The rise of video consumption and content creation on YouTube is making online video an important part of marketing offerings in the region. This is the first piece in a series on the growth of YouTube in MENA. Stay tuned.

Chances are, every person in MENA that you bump into today has watched a couple of YouTube videos…today. Millennials are on smartphones hungry for content they want to watch, when they want it. From Lady Fozaza’s fashion prowess to comedian Omar Hussein, there are more and more faces gaining millions of views discussing cool, relevant topics on YouTube across the region. Online video is building communities with the click of a button.

“The relationship with YouTube is an intense, personal experience. People watch on YouTube what is really important to them, without the need to wear a social mask,” says Alex Brunori, head of creative agencies Google MENA. “They also want to be in the moment and surf the zeitgeist. It’s about the sense of discovery and the possibility to go from one video to another, being part of what people in the region are watching.”

Numbers Game

The figures are telling. YouTube has over 1 billion users generating billions of views and 80 percent of YouTube’s views are from outside the US1. The MENA region is a growing market, with watch time in the region is rising by 60 year on year.

The rise of YouTube in MENA is down to an important factor: there are over 100 million Arab youth today, the highest proportion of youth to adults in the region’s history2. What’s particularly interesting is how these millennials are consuming online video: more and more are tuning in to YouTube on their cell phones. Research from Cisco shows that 69 percent of consumer Internet traffic in 2017 will be dedicated to video, while video-on-demand traffic alone will grow threefold3.

Mobile watch time in the MENA region is one of the fastest growing in the world, rising by 90 percent year on year (2014-2015). The United Arab Emirates stands out for 120 percent growth of mobile watch time during this period, faster than the global average. Yes, people love cat videos, but what is really driving this rising popularity in online video consumption in MENA?

What Are People Watching?

Whether it’s a video of two dudes battling it out to be the champion of the FIFA World video game or a clip featuring a funky Saudi dance tutorial that went viral, people are watching everything online and talking about it more and more. This is true for consumers of online content who want to be ‘in the know,’ but even more so for marketers and advertisers who are looking to connect in the right way with key consumers.

Mobile watch time in the MENA region is one of the fastest growing in the world, rising by 90 percent year on year.

There are some notable trends according to Google data: it’s clear that the region is going video mobile at an impressive rate, with a 90% growth year on year, and that it wants to see more Arabic content, with a 40 percent increase in hours per day of uploaded videos year on year. 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.

Celebrity Status

“Creators on YouTube are so diverse, they are for anyone and everyone, which means they are closer to consumers,” says Mailine Swildens, head of the ZOO EMEA, a creative think-tank for brands and agencies within Google. “People’s emotional attachment to a YouTube star is as much as seven times greater4 than toward a traditional celebrity.”

In fact, Moroccan singer Saad Lamjarrad’s music video Lm3allem set a Guinness World Record in MENA for 100 million YouTube views in three months – more than the combined online views of major offline pop stars including Nancy Ajram, Haifa Wehbe and Elissa.

People’s emotional attachment to a YouTube star is as much as seven times greater than toward a traditional celebrity

Mailine Swildens, head of the ZOO EMEA

“Eight out of 10 of the top celebrities in the world are YouTube stars,” says Robbie Douek, managing director EMEA at Maker Studios Inc, part of The Walt Disney Company. “If as a brand/creative agency you aren’t thinking of working with them, you better start.”

Brands Perspective

Sephora and Braun in MENA chose to work with Huda Kattan to engage with consumers through tutorials with the makeup star, while Gilette featured Saudi comedian Omar Hussein in their digital campaign. The opportunities are not just limited to featuring YouTube stars, either. Ali Ali, the most-awarded director in the MENA region, points out that a strength that comes from ads made for YouTube is extra time.

“We can address real social issues because we have more than 30 seconds, which is the traditional time for a TV ad spot,” he says. “Two minute YouTube ads liberate us and allow us to live forever online,” he says.

Two minute YouTube ads liberate us and allow us to live forever online

Ali Ali, the most-awarded director in the MENA region

Maggi did an award-winning weekly webisode series that told empowering stories about Arab women in 2015. The stories of positive change, food and strong women resonated with the brand’s audience online with over 26 million views across all channels. That’s more than 50 years worth of watch time consumed in 4 months. The story in the ad lead to an 18 percent view-through-rate on YouTube -- versus a regional norm of 14 percent5.

“This also means that you end up competing with everything that is on YouTube, so it’s no longer just about success in advertising,” says Ali Ali. “It’s about successful storytelling and entertainment, which is so powerful.”


1 YouTube Statistics

2 Brookings 2016 research on Middle East Youth

3 Cisco Data

4 Variety Survey, July 2015

5 Dubai Lynx Awards