Non-standard view of telecommunication tower.For years we have talked about Arabic content comprising less than 1% of the total internet content. But, this figure comes in sharp contrast, as the size of the Arab speaking population is greater than the entire US population. In recent years however, there have been some notable shifts.

Firstly, the quality of Arabic content offline and online has improved. Significant investments from regional content players such as MBC and OSN can be credited for that. Their mission has been to produce quality local content, as an alternative to imported content. However, the availability of quality local content does not appear to be consistent across content genres. Take audiovisual genres versus gaming.

Secondly, whilst we have witnessed many improvements in this sphere, there is still a lack of regional Arabic content hubs and portals. A few initiatives and start-ups have arisen, such as Istikana that are determined to bridge this gap. But the market remains fragmented. Why is there no Hulu or Netflix for Arabic content?

When assessing the gap in online Arabic content, here are some factors to consider:

Online advertising
Online advertising remains low in the region compared to international standards. In the MENA region, it only comprises around 5% of total ad spend.

Regulatory framework
If we were to look at other markets, a key element of growth in online content has been the ability to cross license content between portals. Yet, the situation in the Arab world as far as licensing is concerned is still in its very early stages. Content regulation and IP laws as well are still progressing. Enforcement of copyrights is not a widespread practice governed by law.

There have been a number of initiatives in the past few years to create a regional internet hub. These efforts have been noted by companies such as Etisalat’s EMIX, and Sphere from du, amongst others. Even with such strides, the question remains, are we moving closer to have an established internet hub for the region/GCC? Or do we remain reliant on European hubs?

Now, where does the TV marketplace stand?
The TV marketplace is going through some structural changes in the Arab region (think Peoplemeter), yet, on the content front, imported drama and talent shows have consolidated their large share of audience. Take the evolution of Turkish soap operas, from free-to-air TV to premium pay-TV content, and their widespread popularity in the Arab region. In addition, we are seeing very strong audience of licensed shows, such as Arab Idol, Arab’s Got Talent, Star Academy, Top Chef and the like. Many original shows have also originated from the region but their impact on audience remains low as they continue to compete with the heavy influx of imported content.

I can cite two cases where Arab content has gone global. They include the works of Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, kicking off with her movie Caramel, released at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001, grossing USD 14m box office revenues, chiefly from international exploitation. And ‘The 99’, a comic book which began in 2007, which was then translated into a feature film showcased at the International Film Festival held in Dubai in 2011, and recently turned into an animated TV series – aired in multiple countries

As the scale continues to tip towards imported content, one thing remains for certain – the volume of Arabic content online is increasing. However, many steps need to be taken for this sphere to grow and compete with internationally imported content.

By Emmanuel Durou
Telecommunications, Media and Technology (TMT) director at Deloitte in the Middle East