YouTube taps fast-growing Saudi Arabia interest; Google-owned video network to develop more Arabic content

March 17, 2014 12:29 pm

YouTube taps fast-growing Saudi Arabia interest

By Simeon Kerr in Dubai

Google has launched a campaign to develop online videos in the fast-growing market of Saudi Arabia, where residents watch more hours of YouTube content per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Over the past year, time spent on YouTube in the conservative kingdom has increased fivefold, persuading Google to hold a seminar in the oil-rich kingdom to foster closer relationships with producers of Arabic-language web videos.

Traditional media in Saudi Arabia, where more than half the population is younger than 35, is failing to engage youngsters who are turning to the internet for relevant drama, comedy, sports and news.

The same trend is sweeping the broader region, where 310m video views a day make the Middle East and north Africa the world’s second-highest online viewership after the US.

That has generated concern among some of the region’s states about the rise in political expression. Paranoia about the expansion of online video extended to the UAE authorities, which last year imprisoned a group of young satirists for uploading a parody video.

Google, which works closely with Gulf governments, says the company’s policy is to restrict access to videos in countries where it has been notified of a valid legal complaint.

“Freedom of expression is a key principle, but we need to find a balance in countries where we have launched,” says Mohamad Mourad, Google’s regional manager.

But there have not been many requests for the removal of material from YouTube in Saudi Arabia. He adds: “It isn’t an issue.”

While the region’s advertisers have been slow to embrace digital advertising, Google nonetheless hopes to lure both traditional advertisers and smaller businesses online.

The company this month sent several executives to the capital to speak to 450 content creators about its policies, creating videos, and intellectual property.

Freedom of expression is a key principle, but we need to find a balance in countries where we have launched

– Mohamad Mourad, Google’s regional manager

Last year, Google introduced a scheme to eight regional countries allowing partners to earn more money. Thousands of channels are already earning “six figures annually”.

One such entrepreneur is Kaswara al-Khatib, chairman of UTURN, the largest online network operating in the Middle East, with 43 per cent of its viewers under the age of 18.

Set up in 2010, the multichannel network produces its own content, commissions programmes, and aggregates third-party videos from comedy to religion.

Product placement and branded content accounts for 80 per cent of the company’s revenues, which are doubling every year.

UTURN is looking to bring in an equity partner, as it seeks to boost its 35m hours per month view time to 100m over the next year.

Their debut production, a political satire about life in Saudi Arabia, became a viral hit.

Since then, other dramas have been joined by a Daily Show-style satirical programme, a women’s show, hip-hop comedy sketches, and an influential religious cleric banned from mainstream TV.

Mr Khatib says values of “honesty, harmony and halal” – or permitted in Islamic culture – keep the network out of trouble.

“We are part of this community and want to prosper,” he says. “We just want to highlight issues in a different way.”


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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