The digital content space in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is, for all intents and purposes, booming. And why not, the region is, after all, conducive to everything mobile!

Permit me to quickly illustrate this point. As per GSMA’s The Mobile Economy 2017 report, smartphone adoption witnessed a 46 per cent increase in 2016, while subscriber penetration stood at 59 per cent for the same period. It doesn’t end here-by 2020, these figures are expected to reach 64 per cent and 62 per cent respectively. Unabated growth, this!

Naturally, then, this growth has had a cascading impact on mobile broadband uptake. To elaborate, Ericsson’s Mobility Report on Middle East and North East Africa (November 2016) states that by 2022, average active smartphone data consumption per month will reach 13 GB, from 1.8 GB in end-2016. Meanwhile, mobile data traffic is expected to reach around 4.8 Exabytes per month by the end of 2022. This is almost 13 times greater than at the end of 2016. Clearly, mobility has made a lasting impact in this region!

A natural consequence of this growth (in my opinion, at least) is a significant increase in the consumption of digital content. And that, dear reader, is merely the tip of the iceberg. The aim of this piece is not merely to examine which content is king (though that bit is included). The idea is to examine the gradual shift (if any) in a customer’s consumption patterns and preferences in a multi-screen era.

What’s Driving Digital Content

It would be a bit of an understatement to say that mobile applications are in demand in MENA. Here’s why-as per industry estimates, almost 85 per cent of mobile internet users have downloaded an application. Briefly, the applications in demand include email, social networking, videos, news and weather, sports news and hobbies.

The trend, in short, is clearly shifting towards non-linear viewing. On-demand viewing is the order of the day, particularly in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Turkey. Industry reports state that the lion’s share of mobile data traffic is generated by video streaming, social media, messaging and browsing.

As per industry reports, in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, YouTube is the numero uno application, while in Egypt and Lebanon, social media applications hold the spotlight.

Let’s start with video-on-demand. This has, without a doubt, managed to carve a niche in the MENA digital content space.

Simply put, over 304 million smartphone users will be watching OTT TV and videos at least once a month by 2021. This amounts to more than triple the number in 2015 and up from 5 million in 2010. No mean numbers, these!

Of course, no piece on digital content is deemed complete without mentioning social media! The common perception is that social media has (quite literally) taken the MENA region by storm. Why? Simply put, this channel has become an important facet for content distribution. According to the Digital In 2017 Global Overview jointly released by We Are Social and Hootsuite, the number of active social media users stood at 93 million, with a penetration rate of 38 per cent, as of January this year. On the same note, 83 million (or 34 per cent) of these customers access social media sites on their mobile handset.

What Will Shape Digital Content…

Not surprisingly, gaming will emerge as particularly significant in this space. As per reports, this space is expected to triple in size from $1.6 billion in 2016 to $4.4 billion in 2022. Online and mobile games are to net the most interest, while the most popular categories will include massively multiplayer online games (MMOGS), action, casual, and social games.

Moreover, on-demand, interactive and personalized entertainment-centric content is expected to be a standard feature. Advanced virtual reality bundled with digital agents and holographic entertainment worlds is expected to transform the customer’s entertainment experience. The convergence of the Internet with television, telephones, kiosks, autos, and wireless devices will further create many new media channels.

In sum, the rules of the digital content game in the MENA region have changed. While the overall outlook is bright, operators would do well to make a laundry list. In my opinion, these should include offering converged content and service-centric products, focusing on sponsored data and opening up existing APIs to third party developers. This is, of course, merely the beginning. A long and (possibly) rocky road lies ahead. Operators, are you geared up to meet the challenge?


Atul Madan

Atul Madan

Atul Madan, Chief Operating Officer - Mobile Lifestyle Solutions, Atul has over 20 years of experience and has held a variety of senior executive roles in the software and telecom domains. At Mahindra Comviva,...