Dubai’s upcoming YouTube studio is a sign of the Mena market’s importance to Google

LONDON // At YouTube’s London content creators’ space, the US actor David Walsh is delivering his Christmas show to camera in a studio decorated to look like a festive mountain chalet.

In the studio next door, the singer Josh Daniel is warming up before he records an acoustic session. Upstairs, pairs of 20-something content creators sit side by side on benches, laptops on laps, comparing notes and planning collaborations.

This state-of-the-art studio beneath Google’s new London offices is designed to nurture content creator talent, with a series of studios, edit and sound suites and a communal area and cafe where creatives can network with each other, hold meetings with brands and attend workshops, all for free.

That YouTube now has its own studios shows how far the Google-owned video platform has come – from an online hub for funny cat films, to a broadcaster in its own right, with channels presenting everything from how-to videos and confessional series to high-production television shows.

Content creators need more than 10,000 subscribers to use the space. Reach more than 100,000 subscribers and they can sell their merchandise in the YouTube Creator Store next door, where fans can buy merchandise from books to toys from their favourite YouTube stars including Zoella and PewDiePie. It shows how YouTube content creators have the potential to grow from hobbyists to full-blown global superbrands, like television stars.

YouTube has chosen to open its 10th space in Dubai next year, testament to the growth of YouTube in the UAE and Mena region, where there are already more than 50 channels with more than one million subscribers.

“We see those markets as some of the leading markets worldwide for YouTube,” says Matt Brittin, Google’s president for EMEA business and operations, over a breakfast of gluten-free brownies and avocado and chilli bruschetta at Google’s London staff restaurant upstairs, a stylish space with impressive views over the central city skyline. “YouTube is hugely popular with both audiences and creators, it’s an exciting market for us to work in. I expect to see lots of innovation there, just because of the size of the audience and the opportunity.”

YouTube is booming in the Mena region. It comes second only to the United States in terms of total time spent watching videos – watch time in the region is growing by 60 per cent year on year, according to YouTube. Mena has one of the highest smartphone and internet penetration in the world and more and more people are watching videos on their phones. YouTube says mobile watch time grew at 90 per cent in Mena last year alone. The platform is also growing with advertisers in the region. According to YouTube, the top 20 brands in the Mena region advertise on YouTube, and the average spend per advertiser grew by 65 per cent year on year.

The platform is now capitalising on all of this success by increasing local original content. Having more local content creates new and attractive digital advertising opportunities, by offering not just new media spaces but new ways to partner with content creators.

"The Mena region has one of the world's most vibrant YouTube communities," says Diana Baddar, the head of YouTube partnerships in Mena. "There's a ton of excitement around YouTube because talented creators are producing content for passionate audiences. It's a great opportunity for brands because on YouTube people choose what they want to watch and engage more, which is far more interesting for brands. More and more creators are collaborating with brands. From Dubai-based Hayla Ghazal, who is the most watched female creator on the platform, to TheSaudiReporters in Jeddah."

Content created by and for women is a growth area in Mena and one that YouTube is encouraging as part of its drive to increase local content. This year, for the first time, all of the top 10 videos viewed in the region were by local creators and half of them were by female creators.

“Female content is one of the most promising content verticals on the platform. It’s growing as fast as TV content on the platform,” says Ms Baddar. “A few years ago, we had very little female-related channels, today there are thousands of them.”

To encourage women creators, YouTube recently launched Batala, a hub for women creators from across the Arab world. The new channel, named after the Arabic noun for a female protagonist in Arabic films, was launched at an event in Riyadh in October, with female creators women from across the region meeting to discuss creativity, freedom of expression and how to use YouTube to speak their minds.

YouTube is also nurturing Arab-language content as part of its strategy to increase local content – videos uploaded to YouTube in Arabic grew by 40 per cent last year.

For Mr Brittin, the growth in Arabic-language content is key to the continuing success of YouTube in the region. “What you see is a platform that shares Arabic, local content in a much wider variety than is perhaps available on television or in other media,” he says. “So the creativity of the audience is becoming the creativity of the content.”

YouTube also plans to increase its local content through mentoring. YouTube already offers training programmes, workshops and masterclasses to content creators in the UAE, as well as in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco, and the new space will underpin these efforts.

The 2017 launch of the new content creator space in Dubai will support all three of these tactics to increase local content in Mena. The space will boost what YouTube calls the “creator ecosystem” by providing creators with facilities and technical assistance, and by giving them a base from where they can network and collaborate with other creators, meet clients and attend workshops where they can develop their expertise.

“We want the new YouTube space to help creators bring their stories to life and build the overall YouTube creator community, not just in the UAE but the wider Mena region,” says Ms Baddar.

“We want it to be a regional hub where creators will have access to a studio, for free, and all the latest audio, visual and editing equipment that will enable them to experiment and create great videos that their fans will love.

“We are happy to have our first space in Dubai, a place of vibrant creativity from fashion to technology and entertainment. YouTube is a home for all this content. We want to give opportunities to get hands-on experience from industry leaders, connect and meet fellow creators, spark new ideas and share experiences on how to succeed on YouTube.”

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