Saudi Arabia dominates the global online video landscape with the highest watch time on YouTube - and it’s still accelerating. Having a strong online content strategy that includes video has become a must for brands to engage with consumers… but what next? Some brands have moved beyond just content development and are building an ecosystem that pushes video marketing to the next level. We delve into STC’s innovative initiatives, unveiling the company’s commitment to accelerate the growth of a digital video economy.

The video opportunity for brands in Saudi

Online video is skyrocketing in MENA 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.1 Saudi Arabia continues to dominate the video landscape with the highest watch time on YouTube in the world, according to marketing research firm Tubular.2 YouTube is also giving an ideal platform for Saudi women for creative expression. The top four female-led channels in Saudi Arabia saw a 200 percent increase in the number of subscribers over the last year.3

With this context, the opportunities that present themselves to brands are limitless - STC is a case in point. In 2014, STC embarked on one of the first, overwhelmingly successful forays into content development - an online branded hub, LaYwagif”(“Don’t let anything stop you”) which hosted entertaining branded content featuring a combination of YouTube stars, YouTube creators and online stars loved by Saudi youth in the form of a sitcom series with multiple episodes and seasons. The hub gives Saudis the freedom to “not let anything stop them”. It encourages Saudi youth to create more, and better, content - a platform of creativity and innovation.

“Millennials in Saudi are hyperconnected and want to consume more and more content online. That being said though, most of the existing online content is not native to Saudi – it doesn’t cater to the local taste, needs and aspirations,” said Alaa Yoosef from the Telfaz team, one of STC’s content partners. “ Millennials are demanding more local stories and local storytellers like Telfaz and STC are best positioned to provide this experience. ”

The web series became national hits, with episodes hitting highs of more than 50% organic viewership and an average view duration exceeding 50% despite the long format (more than 5 minutes per episode). This digital-first approach has led to a transformation of the brand’s affinity within the youth segment, winning multiple industry awards and contributing to STC becoming MENA’s most valuable brand.4

The digital video economy : opportunities and challenges

Collaborations between brands and creators are giving way to the growth of a digital video economy in Saudi Arabia. However, creators are challenged in how they can grow and sustain their business.

One challenge is around production funding. YouTube is presenting an outlet for young Saudis to create content networks (otherwise known as Multi-channel networks or MCNs) and monetize their activity. MCNs are creating jobs but need support with production and funding to scale and grow, placing them on the radar of investors in the region. In 2015, Uturn Entertainment landed a USD 10 million investment positioning them as a major regional media player.

Another challenge is around training and guidance. Talent finds YouTube as an outlet to present itself, but requires handholding and grooming to take it to the next level. It requires support with technical skills (from basic lighting to video shooting) to more guidance on the broader picture (how to develop their strategy and where they could fit in the content map, etc.).

Along the road, brands can find ways to engage in addressing these challenges for creators. In doing so, they benefit from being strongly positioned to benefit from video marketing on the longer term which would generate limitless opportunities for their brands.

Beyond production - building the ecosystem

STC’s active engagement in content development revealed a vibrant community of content developers and talent with so much potential. “We realized that if supported and groomed properly, this talent can accelerate the transition into a digital economy – creating jobs, establishing diverse business ventures, and promoting innovation,” said Ahmad Sahhaf, GM of communications STC. “As such, we decided that we wanted to grow our involvement from pure content development to address the challenges of the ecosystem growth.”

A dedicated team from STC embarked on a plan to provide support to the broader content creation community - including tools, financial support with production, connectivity packages to minimize their costs, and event planning. This plan wasn’t done on a large scale in MENA before and would allow content creators to focus on what they do best: create content.

In addition, STC launched multiple initiatives like - Be the Cast - to help crowdsource the next big talent in Saudi: Users are invited to upload a video story of themselves and winners get the chance to become the star of an upcoming video production by STC. The competition is ongoing with more than 100 videos uploaded on YouTube. Another major initiative was Be the Director – asking producers to submit their videos for the chance to develop STC’s new digital-first video commercial. Interested users could join and share their Video Edit based on a preset story. For this competition, 140 videos were uploaded, 33 amateur directors shortlisted and the winner – a female named Nadia Redwan - was provided training and then was asked to direct a video commercial for STC. A second season of the competition is in the making with “bigger & better” plans for the lucky talent.

“My storytelling ad for STC had to be a concept that every millennial in Saudi can relate to, so I chose a sporting event and linked it to a problem every millennial hates: slow internet,” she said. “Since I am a member of this generation, I believe this strategy would persuade me into buying a product or a service, and therefore, chose it as a theme for my video.”

Engaging the local community of creators and grooming news ones was key for scaling STC’s content development approach. “Following our promise ‘don’t let anything stop you ’, our objective was to create an online video hub for the Saudi youth to express themselves and showcase their talents,” said Ahmad Sahhaf, GM of communications STC.

The way forward

Innovation on content development has become the new norm for brands who thrive to engage with their audiences through those who know them best - the creators. The challenge, going forward, is accelerating the ecosystem development so creators can innovate further and brands can achieve more. The way forward is for the bold and visionary brands, like STC, to step up beyond video production and unlock the growth of a new economy.