As the pandemic rolled over into 2021, YouTube viewers across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region flocked to watch comforting videos of emotional family moments such as reunions, Ramadan gatherings, and birth announcements. They also sought out community gaming experiences and escaped into Arabic pop music.
The region’s viewing preferences were broadly in line with the top three global YouTube viewing trends over the past year — community, comfort, and creativity — but also showed some notable differences.
The global trends were recently highlighted by YouTube’s Culture and Trends team, which looked back at the year’s top videos to help marketers better understand what captured viewers’ attention.
Here are three trends that have captivated audiences on YouTube in MENA over the past 12 months, that marketers should consider when planning regional campaigns.
Family and Ramadan: Where emotions and humour abound
Family is a huge part of Arab culture. This was reflected in videos by the top regional creators, who shared hundreds of emotional moments with their audiences in 2021. Family-oriented creators include the California-based Syrian-Canadian-Kuwaiti Anasala family, best known for their baby gender reveal on the Burj Khalifa in 2020. Assomi & Waleed — two Jordanian brothers who once starred in a children’s show created by their father — are another example. These brothers now entertain 7.78 million subscribers through their YouTube channel.
But family channels in the MENA region are not just about daily vlogs and emotional family events such as weddings, anniversaries, and new babies. Creators are increasingly coming up with innovative ways to connect with their audiences, from acting out sketches to participating in challenges and pranking each other. Popular challenges in 2021 included the Dialect Challenge, where participants tried to guess terms from different dialects around the MENA region, and the Headphone Challenge, which involved trying to understand what a person said without hearing them
Ramadan is also a popular time for YouTube creators to connect with their audiences. Ramadan content features heavily on our list of top videos from the region, particularly when it has a strong family theme. Skits about family situations during the holy month, or sharing Iftar and Suhoor preparations, attracted millions of views.
The top Ramadan YouTube videos for 2021 included Egyptian creator Abdo Asalsil sharing a humorous moment with his mother during Suhoor, when she served him a humble meal of Indomie noodles, much to his dismay. Saudi YouTuber Kadosha's animated skit about Ramadan preparations with her mother was also popular, garnering over 17 million hits.
Other trending creators won over viewers by introducing members of their families and giving glimpses into their elaborate Ramadan preparations and decorations. Syrians Lana and Leen Barakat — who live in Dubai and are known as the Super Sisters — as well as the previously mentioned Anasala family, and brothers Assomi & Waleed, are all examples of creators who successfully did this.
Gaming: A collaborative storytelling experience
Gaming in the MENA region has transformed into a communal experience, allowing top YouTube gamers to increasingly connect with their audiences and fellow gamers through a combination of engaging content.
The gaming content gaining traction around the region varies. Some creators — such as Arab Games Network — mix gaming with real-life challenges, or add virtual reality (VR) to the experience. Others, meanwhile, demonstrate the latest games or ask subscribers for gaming suggestions and recommendations. The top trending and breakout creators for 2021 include AboFlah, Arab Games Network, Atro, Abod, Suhaib, and Monkdl.
However, it was the charismatic Kuwaiti gaming creator AboFlah who dominated the 2021 list thanks to his mix of gaming choices, real-life challenges, strong engagement with followers, and plans for big surprises and events. One of the region’s top-trending gaming videos this year was AboFlah’s celebration to highlight a major milestone: 20 million subscribers. To mark the occasion, he organised a 28-hour-long livestream that raised $1 million for refugees.
The family theme continues in the gaming world, with Jordanian creator Abod and his father, Amjad, ranking first on the breakout creators list. Their passion for multiplayer battle royale "game PUBG” and easy-going relationship have garnered more than 1.7 million subscribers.
Meanwhile, Saudi creator Monkdl took his gaming content to the next level by combining it with VR, particularly when playing “Among Us”, a multiplayer social deduction game in which crewmates work together to try to prepare their spaceship for departure before other players sabotage their mission. He also adds VR to other games such as “Grand Theft Auto”, and enjoys telling his nearly one million subscribers funny stories about his life.
Arabic pop music makes a comeback in 2021
Arabic pop is one of the most popular music genres in MENA and has made a comeback in 2021 thanks to a number of collaborations between established artists.
Topping this year’s music video list was Hetta Tanya by Egyptian pop singer Ruby. The video for her first song off her first album in 14 years has gathered more than 100 million views since being released in March.
Hassan Shakosh — a former professional footballer who sings Shaabi, a type of Egyptian street music — dominated the 2020 list. In 2021 he makes just one appearance at No. 2 with his mahragan song Habibty, a collaboration with Egyptian actress Yasmin Raeis.
Meanwhile, the breakout MENA YouTube music video this year was young Saudi singer Zena Emad’s Hamaki Medley Cover, which went viral on a number of social media platforms and ranked third on our list with over 110 million views.
How these trends impact MENA marketers
With family at the core of Arabic culture, it’s no surprise that this theme is a driving force behind YouTube creators’ content in the MENA region, as well as gaming and Arabic pop music. This is not a fleeting trend, but a broader indicator of the types of content that consumers are choosing to watch.
Explore the most popular videos and creators of 2021 across MENA and tap into these themes to reach viewers and connect with key audiences in the region.