to their fans, ultimately helping artists connect with their fans in a deeper, more meaningful way,” said Boller.

Clips was launched as part of a campaign dedicated to spotlighting the hip-hop scene in Egypt, during which Spotify rebranded its leading Egyptian rap playlist, Melouk El Scene. Listeners can now watch exclusive video messages from artists such as Dareen, Abo El-Anwar, Perrie, Afroto and Marwan Moussa.

Spotify said that “socialization and interactivity through music” lie at the heart of its efforts and this is of particular importance in the Middle East. Saudis, for example, “are up to speed with both local and international trends,” said Boller. They have diverse tastes in music, listening to a range of genres from local folk music, such as Sheilat, to trending global hits, he added.

“We keep a close eye on how Saudis engage with our platform through our machine learning but also through our music team, who keep their fingers on the pulse of culture,” said Boller. “Taking (what we learn) we ensure that every initiative or campaign we run connects with our target audience in Saudi Arabia.”

Impact BBDO and Havas Middle East win big at Cannes Lions 2022

Impact BBDO and Havas Middle East win big at Cannes Lions 2022
Updated 24 June 2022

Impact BBDO and Havas Middle East win big at Cannes Lions 2022

Impact BBDO and Havas Middle East win big at Cannes Lions 2022
  • Leading awards program announces this year’s winners

CANNES: The award winners for this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity have been announced.

This year saw 25,464 entries from 87 countries competing to become the global benchmark for excellence in creativity and effectiveness.

“This is always such a pivotal moment for us because the work entered provides a compelling insight into the global creative marketing landscape,” said Simon Cook, the festival’s CEO.

The Middle East region bagged more than 20 awards, including two Grands Prix for the UAE. “The Election Edition,” a campaign by Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar and Dubai-based marketing communications group Impact BBDO, won the highest number of trophies in the region.

The campaign, which won eight awards, including a Grand Prix in the print and publishing category, had “the kind of genius simplicity that we often see in Grand Prix-winning work,” said jury president Natalie Lam, who is Publicis Groupe’s chief creative officer for Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.

“The irony is that it’s a Grand Prix in print and publishing when there was no printing at all — something that shows that the power of an idea can transcend design,” said Dina Richa, the CEO of Impact BBDO.

Havas Middle East Dubai followed closely with seven trophy wins, all for Adidas. The campaign “Liquid Billboard” won a Grand Prix, one gold, two silver and one bronze in the outdoor category as well as a silver trophy in the media category.

The agency also won a silver trophy in the Entertainment Lion for Sports category for Adidas.’ “I’m Possible Billboards” campaign.

Horizon FCB Dubai’s innovative use of a new technology resulted in the campaign “Breakchains with Blockchain” for the Children of Female Prisoners Association, which won three silver trophies in the digital craft, media and creative commerce categories.

In Egypt, thousands of women are sent to prison every year for being unable to repay loans often worth only a few hundred dollars.

Working with global artists, the agency and the association created non-fungible tokens, each designed to tell the story of why a woman was sentenced to prison and priced at the amount it would cost to free them.

Other winners from the region include TBWA\RAAD Dubai for its “Chickenstock” campaign for KFC, which won a silver trophy, the UAE Government Media Office for “The Warm Winter Livestream” campaign, which won a bronze trophy, and VMLY&R Commerce MENA Dubai’s “Twitter Feminine Arabic” campaign for Twitter, which won a silver trophy.

Carla El-Maalouli, head of marketing for Twitter in the MENA region, said the company was honored to be recognized at the festival for a campaign “that captures our ethos of inclusivity.”

“As a company, Twitter is continuously exploring new ideas and projects to ensure the platform is representative of the diverse voices that shape the conversation and the Arabic Feminine language setting is a continuation of our work around inclusive language,” she added.

The special awards of the night included:

Creative Company of the Year (previously Holding Company of the Year): WPP

Network of the Year: Ogilvy

Independent Network of the Year: Serviceplan Group

Agency of the Year: Dentsu Creative, Bengaluru

Independent Agency of the Year: We Believers, Brooklyn, USA

Creative Brand of the Year: Burger King

The Regional Network of the Year for Europe, Middle East and Africa was awarded to Publicis Worldwide.

Netflix lays off 300 employees in cost-cutting drive

Netflix lays off 300 employees in cost-cutting drive
Updated 24 June 2022

Netflix lays off 300 employees in cost-cutting drive

Netflix lays off 300 employees in cost-cutting drive
  • After the subscriber drop in the first quarter, Netflix has forecast even deeper losses for the current period.

LONDON: Netflix Inc. said it laid off 300 employees, or about 4 percent of its workforce, in the second round of job cuts aimed at lowering costs after the streaming giant lost subscribers for the first time in more than a decade.
The move mostly affected its US workforce and came after the company cut 150 jobs last month.
“While we continue to invest significantly in the business, we made these adjustments so that our costs are growing in line with our slower revenue growth,” Netflix said in a statement on Thursday.
The world’s dominant streaming service has come under pressure in recent months as inflation, the war in Ukraine and fierce competition weigh on subscriber growth. After the subscriber drop in the first quarter, Netflix has forecast even deeper losses for the current period.
To arrest that downtrend, the company plans to introduce a cheaper, ad-supported subscription tier for which it is in talks with several companies.

