Voracious thirst for news in the Middle East

The Middle East is as hungry as ever for news as ongoing political turmoil in the region fuels discussions and shares online.

DUBAI // News is not dead in the Middle East as people in the region consume more current affairs than the global average with the rapid growth in technology fuelling access to news content online.

This was the findings of report carried out by Deloitte in March and April, and launched at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai.

It suggested the region had an insatiable appetite for news as 97 per cent of respondents between 18-45 across the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia regularly discussed news and current affairs.

Increasingly, consumers in the region were gaining access to news via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter over traditional media.

“Middle East consumers are very interested and actively participating in news,” said Matthew Guest, a Deloitte director. “We see consumption increase when a country experiences political or economic challenges. In Spain, people were consuming news for 91 minutes a day when they were going through the economic crisis.”

With more than half of consumers in the region having access to a broadband subscription and an average smartphone penetration rate of 60 per cent, about 57 per cent of consumers received their news via social media.

This was followed by print at 45 per cent. Standard TV accounted for 34 per cent as a way to access news content, although the medium still dominated when it comes to breaking news.

“Rapid rises in the take up of smartphones and high-speed mobile broadband networks in the advanced GCC markets are facilitating the use of video over mobile,” said Matthew Reed, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms and Media.

The average daily consumption of news in the region is 72 minutes per day, higher than the UK and Germany where consumption is 63 minutes, and Japan with 65 minutes. Egyptians consume the most at 84 minutes.

Across the region, users were turning more to video news content, with 68 per cent regularly watching news videos for about 18 minutes on average.

“If you access online news in this region, you are almost certainly going to be viewing video clips,” said Mr Guest. “The reason they watch videos is that it improves understanding. People tell us across all markets if you see something you gain a much more rapid understanding of the story, which is why people are more likely online to attach videos.”

This rise in video consumption is one of the biggest opportunities for news providers, he noted, particularly around stories that have a more “human” angle rather than for breaking news.

The Associated Press, which commissioned the report, is launching a news video service for the region given the demand.

“It is a sign of maturing media markets, you see it everywhere in the developed world, the more people are interested in news and are going to websites that support good video,” said Ian Philips, the newswire service’s Middle East director of news. “People are spending more time watching videos, which is also good for business in general; on the sidelines of websites you can have advertisements.”

Given the high social media penetration, users are more likely to share these stories with their friends and families. About 45 per cent of consumers in the Middle East will pass on an article either via social networks or email, compared to 20 per cent in Europe, with greater trust attributed to stories shared by friends and family.

While the findings are promising for the news industry, traditional print media will have to adapt to the rapid changes given the increasing shift to online.

“Content is what distinguishes you. It doesn’t matter if it is video, photos or words. Video is certainly a growth market and it is what’s driving a lot of things and attracting money, but at the end of the day it is good journalism that is keeping the industry alive,” Mr Philips said.

thamid@thenational.ae

Published: May 21, 2014 04:00 AM

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