Media and Entertainment – The Changing Landscape in the Middle East # 2: The Digital Context


The move to digitization is without a doubt one of the most important changes we have seen during the pandemic. It’s a continuation of an existing trend I would say, but in this era of social distancing and lockdown there has definitely been an acceleration.

So let’s look at the digital sales for the MENA region. According to the latest PwC Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2020-2024, 42% of total media and entertainment revenue is generated in the MENA region, and that is remarkable. In 2019 it was around 37%, which is already quite high, but of course we expect the increase to continue. Industry forecasts put it at around 46% by 2024, so that’s quite a bit of growth.

We can look at a few specifics on TV and games first, and then come back to talk about social media and some of the implications there, including from a legal and regulatory perspective.

In television, we’ve certainly seen a trend towards transactional and subscription VOD models – we just need to look at the major players like Netflix, Shahid (MBC) and Starzplay. They are all driving more local content and are all reacting to the fact that the stats for the number of hours spent watching content rose massively during the blackout period between 2019 and 2020. So that’s a pretty big change for us to continue to be seen on TV in general.

Online gaming will continue to be a hot room. There have been a lot of announcements lately and it’s sure to stay that way – tournaments, federations, and government interests. Several areas, particularly the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, will generate significant growth in online gaming and esports.

Just a throw-away stat that links at different levels of course – think about the Instagram user base – it’s currently 60% in the 18-24 age group and you’ll see even more aggressive numbers on platforms that are more youth-focused like TikTok and Snapchat. So that’s quite a user base to work with in a digital context.

One problem I suspect is the jumble of laws and regulations we are facing in this area. Whether it is about social media, online gaming or e-sports, there is currently a lack of uniform regulation and governance within the region. We see that in other regions too – other regions like Southeast Asia are also looking at this. So this is definitely an area where I think operators, but also the government in particular, should keep an eye out to support this sustained growth.

In the gaming context, the use of advertising spending will continue to develop and focus more and more on app advertising, the use of branded content and more in-app purchases. This is a trend that obviously started long before the pandemic, but is sure to continue and accelerate.

More about switching to digital. The statistics for the MENA region show that we have one of the highest user numbers in the context of mobile social media penetration. We have numbers from the GSMA like 44% of mobile social media penetration in the region, which is projected to double in five years. Check out platforms like Facebook – 187 million active monthly users. The Saudi Arabia social media network is reported to have 10 million users, which is 38% of the population.

But let’s talk about regulation. The supervisory authorities are therefore certainly keeping an eye on this area. It’s complex because it changes so quickly. But when you look at the role of agencies like the UAE Telecommunications Regulator and its equivalents in other regions, their role as supervisory and enforcement agency has to be crucial and they have to work really very hard at a high strategic level to to be sure they keep up with the changing game. So let’s take a look at some of the problems you might find you are already finding. We see numerous examples from our experience:

  • Websites or pages that appropriate legitimate brands and targets, e.g. B. Shopping malls, some of the very big luxury and entertainment projects we are seeing right now in KSA in particular, etc. – Third parties who want to take advantage of the goodwill associated with this type of usage.
  • Site administrative takeover is an unfortunate activity that we’re seeing more of – people pretending to be providing advisory services in the marketplace, who then see the popularity of a page or site, and then pretend to be in administrative control.
  • The ongoing conflict between brands and influencers and other social media content providers, especially given the surge in commercial activity in the area. Who controls what? If a celebrity or social influencer is involved in a social media advertisement, how does it go about control, ownership and revenue?
  • The increased use of social platforms, especially in the Middle East, for political purposes, that is, the establishment of inappropriate news based on often false or misleading content.

How do we deal with such problems? First, as I mentioned earlier, regulators need to watch closely what is going on. Regulators should have a very clear and transparent approach to regulation and supervision. On the platform side, their guidelines, including their removal guidelines and what to do if potentially harmful material emerges, are critically important. Whenever this is presented to us, we often use a two-fold strategy – one is to communicate directly with the infringer or the third party (assuming you can track them) and second, we inevitably look at the removal guidelines and how they work when you are considering that there is a mix of criminal and civil law within the Middle East region in this area (including an increase in specific laws dealing with this type of activity throughout the Criminal and Criminal Code and Cyber ​​Laws) arriving across the board Region).

So a lot is happening in the digital context in the Middle East – great opportunities for growth, but anyone in this space should also be aware of how to address the ever-changing challenges that will arise.

A lot is happening in the digital context in the Middle East – great opportunities for growth, but anyone in this space should also be aware of how to address the ever-changing challenges that will arise.


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