SRMG concludes Cannes Lions outing with talks on digital well-being, and a night of art, NFTs and music

SRMG concludes Cannes Lions outing with talks on digital well-being, and a night of art, NFTs and music
Updated 24 June 2022

SRMG concludes Cannes Lions outing with talks on digital well-being, and a night of art, NFTs and music

SRMG concludes Cannes Lions outing with talks on digital well-being, and a night of art, NFTs and music
  • The importance of digital wellness was a hot topic of discussion at the SRMG Experience at Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity
  • The festival concluded with leading global media players reflecting on innovations in the media industry

CANNES: The Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG) concluded its participation in the Cannes Lions Festival for International Creativity on Thursday with an impressive night of art and music and panels on digital well-being and connectivity. 

SRMG partnered with the region’s leading music platform, Anghami, to organize a special night called ‘MENA Night’ which was attended by many talents, creators, media experts and award winners of the Festival.

“Celebrating the creative talents who represented the MENA region at the Cannes Lions Festival is a unique opportunity to showcase their incredible talent and innovation to the world,” said Jomana Al-Rashid, CEO of SRMG. 

“At SRMG, we are delighted to host the talents that represented the MENA region at the Cannes Lions Festival, and as one of the most respected and largest media groups in the Middle East, we always, and will continue to, embrace the best and brightest talent from the region and the world.”

Various rising stars from the Middle East attended the event, including Bird Pearson, Lush and Samee’ Lamee’ from Saudi music entertainment company ‘Middle Beast.’

Guests also had an exclusive look at NFT artworks from regional artists and creators including Faisal Al-Khuraiji, Alaa Balkhi, Amr Boughari and Rex Chouk. 

The show was organized by Nuqta, the first collaborative, mobile and web app, which invites the public to post images of Arabic calligraphy and typography as they experience it anywhere.

The media powerhouse hosted a series of interactive panel discussions and a virtual experience in a dedicated pavilion at the festival throughout the week.

Al-Rashid outlined SRMG’s digital transformation strategy and its vision to upgrade from one of the largest and most influential media groups in the MENA region into an integrated global media giant.

In one panel moderated by Haifa Al-Jedea, managing director of SRMG Think, the media group hosted Larissa May, founder and executive director of #HalfTheStory, in conversation with Abdullah Al-Rashid, founder of Sync Summit and director at Ithra.

The panel discussed the importance of raising awareness of the negative impacts of 24/7 connectivity on our health and well-being.

The panelists called on digital platforms to prioritize the digital well-being of young people by incorporating ethical design principles.

May said that the role of #HalfTheStory is to empower the next generation of consumers to “thrive online and in life,” and to set boundaries for their digital use.

“We often don’t step back and notice how our devices have infiltrated our lives — especially those of us who work in the media industry,” she added.

Meanwhile, Abdullah Al-Rashid said that Saudis are among the world’s top users of YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter in some metrics. He asked guests: “The majority of our population are connected all the time and have only ever experienced that way of life. What does that mean for them?”

In another panel, Riad Hamade, director of business news at Asharq Business with Bloomberg, a subsidiary of SRMG, was joined by Rebecca Bezzina, SVP and managing director at R/GA London; Per Pedersen, founder and global creative chairman of by The Network; and Laurent Thevenet, head of creative technology at Publicis Groupe APAC and MEA.

The panel explored how technology is creating new ways to tell stories and disrupt the communications industry.

SRMG, one of the largest media and publishing groups in the Middle East, owns more than 30 major media outlets in the region, including Arab News, Asharq Al-Awsat, Asharq News and Sayidaty.

UN says Al Jazeera journalist killed by Israeli fire

UN says Al Jazeera journalist killed by Israeli fire
Updated 24 June 2022

UN says Al Jazeera journalist killed by Israeli fire

UN says Al Jazeera journalist killed by Israeli fire
  • Palestinian-American journalist was killed on May 11 while covering an Israeli army operation in Jenin camp
  • UN finds no information suggesting presence of armed Palestinians in vicinity of journalists

GENEVA: The United Nations said Friday that its findings showed that the shot that killed Al Jazeera TV journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11 was fired by Israeli forces.
The Palestinian-American journalist, who was wearing a vest marked “Press” and a helmet, was killed on May 11 while covering an Israeli army operation in Jenin camp in the northern West Bank.
“We find that the shots that killed Abu Akleh came from Israeli security forces,” UN Human Rights Office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.
“It is deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation.
“We at the UN Human Rights Office have concluded our independent monitoring into the incident.
“The shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured her colleague Ali Sammoudi came from Israeli security forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians, as initially claimed by Israeli authorities” she said.
She added that the information came from the Israeli military and the Palestinian attorney general.
“We have found no information suggesting that there was activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists,” Shamdasani said.
In line with its human rights monitoring methodology, the UN rights office inspected photo, video and audio material, visited the scene, consulted experts, reviewed official communications and interviewed witnesses.
The findings showed that seven journalists arrived at the western entrance of the Jenin refugee camp soon after 6:00 am.
At around 6:30 am, as four of the journalists turned into a particular street, “several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired toward them from the direction of the Israeli security forces.
“One single bullet injured Ali Sammoudi in the shoulder; another single bullet hit Abu Akleh in the head and killed her instantly.”
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged Israel to open a criminal investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing and into all other killings by Israeli forces in the West Bank and in the context of law enforcement operations in Gaza.

