Digital revolution for Gulf will need paying for

Media Summit special: More than a quarter of GCC consumers are willing to pay for online content a senior executive of News Corp says ahead of his appearance at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit - with video.

Online publications such as News Corp's The Daily have a place in the region, with its high use of consumer technology, young demographic and willingness to pay for content.

More than a quarter of GCC consumers are willing to pay for online content, and a senior executive of News Corp says that means good opportunities for digital publications.

Jon Miller, the chief digital officer at News Corp, which recently launched its iPad-only "newspaper" The Daily in the US, says there is a big opportunity to create Arabic-language products for mobile devices in the Gulf.

In the UK, The Times and the The Sunday Times newspapers, which are part of News Corp empire, last year introduced a subscription barrier to their websites.

While few publications based in the Gulf have started charging for content online, the market is there, the consultancy Booz & Company shows in a recent survey.

"Twenty-six per cent are willing to pay in some form or another," says the analyst Jayant Bhargava, a principal at Booz.

About 10 per cent of respondents to the Booz survey said they were willing to accept charges based on the amount of content to which they had access, while a similar proportion said they would pay for exclusive content in categories such as breaking news and sports.

Others said they were prepared to pay for online content when bundled with a print subscription.

Mr Miller says the figures are encouraging for digital media in the GCC compared with other markets.

"When you do surveys of people on the web, you typically get a number of about 7 per cent," he says. "The number you quoted is four [times that], which is good."

High use of mobile devices in the region also bodes well, Mr Miller adds.

"The Middle East region is divided between PC consumers and about half on mobile," he says. "The big opportunity is to create products for the mobile market, obviously in Arabic."

The Daily launched at the start of last month. It offers a mix of news and features along with multimedia, and is for now only available to iPad users in the US.

Mr Miller says News Corp intends to expand the platforms on which The Daily is available, and its reach. He says The Daily is likely to be available next in western Europe.

"I believe it's western Europe … that's an Apple decision, not ours," says Mr Miller. "It will start to become available in many other places. We hope in the course of 2011 to make it available on a worldwide basis."

The Daily is "designed to be something that can be expanded and localised", he explains.

While there are no immediate plans to launch an Arabic-language version of the title, "that's the kind of thing that's much easier to do", Mr Miller says.

He says The Daily will be available on tablet devices running the Android operating system "later this year … it is our intention to be on a variety of platforms over time."

The Daily is available free to consumers for two weeks, and after that costs 99 cents (Dh3.63) a week, or $39.99 a year.

Mr Miller says "hundreds of thousands" of US consumers have downloaded the publication for free, while "thousands" have signed up as paid subscribers.

"Even though it's still in the trial period, people have signed up to subscribe and [have] paid," he says. "Two thirds of the people who have signed up already have done so for the year."

News Corp's interests in the Middle East are growing. "We feel like we have a good basis in the region to do new things," Mr Miller says.

He adds that the preference would probably be towards organic growth rather than acquisitions: "We're certainly open to acquisitions but we're a company that likes to start things."

For the report "The Advent of Digital News in the GCC", Booz surveyed 523 news readers in the urban markets of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Damman, Riyadh and Jeddah. Most respondents were aged between 18 and 35, and all were users of the internet.