YouTube Series: Music Matters in MENA

September 2016

Millennials are spending more and more time on YouTube consuming music. What does this mean for brands?

For millennials in MENA, music is more than just passing entertainment; it’s a lifestyle. And they are living it on YouTube. Whether on a cab ride home, working out at the gym, keeping company at work or at home while making dinner, people are plugged in to music online. Research from Northwestern University in Qatar shows that 71 percent of people under the age of 25 in MENA say music is important for their entertainment, compared to 56 percent of the remaining population. On top of that, 83 percent of those under the age of 25 listen to music every week - higher than the population average of 71 percent1. There’s power to these figures. Beyond the staggering amount of shoulder shimmying happening across MENA, we’re on to strong insights into consumer behavior online. 

Video Nation

In our previous article on the Rise of YouTube in MENA , we outlined that online video is skyrocketing with watchtime in the region rising 60 percent year on year. This number rises to 90 percent on mobile - one of the fastest growing rates in the world for mobile video consumption. The United Arab Emirates stands out for 120 percent growth of mobile watch time during this period, faster than the global average.

We’ve got our eyes glued to the screens, yes, but as it turns out, so are our ears: 77 percent of people in the Arab world spend up to 4 hours online each day2 and in the UAE, half of that time is spent listening to music.3

Active Listeners

Here’s the key: people aren’t just passively listening to music, they are actively engaging with music content online. Music is the one of the most shared category on YouTube. So why exactly does this happen?

“Because music content is extremely diverse: we can see a five year old girl playing the piano fantastically well, a famous pop star’s latest music video, a family singing in the car, friends enjoying a karaoke session or behind-the-scenes snippets from our favourite artists,” said Liliana Abudalo, MENA partner manager for YouTube music partnerships. “Music is universal and with online video, it’s always there at your fingertips.”

From the most popular pop star du jour to the classics to amateur cover artists, every singer, band, and label has a presence on YouTube now. While music videos used to be a promotional tool to sell CDs, now the video is the actual product and over the years, YouTube has paid back over $3 billion dollars to the music industry.4


Artists have a wide reach across the whole of the MENA region on YouTube. For example, Saad Lamjarred broke the record in MENA with 100 million views on YouTube in three months. The breakout hit combined with maintained uploads has grown the channel by 600K subscribers in a year. Online video affords the ability to track reach and popularity: currently, top labels on YouTube include Mazzika, Melody and Rotana. Global artists topping the list have included the likes of Adele, Justin Bieber and Rihanna, while top trending local artists have included the likes of Amr Diab, Balqees and Saad Lamjarred.

Arabic songs from the 20th century remain popular on YouTube today. Classic artists such as Abdel Halim Hafez continue to get millions of views per month across MENA. Total views for Umm Kulthum alone on YouTube in July 2016 was 21.6 million, including fan content and official videos. Who doesn’t love a little Fairouz in the morning?

Music is also a source of inspiration for original content, such as covers of popular songs. Alaa Wardi found Internet fame for his Rihanna covers, while Saudi artist AbdulRahman Mohammedis an emerging powerhouse who found his voice and his following exclusively online. Audiences are so engaged that fans react: one recent example is Saudi Arabia's latest "Barbes" dance craze that led to spin-offs after it was released on YouTube in December 2015.

Building Communities 

The true magic of online video lies in the ability to build a strong fan community and reach through artist channels, which has tremendous implications for brands. Brands such as Coca Cola associate themselves with music through content creation. Coke Studio:CokeStudioBel3arabi is the official YouTube channel of a music TV series, “Coke Studio,” sponsored by Coca-Cola company. It is a program that brings together established Arab and international artists to collaborate and record an original fusion song meshing two or more unique genres of music. Coke Studio is now one of the most popular music programs, and mash-up one of the most popular genres, in MENA.

PepsiMasr (Pepsi Egypt) engaged with music content online by featuring popular MENA singers, such as Ahmed Adaweyah and Hassan El-Shafei, while Chevrolet created a music partnership with Arab Idol Season 1, a program dedicated to discovering talent in MENA.

“YouTube continues to celebrate the incredibly diverse range of music and music users on the platform. Fans on YouTube don’t just watch videos—they like, share, remix, and cover the music they love,” said Ms. Abudalo. “Brands have a unique opportunity to tap into very engaged audience while they are enjoying their music experience on YouTube.”

Brands have an opportunity to go beyond a simple understanding of a consumer’s habits by truly engaging with them where they are: online, watching a music video and most likely dancing a little in their seats in public.

YouTube Series: The Rise of YouTube in MENA