CNN Academy Abu Dhabi returns with expanded training program for journalists

CNN Academy Abu Dhabi returns with expanded training program for journalists
Updated 24 June 2022

CNN Academy Abu Dhabi returns with expanded training program for journalists

CNN Academy Abu Dhabi returns with expanded training program for journalists
  • Following the success of last year’s inaugural event, the number of participants has been increased, as have activities and events, which will include an innovative simulated newsroom
  • Senior CNN journalists, content creators and production specialists will share the organization’s best practices in news gathering, verification of sources and content production for various platforms

DUBAI: Applications are being accepted for the second round of the CNN Academy Abu Dhabi journalism training program, which will begin in September.

The inaugural program, which began in January 2021, offered a full-time, five-week course featuring a combination of online learning and in-person workshops at CNN’s offices at twofour54 in Abu Dhabi.

Now it once again is offering a hybrid, intensive training program that includes workshops, this time at Yas Creative Hub, along with online webinars presented by senior CNN journalists, content creators and production specialists who will share the organization’s best practices in news gathering, verification of sources and content production for its various platforms.

“Participants in this year’s CNN Academy Abu Dhabi will go through a very clear student-learning journey,” Alireza Hajihosseini, the director of CNN Academy, told Arab News.

The class size has been expanded to accommodate 25 students, he added, and the number in-person activities and events have also increased.

During the initial stages, the participants will complete 10 courses covering core topics such as ethics in journalism, writing for TV news, and mobile storytelling and editing. They will also have the opportunity to attend the Global Media Congress alongside delegates from CNN.

Alireza Hajihosseini, the director of CNN Academy. (Supplied)

CNN Academy “wants to empower the next generation of global journalists,” which means equipping participants with the tools “they need to succeed in a digital-first news ecosystem,” said Hajihosseini.

“Among the most important of those skills is the ability to gather and verify news via social media,” he added. “To do this effectively, you must combine traditional journalism skills with digital technology.”

With this in mind, the program includes courses on mobile storytelling and multiplatform storytelling. “We are living in a golden age of content production, where more people have access to a wider array of tools to tell the stories they want,” Hajihosseini said. “Most of us have smartphones, which have effectively removed the barriers to the production and dissemination of content.”

The mobile storytelling course will teach participants how to film and edit engaging content using a smartphone, which is especially useful when producing stories for social media, or for field reporting during a breaking news event, he added.

“Online formats provide a huge range of opportunities and affordances to storytellers, so journalists need to understand the tools they have at their disposal to present their work,” said Hajihosseini.

The multiplatform storytelling class, he added, will consider questions such as: What are the foremost considerations for writers to ensure that users engage with their content? And how do you structure and design new digital platforms, such as newsletters?

During the final week of the program, the participants will take part in the first CNN Academy Newsroom Simulation at Yas Creative Hub, which has been designed in consultation with CNN journalists from around the world and Professor Rex Brynen from McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

This competitive challenge will require participants to investigate and report on a fictional breaking news story that puts their journalism skills to the test in a realistic, fast-paced setting. Each element of the scenario has been tailored to reinforce the journalistic best practices they have learned in conjunction with the broader CNN Academy curriculum.

“It is a week-long event where participants will work in teams to get to the bottom of a fast-developing story with multiple characters and sources,” said Hajihosseini.

The simulation will also include a specially developed, artificial social media platform “that will introduce challenges such as how to filter out the noise and avoid going down rabbit holes of misinformation,” he added.

At the end of the challenge, participants will produce video reports that will be judged by a panel of experienced CNN staff.

Several graduates of the first CNN Academy Abu Dhabi have gone on to establish a career in the media, including five who worked for CNN through paid internships, fixed-term positions or full-time roles.

Mohammed Abdelbary. (Supplied)

Mohammed Abdelbary, for example, took part in the academy last year and subsequently joined CNN Abu Dhabi as an associate producer on the show “Connect the World with Becky Anderson.”

“CNN Academy opened my eyes to the type of journalist I could be,” he told Arab News.

He came from a marketing background, with no academic or work experience in journalism, and said he found the program unique in that “it was made for anyone and everyone to experience. The program positions itself for storytellers, not just journalists.”

He added: “I started the program with no experience in the world of journalism but came out with the tools to get my foot in the door. I can honestly say CNN Academy fast-tracked my career by at least two to three years.”

Applications for CNN Academy Abu Dhabi are being accepted now and must be submitted by July 15. It is is open to UAE nationals and residents over the age of 21 who have a background and/or interest in media and multiplatform storytelling.